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What a more inward looking Germany means for Europe
Over the years, I have become a great fan of “Grand Designs,” a British TV series about home construction. In each episode, the presenter works with a couple in the British Isles to help them build their dream home from scratch. They first find some land, then design the thing and finally have it built.
What does this have to do with Germany? Well, on the show, whenever the couple needs any kind of technology, like precisely cut steel, or some sort of artisan glass, they always take a plane to Germany to visit engineers and craftsmen, all small businesses. Think about it. The Germans just stay in Germany. Customers go to see them. Forget about the possible impact of Brexit on the British construction industry. Just focus on the Germans. Germany has always been an inward looking country with all those small businesses, the so-called
“Mittelstand.” Yet, in this age of new industrial revolution and more innovations carried out by startups all around the world, that better change.
Germany had its elections last week. As expected, there is now a sixth party in Bundestag, the Alternative für Deutschland. The AfD is like a funny mass on your MRI – it could kill you if you don’t take it seriously. It was already being represented in 13 of the 16 state parliaments before entering the Bundestag, and has great momentum in the country.
Looking for the upshot of the German election? In his Financial Times column this Monday, Wolfgang Münchau summarized it in one sentence. “I expect Germany to become more inward looking over the next few years,” he wrote. Germany has always been an introvert, so what does it mean for it to become even more so? Let me elaborate.
My first point is a practical one. Angela Merkel has a lot more bargaining to do to form her new cabinet, as there will be two partners instead of one. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes until the end of this year to form a new government. In the meantime, do not expect Germany to be active in international affairs. That part, I can understand. That is until the end of 2017.
Second, if Germany’s leaders design policies to undercut the AfD, I can also understand that. This soul searching may bring stricter rules for migration and new discussions about domestic integration policies. Merkel has already started talking about some of these issues.
That gets me to my third point - what does this more inward-looking Germany mean for the future of Europe? Introversion could let Germany succumb to identity politics, which is typically anti-EU and anti-globalization. This will surely undermine its leadership position, which will leave the continent even more rudderless than it was before.
Does the AfD have the capacity to shift the political debate away from European values and towards identity politics? Maybe. Does Germany have the luxury to become more inward looking? No.
Let me say a few words about Germany-Turkey relations, too. What does a more inward-looking Germany mean for Turkey? If the AfD is as effective as it aims to be, I think our relationship will be less about Turkey and more about Turkish citizens in Germany within the next few years. Turkish-Germans have been the focal point of closer cooperation between the two countries so far. Turning them into a warzone between our countries may not be a good idea.
Ideally, Turkish-German relations would focus on sharing the spoils of globalization, spreading the institutional framework of German business to Turkey, and collaborating on new technologies. That future is still possible, but the forces of populism have cast a shadow on it.