Opinions - 29.09.2017 - 00:00 

2017 Bundestag elections: The Third German Republic

The economic miracle, reunification and a global society. The Third German Republic is here. But it’s still unclear what it represents. Miriam Meckel on the outcome of the 2017 election.

29 September 2017. You want to urge caution. A little less commotion, more thinking than shouting, or at least doing the above in the right order. These few things would do a lot of good. It’s true: something really changed in Germany last Sunday. But anyone who now seriously claims that the AfD (Alternative for Germany) is now "steamrollering" the main parties is guilty of one of two things: cluelessness to how the German parliamentary system works, or a lack of respect for it.

The election result is no more than a formal break between the Germany of the past and the Germany of today. It has already been suggested what this break means. And anyone who takes the time to look calmly and analytically at the situation must admit that the signs were already there. We either failed to see them, or didn’t want to see them. The philosopher Odo Marquardt once said that "the future needs history". This also applies to the interpretation of political changes.

The Third German Republic

Last Sunday, Germany formally became the third German Republic. The first was built from the rubble of two world wars. Reconstruction, growth and "prosperity for all" (Ludwig Erhard) were goals which a huge section of the German populace could get behind. Personal efforts were motivated by individual desire for happiness, and the Cold War provided something against which you could define yourself. Things were ordered; you knew where you belonged. The Second German Republic arose in response to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and the expansion of the European Union. Reunification and economic growth in the territory of the former East Germany and a common understanding of a country forced to become newly acquainted with itself again: these were the promises of this new Germany.

Germany in the Global Society

The results of the election were a depressing demonstration of how these promises were never met. Parts of the former East Germany are afflicted by rural exodus and the absence of industrial structure, jobs and economic growth. The people of the East, having still not seen the changes of 1989 though to the end, are now being asked to make their way into the Third Republic: Germany in the global society. A Germany more trusted from the outside, but from which more is expected: a leading role in a volatile global society which is delighting in pushing several maniacs to the forefront; a growth driver of a global economy, but with the good grace to keep its trade balance surplus in check; and reconciler of a divided Europe. Some see this role as an overwhelming burden.

Germans are still clueless as to how this Third Republic could work. What coordinates govern globalisation? Is Germany with the rest of the world, or against it? And what can convince its population to genuinely commit to this journey? Above all, it’s a sensible economic and education policy – something that has clearly barely played a role in recent years. But it also requires efforts to go beyond daily political decisions and offer incentives and illustrations of why the journey is worthwhile. If that had happened earlier, the country would now perhaps not be having to deal with a whole section of Germany which rejects an open, free society.

Don’t Focus on the AfD

For this, the parties that are committed to democracy should not focus on combating the AdD, but rather on getting closer to the population at large. Germany stands for open markets and an open society. This cannot be disrupted. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas once said that it is in complex times that "the readiness to act that a society believes it possesses" is truly revealed. This is something which may be demanded of the population – if there are also persuasive political solutions too. The parties in Germany’s Bundestag have, over the last four years, not quite found an answer to this. The AfD, however, has found one. And it is in this respect that the democratic parties can do better.

This piece first appeared in WirtschaftsWoche on 29 September 2017.

Miriam Meckel is the editor of WirtschaftsWoche and Professor of Corporate Communications at the University of St.Gallen (HSG).

photo: photocase / mhc93

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