Berlin Bulletin: Trust is eroding — Still happy together — Outside view

BY FLORIAN EDER AND LAURENZ GEHRKE

SEPTEMBER 2, 2022 1:30 PM

OUTSIDE VIEW

BULLETIN INTERVIEW: Germany’s harshest critics sit of course in “Washington and Warsaw,” noted Pascal Lamy. “There is a lot of finger-pointing,” said the president of the Paris Peace Forum, former European commissioner and world trade supremo, veteran Socialist politician, and a — very active — former head of the Jacques Delors institute think-tank. What the critics and haters want is that “Germany has to shift its geo-economical model,” Lamy said when we talked this week at the Alpbach European Forum over an espresso and a muesli bar — but that, he said, will be hard for this government.

Impediments for change: “My impression is: The fact that there is a coalition government is an obstacle to a clearer recognition that ‘we got this wrong and want to get this right’. In a way, the coalition is an impediment to this.” Why? Because of the Social Democratic Party’s feelings: “Because an acknowledgement of this would put the blame all on the SPD, with Greens and FDP being clean,” noted Lamy. The German system being what it is, a presidential Saul experience that would sort out things in France looks rather unlikely.  

SPD’s homework: “In the coalition, they are the ones most linked to the past,” said Lamy on the chancellor and his party. “It was an advantage to win the election, but it is a problem now. It’s all a bit smudgy.” Asked whether he joined the Greens’ fanclub after half a century in the French Socialist party, Lamy praised the leadership of the Green party as “more advanced” on the question. “And they have personalities that are more new, colorful and visible,” he said of Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

He’s no Merkel: “Scholz shadowing Merkel was good for the election but doesn’t help now,” observed Lamy. “They need to send a clearer signal of rupture. There is an enormous cultural realization that the world is a dangerous place which was not there: As long as there was peace with France and Russia, the world was OK. Now that is changing, if only little by little.” 

More detail please: “Germany needs to adjust its geopolitical posture, including on defense and security. It’s not by putting €100 billion in a pot that gets you an army, a navy, and an airforce. The task is to built a credible military apparatus. This entails a number of changes that are not outlined yet.”

What about the “Social Democratic decade” that team Scholz saw ahead? For the record: “I was a member of the French Socialist party for 50 years, and I’m a Social Democrat, which means I spent more than 40 years in minority in my party,” Lamy said. Will German Social Democrats follow the French comrades in their loss of influence and significance? The SPD has “a much deeper rooting in the population not least because of the close and uncontroversial, systemically, ties with trade unions,” remarked Lamy.

But how long will that last? “The two big questions in European politics are whether the extreme right will eat the right or vice versa, and there may be different solutions in different countries. On the left, with the exception of France where the extreme left is very strong for historical reasons, whether Social Democrats will eat the Greens or the Greens will eat the Social Democrats,” he said.  

Get green or bust: “The main issue is ideology,” said Lamy. “We need an ideological fusion between Greens and Social Democrats. The fundamental reason for that is that the social consequences of the ecological transition are part and parcel of the transition. You have to link economic, ecological and social dimensions. There are differences between right and left in pondering these three elements, but I think on the left, they should have the same coefficients. And on this issue, Germany may be a precursor. I hope it.”

So who will eat whom? “I think the Greens have a dynamic, and Social Democrats have the tradition.” 

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