Monday, October 31, 2005


The East German authorities launched a campaign of repression against the church and intellectuals. With the death of Stalin, things changed and the campaign was dropped. Industrial workers, however, complained they were getting nothing out of this and perceived some weakness in the regime. Their uprising was of course crushed with brutality. (Charles Wheeler, 'Germany: from misery to miracle' - Part 3)
Bertrand Benoit on Angela Merkel ('A star from the east' , FT Magazine, 10 Sept 2005):
Schroder’s style is to test the public mood, take ad hoc measures, and wait for them to take effect before making his next decision, with periods of frenetic activity alternating with spells of inaction. Merkel takes the long view. Her manifesto, with its detailed steps and precise timeline, is less a plea for votes than a roadmap to the first years of her government. Having set herself a goal (to boost employment), identified the problem (excessive labour costs as a result of high welfare levies on wages), and factored in the constraints (empty public coffers), she zeroes in on the solution: an increase in value-added tax to fund a cut in welfare contributions that would make expensive German workers cheaper to employ.
Far from being a hindrance, however, this outside view could prove her biggest asset. An easterner who has made her way in the west, she would have the ideal background to address the growing rift between the country’s 17 million easterners and their 60 million western neighbours. More importantly, her personal history means she is not emotionally bound to Germany’s old welfare state and the unwritten rule that politics should reach its ends through consensus, not creative conflict.

With Germany’s unaffordable social security system, its over-regulated markets and its cumbersome federalism in dire need of radical reform, would a perfect outsider not stand a better chance than someone raised in the system of achieving such changes?
”If I look at Scandinavia, I see we still have a long way to go in decoupling our social security system from labour,” she told me. “If I look at central and eastern European countries, I see I still have a long way to go in reforming my tax system, and when I look at the UK, I see I still have much to do to make my labour market more flexible... there is no single continental social model. There are only strengths and weaknesses.”

In private, she often mentions the collapse of the GDR. It taught her, she says, that uncompetitive political and economic models could fail. Her entire career since reunification could be seen as a battle to spare unified Germany such a fate. It seems the demise of the Soviet bloc was to Merkel what the second world war was to the rulers of Kohl’s generation.


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