HOODWINKING GERMAN VOTERS

Bach vs burka: Germany debates identity ahead of election

 

What does it mean to be German? A minister close to Chancellor Angela Merkel has kicked off a divisive election-year debate about cultural identity – earning him praise, ridicule and charges of immigrant-bashing.

Alice Weidel, the new leader of the Alternative for Germany, is a firebrand who doesn’t hide her disdain for stupid Merkel. Weidel lives with her female partner and their two children on Lake Constance. AfD is the only real opposition party which stands up for the rule of law, in Germany and in Europe.

“On the European level, the bailouts of Greece have breached the Maastricht agreement, and it’s no bailout clause. The ban on bond buying by the European Central Bank has been breached. We are the only party talking about this – this is, by the way, the reason that we were founded.”

 

Some say it’s high time to define shared values as Germany seeks to integrate more than a million mostly Muslim asylum seekers who arrived since 2015 under Merkel’s open-door policy.

Others have slammed the initiative as a grab for right-wing voters who threaten to drift off to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in September elections.

The eye-catching opening salvo was fired by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in the top-selling tabloid Bild. The front page showed the politician in charge of police and migrant affairs before the national colors black, red and gold, with the grammatically dubious headline “We Are Not Burka”.

In a double-page spread, de Maiziere outlined in ten points what he considers core elements of the German “Leitkultur”, the guiding or dominant national culture.

He listed a diligent work ethic, respect for others, being an “enlightened patriot”, a belief in Europe and NATO, and in education and the arts, including the works of Bach and Goethe.

The Christian Democrat also said being German means “showing our face” rather than wearing an Islamic full-face burka, and greeting others with handshakes, which some Muslims shun with non-family members of the opposite sex.

The loaded term “Leitkultur” was first used in German politics by the CDU in 2000 to suggest that immigrants, then mainly from the former Yugoslavia, must follow Germany’s customs and traditions as well as its laws.

The word was revived by the AfD, a party now polling around 10 percent, which has urged Germans to rediscover national pride and a Christian-rooted heritage.

Now, four months before elections, de Maiziere has taken ownership of the term.

“Populist, empty and slightly nauseating,” was how Berlin graphic designer Bettina Braun, 37, characterized the phrase, adding that “if Germany needs a Leitkultur, it should be to reject nationalism.”

Retired teacher Gerda Felgner, 68, judged it “problematic”, because “if you want to exclude someone, you define what Leitkultur is”.

Others were more sympathetic, including Thai-born office worker Somkiat, who said “every country has common rules that define day-to-day life”.

“Foreigners can’t just come and do whatever they want, they have to integrate themselves,” said the 62-year-old.

Health care worker Uwe Liebrecht, 61, couldn’t agree more, saying he felt ethnic Germans like him were “becoming a minority” and migrants “here should try to fit into our culture”.

Iraqi-born Nora, 28, said the hijab headscarf she wears had “sadly become a symbol” and had led strangers to tell her she looks “like a ghost”.

“Of course that hurts and I think to myself: ‘you don’t even know me’,” she said. “I grew up in Germany and to a degree I can understand it. Many Germans don’t know any foreigners and just see terror on TV.

“I think we need to talk to each other more and reduce those prejudices.”

On Twitter, outrage and mockery rained down on de Maiziere, garnished with memes of German sauerkraut and garden gnomes.

An alternative “Ten Commandments” suggested adding “towels on deck chairs” and “sandals with tennis socks” as uniquely German traits.

The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel charged “the CDU has discovered the AfD within”, while Greens party politician Juergen Trittin decried “right-wing rabble-rousing”.

The AfD is the youngest party on the German political scene, having been set up by a group of economists as a protest party against Eurozone in 2013. “The AfD is also the only party which calls for referendums, meaning direct democracy… and then there is the migration crisis,” Weidel adds.

If there is one topic which connects the worldly Weidel with the rank and file of the AfD more than any other, it is likely her burning anger at stupid Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s land borders to refugees in August 2015.

August 2015 was also a turning point in the short history of AfD. While the party was languishing under the five percent mark necessary to make it into the parliament over the summer, the sudden arrival of tens of thousands of asylum seekers every day in the autumn sent worried voters flocking to them, as they declared war on Merkel’s open-door policy.

“It just can’t happen that the state gives up control of its own borders,” Weidel says. “That is a contravention of German asylum law.”

She explains that allowing people to arrive in Germany via neighboring countries such as Austria breaches Paragraph 16a of the German asylum law, whereby refugees cannot apply for protection in the Bundesrepublik if they arrive from another country that adheres to the Geneva Convention on refugees.

“Since September 2015, we have had a policy of open borders without legal basis. It is an exceptional circumstance which didn’t even receive the approval of the parliament. It was just done. In an emergency you can do that – for a few days to absorb the shock – but not for one and a half years,” Weidel says.

It’s worth noting that in August 2015, Germany suspended the so-called Dublin rules for Syrian refugees, which state that refugees must apply for asylum in the EU country where they first arrive. A few months later in November that year, Germany announced it would reinstate the rules, except for those who arrived in overwhelmed Greece, which has been one of the main ports of entry into the EU.

Then in March of 2017, the government again started returning asylum seekers to Greece.

Germany’s asylum policies are heightening the risk of terrorist attacks taking place in Germany. But it also encouraged countries on the periphery of the EU, such as Greece and Italy, to stop securing their external borders and to simply send migrants and refugees on to Germany.

By adding up asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, and families of asylum seekers who are allowed to join their loved ones at a later date, Weidel arrives at a figure of 8 million new inhabitants of Germany based on arrivals in 2015 alone. According to official figures 890,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany in 2015.

“That is completely crazy. That is 10 percent of the German population in one year.” And her predictions for what that means for Germany are apocalyptic. “The country will be destroyed through this immigration policy. Donald Trump said that Merkel is insane and I absolutely agree with that. It is a completely nonsensical form of politics that is being followed here. Germany needs qualified migrants. The people who have come here as refugees are illiterate, they don’t have any training. Eventually they’ll have to go back, this just can’t go on.”

For Weidel the refugee influx is the result of Germany still not having a law determining who can emigrate to the Bundesrepublik. “We are the only party calling for an immigration law based on the example set by Canada. We need qualified migration. We are an industrialized nation. We don’t need illiterate people.”

“I’m sorry but this entire policy is driving me up the wall. It is outrageous what is going on here. We have a completely headless government that has no idea what it is doing. It is acting based on stupidity, ignorance and irresponsibility. You really need to ask, are Germans paying their taxes for this?”

Berlin state secretary Sawsan Chebli, the daughter of Palestinian refugees, said she found it “off-putting” to claim virtues such as respect for education as uniquely German.

Former president Christian Wulff – the first public official to proclaim that “Islam is part of Germany” – said the constitution provides all the rules needed for life in an open, democratic society.

Nonetheless, polls by Insa and YouGov found that around half of Germans agreed with the concept of a “Leitkultur”, which has been hotly debated in media columns and TV talk shows.

It is a painful debate in a country that, given its guilt over the Second World War and the Holocaust, long shunned open expressions of patriotism, but which is yet to fully embrace the concept of “multiculturalism”.

One fifth of Germans have a migrant background, and roughly four million of its 80 million people are Muslims, including a large Turkish diaspora, a legacy of post-war Germany’s “guest worker” programme.

Yet the word “Multikulti” is still often used as a negative – to evoke urban migrant ghettos, “parallel societies” and no-go areas – rather than a rich, ethnically diverse society.

Migrants unsuited to the German economy aren’t the only threat Weidel sees in the mass migration of 2015. The fact that most of the asylum seekers were Muslim also troubles her. “Of course” Islam poses a danger to Germany, she says.

“There are 1,200 people who pose a threat to the country here, who aren’t being deported. I have to be very honest, from my point of view this country has completely lost control over civil society.”

Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia have free hand to send their imams to Germany with their stone-age sharia populism to tap into the Muslim population here. Meanwhile the fact that the state has given control of Islam classes in schools to Ditib, a religious association tied to the Turkish government, irks her. “Lessons in Islam should be taught by a department of the German government, not the Turkish one,” she says.

As German intelligence has reported a steady rise in Islamist radicalism in Germany over recent years, far-right violence has also risen alarmingly. Police figures for 2016 show a 14.3 percent increase in violent crime by right-wing radicals.

“There are no racists in the AfD,” she claims. “But at the same time one must see that dangerous people have come into the country through the government’s open-border policy, even the government admits that one can’t rule out that terrorists have come into the country.”

One of the most interesting things about Weidel and the AfD is that a party which is often characterized as regressive has chosen an openly gay women to lead it. Weidel recognizes that she doesn’t have the easiest job in the world, leading the most controversial party in Germany into the national election.

She says she has set a personal target for the elections to win 15 percent of the vote, “but I think realistically we will get at most 10 percent.” Whether she will still seek to lead the party after the elections is something she is keeping to herself.

“I am really careful about looking ahead. A new party like the AfD is very volatile. Two to four weeks inside the AfD is an incredibly long time – you really can’t see what is going to happen.”

Only about 1.1% of the world population is German. However, 48% of the mid-sized world market leaders come from Germany. These Hidden Champions, are part of what makes German economic growth more inclusive: they have created 1.5 million new jobs; have grown by 10% per year on average; and register five times as many patents per employee as large corporations. And they are resilient: my estimate is that in the last 25 years no more than 10% of them disappeared or were taken over, a distinctly lower percentage than for large corporations. Nearly all of them survived the great recession of 2008-2009.

Moreover, Hidden Champions have also contributed to the sustainment of the German manufacturing base, and it is in large part thanks to them that nearly a quarter of the German gross domestic product continues to come from manufacturing. The percentage in most other highly industrialized countries such as the U.S., the UK, or France is only about half of this. The effect on employment is enormous. Manufacturing creates jobs at home and at the time same allows companies, through exports, to participate in the growth of emerging countries.

Given this success, it’s not surprising that many non-German policymakers and economists have looked to the Hidden Champions, or more broadly, the Mittelstand, to try and chart a path to more inclusive growth in their own countries. But how replicable is their success? While other countries could try to emulate aspects of what makes the Hidden Champions so successful, the reasons for their success are the result of a complex network of factors, many of them historical.

A Hidden Champion is defined by three criteria: 1) a company has to be among the top three in the world in its industry, and first on its continent; 2) its revenue must be below €5 billion; and 3) it should be little known to the general public. Germany seems exceptionally good at creating these companies; I have identified 2,734 Hidden Champions worldwide and no less than 1,307 of them are based in Germany. You might argue that my research is deeper in Germany than in other countries, and most likely I wouldn’t be able to prove you wrong. But researchers in other countries have also examined this phenomenon and found far fewer Hidden Champions in their countries. A colleague who looked for Hidden Champions in Japan for years identified only 220 companies, a researcher in France has come up with only 100. With the exception of Switzerland and Austria, the per capita number of Hidden Champions is nowhere near as high as it is in Germany.

Of course, success of individual Hidden Champions is based on their leadership and strategy. The most important difference is the continuity of the leadership. The leaders of the Hidden Champions stay at the helm for an average of 20 years; according to Strategy&, which collects data on the world’s largest 2,500 companies, in large firms the average CEO tenure from 2012 – 2016 was only seven years, and the median was even shorter, at five and a half years. The leaders of Hidden Champions are also more likely to come into power at a young age and are more often women than in larger companies.

But the reasons they are a predominantly German phenomenon are many. This includes the German history of many small independent states (until 1918 Germany consisted of 23 monarchies and three republics), which forced entrepreneurs to internationalize early on in a company’s development if they wanted to keep growing. In addition, there are traditional regional crafts, such as the clock-making industry in the Black Forest with its highly developed fine mechanical competencies, which developed into 450 medical technology companies, most of them makers of surgical instruments.

Scientific competencies also play an important role. The cluster of 39 measurement technology companies in the area of the old university of town of Göttingen are the result of the leading role Göttingen university’s mathematics faculty had for centuries. The Fraunhofer Institute continues to function as a transmission belt between science and practical applications. The Munich-based Hidden Champion Arri, world market leader in professional film cameras, used the expertise of Fraunhofer to navigate the transition from analog to digital technology, and was thus able to defend its leading market position.

A further pillar of the Hidden Champions’ competitive strength is the unique German dual system of apprenticeship, which combines practical and theoretical training in non-academic trades. The Hidden Champions invest 50% more in vocational training than the average German company.

Tax advantages are another reason. The high taxes on assets in France and the inheritance tax in the U.S. prevent the accumulation of capital necessary for the formation of a strong mid-sized sector.

Finally, the international openness of a society is an essential factor in the globalized world of the future. Germany is far ahead of other large countries with regard to mental internationalization. This includes language competencies, international experience from student exchanges, and university studies. Countries such as France, Italy, Japan, and Korea lag far behind in these respects.

Why is this mental internationalization so important? Because while Hidden Champions may be small, they compete on a global scale. They achieve world-class quality by keeping their focus narrow; focus is the most important element of a Hidden Champion’s strategy. Flexi, for example, makes only one product — retractable dog leashes — but has the claim to make them better than anyone else. This has allowed them to reach 70% of market share in this category. But focus makes a market small. How can you make it bigger? By globalizing. Today, the Hidden Champions are present in their target markets with 30 subsidiaries on average. Despite their medium or small size, they are true global players. About one quarter of German exports comes from the Hidden Champions.

Hidden Champions provide a model of inclusive growth that are worth emulating. But any foreign policymaker or economist seeking to foster a community of such companies in their own country should tailor their approach to that country’s own unique conditions.

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