Matthew Lynn

The unlikely solution to German decline

The unlikely solution to German decline
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The BMWs and Mercs will be banned from the autobahns. People will only have electricity when there is enough of a breeze to keep the windmills turning. And the factories will be on a three-day week, while the airports will be converted into organic farms. Most businesses, and of course conservatives of any sort, will be nervous at the increasingly likely prospect of the Greens taking charge in Berlin later this year. But they shouldn't be. In fact, they would be a huge improvement on Angela Merkel’s chaotic twilight years.

As she heads towards retirements, Merkel’s legacy is looking very tarnished. The CDU is slumping in the polls. It has made a mess of Covid-19, imposing a botched vaccine procurement programme on the whole of Europe that has come badly unstuck. And her likely successor Armin Laschet is struggling to make any kind of impression. After elections in the autumn, the Green party's charismatic Robert Habeck looks very likely to lead a ‘traffic light’ coalition made up of his own party, the Social Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats. 

Anyone familiar with the British, or American, version of environmentalism could be forgiven for feeling distinctly uneasy about that. Batty is the kindest word to apply to many of their policies. And yet they would be a huge improvement on Merkel. Here’s why.

First, the German Greens are very centrist these days. There is nothing eccentric about them. They prioritise stability and modest environmental reforms, along with some measures to reduce pollution and tackle climate change. It is hardly radical, or indeed very different from most governments across the developed world. In many ways. It is hard to distinguish them from Boris Johnson’s Conservatives (in truth, Britain’s Tories are probably more radical on the environment). Even better, the genuinely free market FDP would be part of any coalition and could drive liberal reforms, especially on the economy. After the stagnation of the Merkel years, it would be an improvement.

Next, the Greens are far more robust on foreign policy. Merkel's CDU has allowed the country to become completely dependent on Russian gas, willing to sign any kind of deal with China so long as they keep buying Volkswagens, and allowed a damaging rift to open up with the United States. An ‘ethical’ foreign policy can be oversold, but the West has wider interests than just selling machine tools around the world. A Green-led government would be a lot bolder.

Finally, the integrationist Greens might finally tackle some of the EU’s fault lines rather than just kicking the can down the road as Merkel has done for the last ten years. Under her leadership, the single currency has remained unfinished, southern Europe has been forced into a deep and unnecessary recession, the UK was cornered into the hardest possible departure, and Russia has been dangerously appeased. With a change of power in Berlin, some of those issues could finally be addressed, while, at the same time, Merkel’s increasingly deranged mini-Mutti Ursula von der Leyen might finally be removed from office. With the backing of her mentor in Berlin, it is hard to see how she could survive her multiple failures.

Germany remains the most important country in Europe and one of the most important parts of the Western alliance. Merkel was always the continent’s most overrated leader, her reign characterised by dithering, indecision, and delay. It needs dynamic, forward-thinking leadership. Conservatives and businesses will rightly be nervous about a Green chancellor. But in truth, it would be a huge improvement on the last 16 years.