Daily Press (Sunday) - - Opinion -

In one of con­tem­po­rary his­tory’s in­trigu­ing car­oms, Euro­pean pol­i­tics just now is a story of how one de­ci­sion by a pas­tor’s du­ti­ful daugh­ter has made life mis­er­able for a vicar’s du­ti­ful daugh­ter. Two of the world’s most im­por­tant con­ser­va­tive par­ties are in­volved in an un­in­tended tu­to­rial on a car­di­nal tenet of con­ser­vatism, the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences, which is that the un­in­tended con­se­quences of de­ci­sions in com­plex so­cial sit­u­a­tions are of­ten larger than, and con­trary to, those in­tended.

In 2015, An­gela Merkel, the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­many’s first chan­cel­lor from what was East Ger­many, chose to wel­come into Ger­many about1mil­lion peo­ple, many of them Syr­i­ans, flee­ing Mid­dle Eastern car­nage. (As a per­cent­age of Ger­many’s pop­u­la­tion, this was equiv­a­lent to Amer­ica re­ceiv­ing 4 mil­lion.) This in­flux stoked Euro­pean anx­i­eties about im­mi­gra­tion threat­en­ing so­cial co­he­sion, anx­i­eties that con­trib­uted to the 52 per­cent-48 per­cent vote in Bri­tain’s 2016 ref­er­en­dum di­rect­ing the gov­ern­ment to ex­tri­cate the United King­dom from the Euro­pean Union. In 2019, Theresa May, who was not yet Bri­tain’s prime min­is­ter when the ref­er­en­dum oc­curred and who voted to re­main in the EU, is lead­ing, or try­ing to lead, a frac­tious party that can­not gov­ern be­cause there is no ma­jor­ity for any plan to ef­fec­tu­ate what in 2016 was, but might not still be, the vot­ers’ Brexit de­sire.

For many years, Merkel has been the clos­est ap­prox­i­ma­tion to an an­swer to the fa­mous ques­tion at­trib­uted to Henry Kissinger: If I want to talk to “Europe,” who do I call? She also has em­bod­ied Ger­many’s pri­mal de­sire for sta­bil­ity, a de­sire that is the great na­tional con­stant since Kon­rad Ade­nauer served as the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­many’s first chan­cel­lor from 1949 to1963. In 2000, Merkel be­came leader of the Ade­nauer’s Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, which un­til she ceded party lead­er­ship last month had had only three lead­ers in 45 years. In 2005, she be­came chan­cel­lor, a po­si­tion she will have held for 4,800 days — Franklin Roo­sevelt was pres­i­dent for 4,422 days — on Jan.13. She is in her fourth and fi­nal term.

Bri­tain is per­haps, or sort of, ex­it­ing the EU. France’s “yel­low vest” pro­test­ers re­cently com­mented on Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s poli­cies with a Gal­lic vigor (burn­ing cars, smash­ing shop win­dows) suf­fi­cient to change gov­er­nance in the pre­dictable di­rec­tion (taxes de­creased, en­ti­tle­ments in­creased).

No Euro­pean na­tion was as en­chanted as Ger­many was by Barack Obama’s stud­ied el­e­gance and none is more re­pelled by Don­ald Trump’s vis­ceral vul­gar­ity. This es­pe­cially mat­ters at this mo­ment when events are un­der­scor­ing Ger­many’s nec­es­sary de­pen­dence for se­cu­rity on the United States: Ger­many lives in the neigh­bor­hood with two na­tions, Poland and Hun­gary, that have il­lib­eral pop­ulist regimes. And not far over the hori­zon Vladimir Putin is desta­bi­liz­ing and dis­mem­ber­ing Europe’s ge­o­graph­i­cally largest na­tion, Ukraine. Ger­many’s de­pen­dence was in­ad­ver­tently high­lighted by Macron’s delu­sional state­ment that there must be a “true Euro­pean army” to “pro­tect our­selves with re­spect to China, Rus­sia and even the United States.”

Ger­many has two of the world’s great par­ties, the CDU, and the So­cial Demo­cratic Party, which in the19th cen­tury in­vented so­cial democ­racy that helped to drain the rev­o­lu­tion­ary steam from the left. Both are in flux. Ex­trem­ism, how­ever, is quar­an­tined by the civic cul­ture that so val­ues sta­bil­ity that a poll in this decade showed that more Ger­mans fear in­fla­tion — the hy­per­in­fla­tion of 95 years ago was the ul­ti­mate desta­bi­lizer — than fear can­cer or other se­ri­ous ill­nesses.

Next year will be the 30th an­niver­sary of Ger­man re­uni­fi­ca­tion. This will be an oc­ca­sion for the world to ac­knowl­edge that, as has been truly said, to­day’s Ger­many is the best Ger­many the world has seen since it be­came Ger­many in 1871. Will is a Washington Post colum­nist. Send email to [email protected]­

Ge­orge Will

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