segunda-feira, 5 de agosto de 2013

Josef Joffe: Merkel will do whatever it takes to stay in power

As eleições na Alemanha é seguramente o evento mais importante na agenda europeia neste segundo semestre. Joffe apresenta um retrato bem interessante da Merkel, a grande favorita nesta eleição que, no entanto, poderá ser obrigada a governar em coalizão com a oposição social democrata.

Never try to call an election in the autumn by invoking the polls of the summer. Western voters have shed iron-clad party loyalties; classic predictors like faith, class, and city-dwelling are as reliable as the weather report. And yet, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are holding steady at 42 per cent, up from 34 in the 2009 contest. This is a shade more than the combined take of the “Red-and-Green” opposition of the Social Democrats and Greens. She is heading for four more years.
What about her junior partner, the liberal FDP? They are hanging in there at 5 per cent, the minimum for representation in the Bundestag? Not to worry. Though Germans sniff at these free-marketeers, they vote for them in the end, if only to hold off the greater evil of the high-tax nanny state offered by the Red-and-Green alternative.
In the last two regional state elections, the FDP entered the home-stretch polling at four per cent, but emerged with twice as much on election day. If the FDP score six per cent, Ms Merkel can look forward to a total of twelve years in power – one more than Margaret Thatcher.
The two ladies could not be more different. Thatcher loved to polarize and to go straight for the jugular. Ms Merkel, a woman whose soft demeanour conceals a razor-sharp mind, is the ultimate survivor. She smells threats before they materialise; if she can’t deflect them, she will ride them – never mind her previous convictions. When Fukushima erupted, she decreed a shutdown for German’s reactors – even though she had just pleased the utilities by extending their operational lives. She announced the Energiewende – a U-turn toward the Promised Land where only “sustainable” energy would flow.
Ms Merkel is deliciously diffuse in her rhetoric, loath to commit, ready to ditch inopportune policies. Lest this sound like rank opportunism, there is strategy behind the tactics. The technical term is “asymmetric demobilization” – the very opposite of what politicos normally do in the battle of the ballots. The classic campaign textbook orders are get your ducks in a row, rouse your supporters and drag them to the polling stations. This is how Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder did it in 2002 when he trained his anti-American guns on George W Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war (his opponent was 12 points ahead in the summer). Ms Merkel’s plan is to lull the other side; don’t rile them and win by keeping them at home.
How did she do it after the near-disaster of 2005, when she squeaked by with a few thousand votes? By shifting to the left. An apostle of free markets and low taxes ten years ago, Merkel simply outflanked the left on the left. She has yielded to same-sex marriage and gender quotas. She has showered the populace with social-welfare goodies, cutting defence spending more rapidly than France and Britain. She is the best Social Democrat the SPD could have asked for. For them, the only downside is that she is in the wrong party.
Will the National Security Agency’s snooping in Germany do for Ms Merkel in between now and 22 September? The polls say no; her lead has been holding steady, even increasing slightly. The NSA, as political scientists have it, is a “low salience” issue. Also, the Red-and-Green parties can’t make too much hay on the NSA’s digital assault. Both were in charge until 2005, and the social democrats were part of Merkel’s cabinet until 2009. When they were in charge, they savoured the fruits of the American tree.
Apart from Merkel’s jiu-jitsu tactics and leftward-ho strategy, her greatest asset is Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrats’ candidate for the chancellory. He is an honourable and sharp-tongued man, but was born with a foot in his mouth. His jokes backfire and his trenchant arguments fall flat; he cannot pluck heartstrings. If Germans could elect their chief executive directly, 58 per cent would vote for Merkel and only 27 for Steinbrück – a big drop from almost neck-and-neck a year ago. In the end, it is the politicians, not the parties, who tilt the scales.
Ms Merkel is just what the doctor ordered for the German soul. She may not enthral, let alone amuse people. But what her enemies call “opportunism” is precisely her biggest advantage. People need not fear her. She won’t demand too much; she won’t go into a sudden lurch (except for the Energiewende, which catered to German nuclear angst). She will follow or ride the mood of the electorate, never surprising them with ideas that would trigger resentment. She will hold steady. But only so long as resistance does not turn into anger. If that happens, she will yield before displeasure turns into hostility.
This is why she will be Germany’s next chancellor – unless something happens. In that case, go back to the first sentence. Never call a September election on the basis of summer polls.

Josef Joffe is editor of Die Zeit and a fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University