Germany’s Same Old Election

BERLIN – Germany’s current parliamentary election campaign looks like a front-running contender for the title of the most boring in the history of the Federal Republic. The predominant response among commentators to the sole television debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, held two weeks before the election, was a collective yawn – all the more remarkable considering the historical events that overshadow this election.

Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall came down, triggering a seismic shift that moved the borders of the old Federal Republic and of Western Europe as a whole, hundreds of miles to the east. The vast Soviet empire exited the historical stage without a single shot being fired. This anniversary should have provided ample reason for a heated debate about the successes and failures of German reunification and for offering a vision for Germany and Europe for the next 20 years.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once quipped that politicians who have a vision should go and have their eyes checked. That warning made sense in the 1970’s, when even young parliamentarians in his Social Democratic Party dreamed of revolution. But Schmidt would never have imagined that there would come a day when there would be no politician in search of a vision check.

Likewise, in the fall of 2008, the threat of financial Armageddon brought not just Germany but the whole world to the brink of disaster. The worst has been mitigated and obscured in the wealthy countries by running up unprecedented levels of debt, but any moderately streetwise person knows that the next generation – and even the one after that – will be paying for the excesses of the investment bankers. One cannot help but marvel at how discreetly this topic is being dealt with by Merkel and Steinmeier.