Heiner Flassbeck – Germany in the Autumn

EU Politics Section Logo

Sorry, but this one slipped past. It should have appeared on BRAVE NEW EUROPE on October 2nd, the German Day of Reunification.

Heiner Flassbeck is an economist, as well as publisher and Editor of “Makroskop” and “flassbeck economics international

Cross-posted from Makroskop (in German and with links) – Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE


Once again Germany is celebrating its Day of German Reunification, but does not want to admit that this unity still does not exist. The German-German monetary union has failed because the majority of West German politicians do not want to renounce their prejudices.

It is October, but the political harvest has failed this year. The climate was not bad, but the intellectual fertiliser that the barren soil would have needed to produce a good harvest was lacking. Germany has got caught up in petty, imaginary problems on the one hand and edited, and in contradictions resulting from systematically denying the real problems facing German society. This applies not only to Europe, where German denial has led to a never-ending crisis. No, it concerns Germany itself, where ten years before the European Monetary Union, a monetary union, namely the German-German one, has hit a brick wall due to intellectual deficits.

German unity will be celebrated again with long speeches, even though the election last Sunday in September was more conclusive than a thousand studies. What we now know is that German unity still does not exist. In the German federal state of Saxony, where mainstream politicians claim to be so proud of the achievements of German unity, the ultra-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the recent parliamentary election won the most votes.  The AfD’s political discourse consists almost exclusively of slogans such as one has to win back the “nation” or give Germany back to the Germans. Every sensible person can read the writing on the wall: It is not the refugee policy, but the question of unity policy that lies behind this phenomena. German unity exists only on paper. Just a few years after the West German lightning victory, everyone was happy when the East Germans shut up and elected the “correct” party – one of those imported from West Germany. They were even allowed to vote left for a while, because, it was hoped, they would change their allegiance once the old political structures had wasted away.

But even after almost 30 years, there is no German unity. In the autumn of 2000, I wrote an article concerning this problem:

“Equal opportunity in the future” is the new cant phrase of German unification. However a few weeks ago the German Chancellor and the heads of the federal states that formerly constituted East Germany secretly had to admit that catching-up was no longer a political goal. There can be no equality of opportunity without catching up! Should two runners have unequal chances at the start of a 100 metre race, one starting 50 meters ahead of the other, an equal chance for the second half of the race means that the 50 meters distance has to be compensated for somehow. If the leading runner does not run slower, the second contestant must be assisted in catching up. As long as there are not the same number of competitive companies in both the East and West of Germany, as long as the unemployment rate is not equalised, as long as the citizens of East Germany do not have the same level of wealth as in West Germany, as long as the federal states and municipalities in the former East Germany cannot stand on their own two feet, as long as there is no equality of opportunity, the politicians’ claims of equality are meaningless.

The lack of equal opportunities will have serious consequences for Eastern Germany in the next ten years. On the one hand, the disparity between citizens benefitting from reunification and those who are not will become even greater than in West Germany. On the other hand, young people will not want to remain disadvantaged in the long term and will seek their fortune in West Germany. Those with the best chances, the well-educated, who tend to succeed wherever they go, will emigrate. The rest will remain behind: the unlucky, the poorly educated, those who are dependent upon their local community. East Germany will then be the ghetto of the unfortunate, entangled in a net of provincial narrowness and schadenfreude about the fact that the “moneybags from the West have to support them”. There will be islands of prosperity, but they will have to be sealed off from the regions where frustration about one’s own lack of prospects turns into hatred for all those who have made the leap into a society of global wealth and communication. The natural political antithesis to the denationalized and globalized society of the successful is the nationalistic society of the underdogs, which is hostile to all foreigners. Populists claiming to be “national” and “social” (Flassbeck is referring to the former Nazis – the “Nationalist Socialist Party of Germany” – editors of BNE) will in the future find the ideal recruiting ground in East Germany.”

This year we can be sure that once again the wrong political conclusions will be, despite the unambiguous election results a couple of weeks ago. Merkel’s Christian Democrats will move further to the right “to save the nation”. An even harder line will be taken against asylum seekers, resulting in still more expulsions and more warzones being declared “safe countries of origin”. Thus Merkel will “prove” her willingness to take the concerns of the East German population seriously. But first and foremost, this is not about refugee policy. The real concern of the East Germans, like many others in Germany, is not an abstract refugee threat, but their everyday life. Anyone who has to make ends meet with a few hundred euros a month, in a society that daily bombards them with the message that every individual is responsible for their own success, and the efficient person is rewarded in this system, will see everything that comes from outside their community as a new threat to their already precarious status.

But poverty must not exist in this rich country, which is why we Germans prefer not to talk about poverty and what can be done about it, but instead complain about the supposedly greatest concern of the poor, namely the refugees. In doing so, the “parties of the centre” are an exact copy of the ultra-right AfD, which is the least socially engaged party. With its refugee policy the AfD has been able to stake its claim as the advocate of the poor and those left behind. This is because nothing is more important for the “parties of the centre (including the SPD)” than to uphold the fiction that poverty in the middle of our society is necessary, a guarantee for a positive development in the labour market and the competitiveness of German industry.

And that is precisely why we Germany talk about everything in Germany, except that it would be simple to eradicate poverty. The unemployment benefit of the Hartz IV system could be doubled or trebled tomorrow without anyone having to pay anything. The necessary funds could be obtained from the capital market, where the rich – thanks to the ECB – deposit money, without being able to charge a price for it. But no, that would be too expensive, it would cost us our politico-economic prejudice and that is the most precious thing we Germans possess.

All of this would be absurd in itself, but it gets even worse. When a left-wing politician says that the burden of immigration should not be borne by those who are already the losers, this is branded right-wing populism. Then a useful idiot of this idiotic political system writes in the taz (a formerly leftist newspaper in Germany, which has moved to the centre – the editors of BNE) claims this constitutes a nationalistic speech and that this “cosying up with the ultra-right” is a “political declaration of bankruptcy”.

Germans are enjoying the last warm rays of sunshine on this first day of October, trying to suppress the foreboding of the coming winter. For a moment, one might even dream that at some point there could be authentic politics in Germany, that politicians who really can and want to think existed in this nation, and that there would be a public debate in which everyone would not talk about the first nonsense that comes to mind. Yet with next breath of fresh air the beautiful dream is already over.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.