Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Between the urns and values

Ralitsa Kovacheva, September 6, 2011

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of German Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered another electoral defeat, this time in the poorest German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Western Pomerania). The Christian Democrats received 23 percent of the votes (against 28 in the last election in 2006), while their coalition partner - the Free Democratic Party - did not even pass the 5 percent threshold for entering the local parliament.

The Social Democrats convincingly won by over 36% of the votes (against 30% in the previous election). The Greens can also consider themselves winners, entering the local parliament for the first time with 8% of the votes, so for the first time in its history the party has seats in all 16 regional parliaments of the country. The Social Democrats, who have ruled Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in a coalition with the Christian Democrats, now have the opportunity to continue the joint governance or turn to the left - choosing a coalition partner from the Greens or the left wing, who gained 18 percent of the votes. The 5-percent threshold has also been passed by the nationalists from the far right National Democratic Party of Germany – the People's Union.

Some commentators note that the loss in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a personal loss for CDU leader Angela Merkel because she was strongly committed to the campaign in the province where her own constituency is located. The defeat is likely to be repeated in the local election in Berlin later in September. Only a few days later the Bundestag is to vote on the decisions of the eurozone leaders from 21 July about a second Greek loan and the changes in the euro area bailout fund. Against this background, the vote is unlikely to pass smoothly for the ruling coalition.

The Christian Democrats lost all of this year's local elections, though many believe the results are not indicative for the national elections in 2013. Voters do not approve Germany's participation in the rescue operations of the euro area, but at the same time they criticise Chancellor Merkel of failing to address the debt crisis and of lacking the necessary leadership. The disaster in the nuclear plant in Fukushima (Japan) and the variable position of the CDU on the future of nuclear power in Germany brought certain negatives to the party, at the expense of the Greens who improved their results in all local elections this year.

Commentators, however, note that there is another reason for the Christian Democrats' poor results which could be applied not only to Germany - the withdrawal of the voters in Europe from the traditional conservative values, under pressure from the crisis, the globalisation, the immigrant wave. More and more Europeans choose security instead of freedom, return of borders instead of free movement, social security instead of free initiative.

The economic crisis brought grist to the mill of market economy critics and revived the calls for social equality. This is probably most obvious in Greece, but such a social-populist pathos can be found also in the rhetoric of many European leaders, as well as the European institutions. The feeling of rejection of traditional conservative values and liberal beliefs is especially strong in a society like Bulgaria's that has never actually completed its transition from socialism to democracy. While this could be expected, albeit being wrong - the calls for social equality and security to prevail the public domain in the poorest country in the EU - such a tendency could be seen also in part of the German society.

In 2007 Chancellor Angela Merkel answered questions of Die Welt readers*. One of the questions was whether she shared concerns that in the [German] society, freedom had been constantly losing ground in favour of equality and social security. In response, Ms Merkel acknowledged that there was such a concept of freedom without responsibility in the society, which, however, she disagreed with.

That same year, Der Spiegel published a joint interview of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Cardinal Karl Lehmann, bishop of Mainz and the highest-ranking representative of the Catholic Church in Germany, where both explained their understanding of social justice. Both emphasised the personal responsibility that required everyone to contribute, to help themselves and only then to be entitled to expect help from the community.

In her interviews and speeches Angela Merkel often speaks about the social market economy of Ludwig Erhard (the father of the German economic miracle after the World War II), recalling that its great success is due to a simple principle - to promote competition, private initiative and development. "The one who works must have more than the one who does not work. The one who performs better must have more than the one who performs worse," Ms Merkel simply explains her understanding of social justice. She quotes Erhard himself, explaining the relationship between the state and citizens in his book Prosperity for All: "I want to prove myself under my own steam. I want to take my own risks in life; I want to be responsible for my own fate. So make sure, state, that I am in a position to do this.”

Regardless of the election results, we shouldn’t worry that German society will forget these words because they have long ago left the pages and have turned into a way of life and shared values. But for many Europeans, especially now, it is vital to understand their meaning. Because either country, or united Europe can move forward without the conscious individual effort of every citizen. Because shared prosperity can only exist through shared responsibility. More than 60 years after the Germans, it is time the rest to understand that too.

*All following quotes are from the collection of speeches, articles and interviews of Angela Merkel, Tolerance is Europe's Soul, published in Bulgaria by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Civil Community in 2009