Commitment to fighting climate change has brought the German Greens victory. But that doesn’t help Europe or the climate, because the party is dilettantish on economic policy and doesn’t decisively oppose German dominance in the EU.
Heiner Flassbeck is an economist, as well as publisher and editor of “Makroskop” and “flassbeck economics international”
Originally posted in German at Makroskop
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
The most important scene following the results of the European election in Germany took place in Bremen. Robert Habeck, one of the leaders of the Greens,who was in Berlin, after having evaded questions by the media of possible coalitions in Bremen, the smallest German federal state (Bremen had held their state election on the same day as the EU election), finally revealed his preference for a coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats(CDU) and the Liberals (FDP), employing verbal contortions fit for a circus act. In the end the leader of the Greens in Bremen answered the same question in plain language. She explained that one could not join a centre-left coalition because the Left Party (Links Partei) was questioning the debt brake.
That was it. The party that emerged as the big winner from Sunday’s elections in Germany, Europe, and Bremen is panic-stricken about any position that questions mainstream economic policy. Although the representative of the Left Party, who was also questioned in the same context, was extremely cautious in replying on how to finance important environmental projects, the Social Democrats and Die Linke must assume that the Greens prefer a centre-right coalition with CDU and FDP to a centre-left option.
The Greens’ fear of the economy
The Green Party’s fear of the economy and of unorthodox positions in economic policy is so great that it is embracing parties that pay only lip service to climate change, or demand commitments to the market economy with regard to environmental protection that are infinitely far from a serious confrontation with the problem. Everything seems to be more bearable for the top Green politician than questioning the prejudices of the Swabian housewife regarding “budgetary discipline”.
On the surface, this has to do with the naïve idea that there is a concept of sustainability and the protection of future generations in macroeconomic issues that forbids even thinking about government borrowing. The underlying cause, however, is that since the party was founded, no one in the party has been allowed to join the leadership who can count to three in terms of economic policy, because the members have a general suspicion that “economic experts” notoriously represent economic interests.
This, in turn, is due to the fact that even before the founding of the Greens, in the 1970s in other words, whereby the dominant economic school of thought considered environmental protection as damaging economic growth. This has always been wrong, but the Greens have still not understood that, and have thus positioned themselves from the outset as if one could only achieve one’s own goals with fundamental opposition to economic policy issues.If the party really wants to use its new strength and commit itself successfully to saving the environment, it must urgently understand economic theory. Those who want to take on responsibility as one of the major parties at the federal level must not leave the economy to those who see themselves as executors of the will of major corporations. If the economic vacuum of the Greens remains, they will be mercilessly pushed by the Merkel’s CDU and the FDP in a centre-right coalition at federal level onto a narrow neo-liberal path where there is ultimately no room for effective environmental protection.
However, the kind of symbolic policy that the conservative parties have in mind in the environmental sector will not allow green voters to be fobbed off in the long run. Robert Habeck obviously really believes what he has been claiming in the media, namely that he has negotiated a successful centre-right coalition in the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein and that this shows what is possible in this constellation. He is thus fundamentally on the wrong track. On the federal level and on the European level it is necessary to address economic problems which are completely beyond the imagination of a provincial politician like Habeck and cannot be dealt with by means of provincial politics.
No concept for Europe
In addition, the Greens support the candidacy of Manfred Weber, the “lead candidate” of the conservative parties, without any ifs or buts. Anyone who supports Weber should know what is in store for the union. Not only does Weber not have a clue concerning the decisive economic policy issues, but also does not have the political standing to oppose the “directives” of his own party. Already on Sunday evening following the EU election results, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who currently leads the CDU, gave a foretaste of what is to come. In unbelievable naivety and brutality at the same time – she emphasized that Weber must become Commission President in order to “at last” (as it sounded to my ears) assert German interests in the EU.
It is even worse that the support of the Green MEPs for the procedure of the “lead candidate”, which is certainly owed to their idea of the completion of a politically united Europe, will increase the concentration of power in German hands. The Germans occupy the most seats in the European Parliament. Germany is by far the strongest power in the European Council because of its economic weight. If, in addition, an “elected” German leads the Commission, which incidentally consists of people solely mandated by their own countries, the Germans are represented in all three decision-making bodies with a superior power that will only result in further resentment at the predominance of Germany in the EU.
Europe is not the answer, instead it is an absolutely open question.
If the Greens in Germany move in further to the centre-right, they will be supporting the disastrous trend towards an even more conservative German dominance in Europe. Given the frustration in many countries, this can only end with increasing European disintegration. Italy should have been a warning following the EU election last Sunday. That more than thirty percent of Italians voted for the far-right Lega in Europe’s third-largest member shows that the “We are defending Europe show” (which I criticised last week here) was ignored by many Italians. In France, too, President Macron was made aware of how thin his power base is and how frustrated the French continue to be with his neo-liberal policy of austerity.
Having reached twenty per cent of the vote in Germany, the Greens can no longer side step crucial European issues without losing their credibility. These include economic and financial policy as well as monetary policy and the crucial question of how to ensure that nations like Italy and France can economically recover. Those who cling to the debt brake and comparable policies in Europe without taking note of the basic economic constellations and the resulting constraints for many member states are ultimately jointly responsible for their fatal effects. One can philosophise about the importance of a united Europe for climate policy or social cohesion for a long time. Only an economic breakthrough which is perceived as such by all countries can also awaken the willingness to throw oneself into the breach far more strongly than before when it comes to dealing effectively with the climate crisis.