Merkel has returned from a three-week Alpine holiday to embark Saturday on the most bizarre election campaign in Germany’s post-war history. After months of studiously ignoring the race for the September 24th election, Merkel will kick off a series of rallies across the country with an hour-long speech to supporters in the western city of Dortmund. But just six weeks out from the European Union’s top economic power and most populous nation going to the polls, Germans are barely taking notice of the election.
Even after 12 years in power, Merkel, frequently called the world’s most powerful woman and Europe’s de facto leader, looks set for a fourth term. Gone are the warnings of her political demise heard at the height of the 2015 refugee influx, when nearly 900,000 asylum seekers entered the country.
Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) lead their closest rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), by a 12-to-17-point margin, meaning it would take a political earthquake to shift the field at this point.
It is probably the strangest election race in the history of the Federal Republic. There is no wind, never mind a wind of change. Merkel’s main challenger, SPD leader and former European Parliament spokesman Martin Schulz, has led a plodding campaign. But there is little mood around for renewal, as Germans look out on a turbulent world unsettled by Donald Trump and Brexit.
After high-drama election campaigns in the United States, Britain and France, Germans appear relieved that their race is so low-stakes. The German elections are very difficult to understand from a foreign point of view because there’s hardly any polarization.
Meanwhile the frustrated Social Democrats are faced with an enemy who refuses to engage, nicknaming the lonely Schulz the Shadowboxer. The SPD can’t polarize the campaign alone; CDU doesn’t answer, so the campaign is dying.
There are three main reasons for German satisfaction with the status quo: the rude health of the economy with solid growth and low unemployment; Merkel’s right-left grand coalition government creating broad consensus around contentious issues such as immigration and security; and a pact by mainstream parties to shun the political fringe.
The CDU has plumped for a soft-focus campaign centered on patriotism and Merkel herself. The party drew ridicule for its soporific slogan “For a Germany in which we live well and happily”, and a campaign poster featuring a young female voter literally asleep in a meadow.
Schulz this month accused Merkel of eroding German democracy with her barely perceptible re-election bid. “A chancellor who does not tell voters what she intends to do is neglecting her duty and that endangers the future of the country,” he warned.
Given she has been in power since 2005, making her the longest-serving leader of any major Western democracy, Merkel still enjoys a remarkable personal popularity rating of around 60 percent – nearly double that of Schulz.
We see the fascination Germans have with the down-to-earth images of Merkel hiking in gear she has been wearing year after year that were splashed on the pages of newspapers and magazines during her holiday.
It is among the curiosities of this election campaign that even Merkel’s summer holiday led her poll numbers to climb. Merkel’s style mirrored Germans’ own view of themselves.
The only source of suspense at this stage seems to be whether Merkel will manage to eke out her first absolute majority to govern alone, or which of three possible smaller parties she would court for a coalition.
The irony is that Germany’s real political battle would apparently have to wait until after the election. September starts the clock on a time after Angela Merkel when the fight for the future of the CDU and SPD can begin in earnest.
EU is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe. You might as well give sovereignty up to Adolf Hitler. Germany has always been the EU’s most powerful economy, and Britain’s departure leaves the Bundesrepublik in an even more dominant position. Yet far from using this enhanced clout to steer the Brexit negotiations in a direction which would suit German industry, Germany’s leaders are now even more anxious than ever not to be seen throwing their weight around.
German diplomats and politicians remain acutely sensitive to the charge that EU is a Teutonic plot to achieve by stealth what their forefathers failed to achieve in two world wars, and it’s this fear of being cast as Europe’s bully boys which means Germany will play no active role in the Brexit negotiations.
The reason Germany is so keen to take a back seat is that European unity, not British trade, is Germany’s main concern. Britons find it intolerable being bossed about by Germans. Other Europeans feel much the same. Economically the other members of the EU depend on Germany but they don’t like to admit it and so, in some respects, the EU’s richest, most populous nation actually has less diplomatic leverage than its smallest, poorest states. It makes no difference if Germans want to carry on selling tariff-free cars to Britain – to maintain European harmony, especially after Brexit, Germany must avoid the slightest suspicion that it’s bossing its EU partners around.
So what will be the consequences of this back seat stance, for Germany and Britain? Most probably, a tougher exit deal than many German industrialists would care for. The Germans all seem resigned to a hard Brexit, with no concessions. In means In, Out means Out, and the integrity of the Single Market is sacrosanct. Sure, new tariffs may hurt German exports in the short term, but if the Single Market remains intact it’s probably a price worth paying. And in any case, they argue, German exports aren’t particularly price sensitive. Britons buy German goods because they’re reliable, not because they’re cheap.
Germans want some sort of deal and they’re fairly confident Barnier will work something out, but the one issue which they fear may cause the breakdown of these talks is British exit payments. The way the Germans see it, Britain has made prior commitments to EU which Brits need to honor before anything else can be resolved, and this as an area where the two sides are still a long way apart.
And what about Germany’s role in Europe after Brexit? Ironically, it seems the main result of Britain’s departure will be to make the Germans more Eurofederalist – not because they want to be, but because Brexit will inevitably propel Germany into a closer relationship with France. Macron wants to drive European integration at a faster pace than Merkel, and while the Germans will resist French attempts to pool French debts with German surpluses, without the British there to apply the brakes the EU juggernaut will now move up a gear. One of the unintended consequences of Brexit is that, far from initiating the break-up of the EU, it will most likely bind its remaining members more tightly together.
90% of the corrupt NGOs in cahoots with human smugglers on the Mediterranean are German firms. With their large seaworthy ships, they close the logistical gap in the Mediterranean between the Arab smugglers in Libya and the Arab smugglers in Italy. So it is not Libyans and other Arabs who are organizing the mass transport of invaders to West Europe — it is Germans. The Identitarian Movement put on a wonderful solo demonstration against the German smuggler groups. But where is the systematic protest? Where are the pickets in front of the headquarters of these shady companies right here in Germany? Where are the flyers being handed out in the pedestrian zones of those cities? Why is our concentrated anger not directed at those Germans among us whose hands are dirtiest from this repulsive, duplicitous business?
Day after day, the Lying Press presents us with the same Fake News: “Refugees saved from danger at sea!” Every word is a miserable lie! There are no refugees. They were not “in danger at sea.” They were not “saved!”
This is the truth: These are paying passengers, all from Africa or other places where there is no war. These passengers only pay Libyan smugglers such amounts for a seat in a zodiac, because the smugglers can guarantee them that their journey will continue beyond the 12-mile limit on a modern German sea-going vessel. The zodiac waits patiently outside the 12-mile limit for the smuggler ship — informed beforehand by their smuggling colleagues — to take the African passengers on board. These passengers from the inflatable weren’t rescued. They were passed from one smuggler to the next, in a perfectly orchestrated arrangement.
Because they are nothing but smugglers, the so-called German “aid organizations” do not transport their allegedly saved-from-danger-at-sea African passengers to the closest port, as is required and customary in the case of real danger of death at sea. No, because they are smugglers, they smuggle their passengers 500 kilometers to Italy. Then they put out to sea and the whole charade — refugees-danger at sea-saving — starts all over again.
Without the big German ships, the Libyan smugglers would not have a chance to sell their expensive tickets. Why should a Bangladeshi or a Congolese put his hard-won money into the grubby paws of a dodgy Libyan, if he promises a trip to Europe, but can’t guarantee it? That is why the participation of the Germans is crucial. Without the guarantee of a secure, dependable continuation of the journey, “made in Germany,” there would be no business for the Libyans. So the notorious German “aid organizations” are the crux and the fulcrum of all the organized human trafficking in the Mediterranean.
So Germans are once again the ones who are dragging the rest of Europe in the wrong direction. It is not only an icy, passive-aggressive woman at the head of their state, whose selfies advertise a folk migration to Western Europe. It is also those people, predominantly Germans, who are organizing, coordinating and carrying out this folk migration.
In this context, it is puzzling that the latest, exemplary Identitarian demonstration is thus far a noble but isolated act. Systematic, regular protests against the German smuggler mafia — the so-called aid organizations — are long overdue! There is no admonitory presence in front of the company headquarters of these dubious enterprises. No flyers or informative movements in pedestrian zones. No protests against the backers: particularly the churches that provide sums in the millions for these smuggling groups — because the church-backed asylum industry needs constant replenishment of people, to increase its profits.
Germans must not allow themselves to play the bogeyman of Europe again. They must not allow themselves to be singled out again, and be compelled once more to be ashamed of their wretched contribution to the history of our continent. It is the obligation of Germans to pillory the German smugglers of the Mediterranean, the worthless, criminal pseudo-Germans who are sinning against all of Europe. The perpetrators are in our midst. Let us put a stop to their filthy works!
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.”
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?”
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.”
A government task force created to promote the integration of migrants into German society has published a list of the core features of German culture.
The list studiously omits politically incorrect terms such as “patriotism” and “leading culture” (Leitkultur), and effectively reduces German traditions and values to the lowest common denominator. The task force, in fact, implicitly establishes multiculturalism as the most complete expression of German culture.
The so-called Cultural Integration Initiative (Initiative kulturelle Integration) was created by the German government in December 2016 to promote “social cohesion” after Chancellor Angela Merkel opened German borders to more than a million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The task force — led by the German Cultural Council (Deutscher Kulturrat) in close cooperation with the German Interior Ministry and two dozen media, religious and other interest groups — was charged with reaching a consensus on what constitutes German culture. The original aim was to facilitate “cultural integration” by encouraging migrants to assimilate to a shared set of cultural values.
After five months of deliberation, the task force on May 16 presented a list of what it considers to be the top 15 guiding principles of German culture. Encapsulated in the catchphrase “Cohesion in Diversity,” the list consists of mostly generic ideas about German culture — gender equality, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, pluralism and democracy — that are not at all unique to Germany.
Moreover, the list makes no mention of German culture as being the guiding or core culture (Leitkultur), nor does the task force explicitly demand that migrants assimilate to the German way of life. Rather, the guiding principles appear to be aimed at encouraging Germans to embrace the foreign cultural norms that migrants bring to Germany. The task force’s focus seems to have shifted from integration and assimilation to coexistence, tolerance and to the Germans adopting the migrant’s core culture.
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.