Germany: The Sick Man of Europe?

HAMBURG: What has happened to Germany? It is only a few years ago that Mikhail Gorbachev convinced himself and his Kremlin colleagues that they had to accommodate Bonn over unification because Germany would be the main actor on the continental European scene. More recently, a hard-nosed French former central banker, Michel Aubert, published a book in praise of "Rhineland Capitalism", elevating Germany to a model society combining economic dynamism and social justice. Now that model is deflated, and Europe's supposed leading power is in the doldrums.

One reason for this is merely a temporary political deadlock. Chancellor Kohl's slender majority in parliament is insufficient to push through serious reform of the country's Byzantine tax system against the Social-Democratic opposition's majority in the Council of States, the second parliamentary chamber where Germany's regions participate in federal legislation. The country's highly developed federal structure, together with a lack of political leadership, is seen by many as the main culprit for the stalemate.

Yet political structures and inclinations are blocking change precisely because voters have been unwilling to grant either government or opposition a clear mandate. If only politicians were to blame, the solution would be easy: throw them out at the next election. The real source of Germany's malaise lies deeper: citizens and society are undecided. And while, of course, politicians should lead opinion, they also have to follow it to win votes.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.