That is one reason why the most likely source of a disruptive movement in Germany is on the anti-capitalist Left. For the first time, Die Linke has an orator of great brilliance — Sahra Wagenknecht. A former philosophy student from Jena and the party's deputy chairman, Ms Wagenknecht has attracted gossip recently for her "close friendship" with the former Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, Oskar Lafontaine, the most prominent West German leftist to migrate to Die Linke, which he led until 2009. He is 69; she is 42. Deeply read in Marxist economics, she has written almost a dozen books. She may be the most impressive figure in her party.
In her office, where an old print of Marx and an Italian Madonna hang on the wall behind her desk, she assails dumping, "the unfair competition that is incompatible with democracy", the "arrogance" and "ignorance of German history" that has prompted the government to put German "savings kommissars" in the government offices of Greece. However, in a way that is reminiscent of the Front de Gauche presidential candidate in France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Sahra Wagenknecht's policy platform doesn't add up. She favours nationalising all kinds of industries, but she is also more European than she lets on — so the outcome of her programme would be a lot of nationalised industries with no nation to own them.
While her barnstorming speeches still remind some of the Communist heroine Rosa Luxemburg, she says all of this without raising her voice. Wagenknecht is worth watching because she shows signs of wanting to soften her image as a humourless and over-disciplined party comrade. If she manages that, she will be formidable. She has spoken on TV shows about her upbringing in East Germany, after her Iranian father left her mother. Her latest book tries to link her own Marxist economics with the mainstream West German "Ordoliberal" school of Walter Eucken, Ludwig Erhard and others who designed the postwar German welfare state. "They, too, saw that economic power can be uncontrollable," she says.
What is most unlikely is that Germany will see a right-wing populist movement of the sort that has proved disruptive in Finland, France, Sweden and Switzerland recently. Populism requires an anti-European component, which Germany certainly possesses, but it also seems to require a hostility to mass migration and multiculturalism. While Germany is dissatisfied with multiculturalism, the history of the last century is still too firmly stamped on the minds of most citizens for hostility to play a role in any such discussion. The attempt two years ago of the Berlin parliamentarian René Stadtkewicz to start an Islamosceptic party has not met with much success, even though he had the support of leading European populists such as Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party and Oskar Freysinger of the Swiss People's Party.
But there is another difference, and it does not argue in favour of the country's remaining quiescent for long. In most European countries it is quite well understood that the fiscal union now being discussed is merely another name for the disbanding of nations. This disbanding has a particular poignancy in Germany's case. Germany has spent the last 65 years trying to earn its way back into the company of civilised nations. It is hard to believe that its citizens will be content to demolish the political civilisation they have so painstakingly rebuilt with decades of blood, toil, sweat and tears. The most important innovation of the European Union, the pooling of sovereignties, is turning out to be the most dangerous. Decided on at a time when Europe's strongest nation had no sovereignty to speak of, it must now be implemented at a time when it has more than its share.
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