February 22, 2017
Schulz and the neoliberals
Martin Schulz has found his campaign theme, which Gunter Bannas describes as the fight against neoliberalism. This notion is as common in Germany as it is uncommon in the Anglo-Saxon world, where liberalism never disappeared to be rediscovered. In Germany it is a dirty word, not used by liberals themselves, an amalgam that brings up a whole number of connotations: financial excesses; tax havens; oligarchs; rising income inequality; and weakening social systems. In his speech on which we reported yesterday, Schulz acknowledged that the SPD (or rather Gerhard Schröder) made mistakes, while simultaneously distancing himself from those policies. No SPD politician has been able to do this. Frank-Walter Steinmeier was the co-author of the Agenda 2010 reforms. Sigmar Gabriel was a close political ally of Schröder's; and Peer Steinbrück was the epitome of the neoliberal Social Democrat. Schulz offers the SPD a policy that bears resemblances to those of Oskar Lafontaine, but with a much greater chance of success since many of the right-wingers of the SPD now accept that the Agenda 2010 reforms - while right in principle - had many short-comings. One widely acknowledged problem has been the rising trend towards precarious forms of employment, like short-term contracts.
There is another contrast to Schröder that Schulz embodies. While Schröder took on the trade unions, Schulz aligns himself with them.
Consider for a moment how the CDU/CSU might confront this. The CSU reluctantly supports Merkel as their joint candidate, but there are deep divisions on the chancellor’s refugee policies. And we would not be surprised if some CDU/CSU dissidents were hoping to come second at the election, which would allow them to get rid of Merkel and sharpen their conservative profile in a future grand coalition. We think this is the single biggest danger for Merkel.