2016 was one of the bloodiest years in the recent history of Europe. European states increased their security measures in order to prevent and protect their peoples from Islamic terrorists and Islamic extremism. Europe and West found a new phenomenon without precedent and now they are called to battle with it.
However, the real nightmare is not the constant fear of terrorists but the rising fear of our Muslim neighbor. How many times have you suspiciously watched a Muslim imam during the boarding time of your flight? How many times have you felt in sorrow or in anxiety about a Muslim woman wearing a niqab? How many times have you found yourself thinking that all women in Muslim countries get married before their teens or that all men beat their wives? Religion has started to set boundaries, bridge walls and bring hostile feelings into the surface: hostile feelings against our religious and cultural “unknown”.
Living permanently in Greece, I came face to face with the refugee crisis. Greece had to deal with thousands of Syrians coming from a different cultural, political and religious background. This was the breaking point where we understood the impact and the power of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Greek political and social life. First of all, in order to understand all these facts, I should mention the privileged position of the Church in the Greek Constitution. According to the Article 3, which governs the relations between the State and the Greek Orthodox Church, of the Greek Constitution (1986), the Greek Orthodoxy is the prevailing religion and the Greek Orthodox Church has the full autonomy to run all the operations related to the religious affairs. The Greek Orthodox dealt with the refugee and migrant crisis in really bad terms. Many bishops referred to them as a miasma for the Greek society and a crusade against them has to be started in order not to let them convert Christians into Islam. In September 2016, when the first refugee children would go the Greek primary schools, some Church’s representatives condemned this action and put the blame on the State that these children should not sit next to the Greek young generation. The ex-Minister of Education, Mr. Nikos Filis made an effort to change thecourse of religion in High Schools and introduce the course of World religions. The reaction of the Church led to replacement from another Minister who would follow the instructions of religious leaders and would maintain the course in the form of indoctrination as it is since the late ’50s. The specific form of the course puts in the margin, students from different religions, humanists or atheists and does not provide an inclusive school community.
Moreover, Greece is one of the countries that have not yet built a mosque for the Muslim communities. Muslim communities gather and pray in their own apartments or basements which serve religious purposes. The building of a mosque is one of the most problematic debates in Greece, especially after the pressure by the Turkish government in order to reopen the Theological School of Halki (closed since 1971).
As I already mentioned, both secular and less secular states of Europe such as Greece, are called to deal with problems and difficulties arising from religions and their embodiment in the field of politics and of human rights. This paper is going to discuss some of the most alarming issues in the current public debate related to religious expression. A special emphasis will be put on the relations between Islam and Christianity.
This article is divided in the following parts: The first part is going to examine the secular character of Europe and its challenges and consequences in a multireligious society. The second part is going to examine the issue of Muslim women veil and its ban from National Laws as well as women rights in both Muslim and Christian communities. Both primary sources and secondary sources have been selected in order to investigate the issues from various perspectives. A special attention has been paid on the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on cases related to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
A Secular Europe
According to the study of Pew Research Center which was conducted in 2010, Europe counted 550, 2 millions of Christians, 139,9million Non-religious and 43,3million Muslims. The prevailing religion in every single country in Europe was Christianity except for Estonia and Czech Republic where the majority of population was non-religious (59.6 % and 76.4 % respectively). Only in Albania, Islam is the prevailing religion counting 80.3% of the population. Following this study, in 2015, European Commission conducted a research related to values and European spirit. For Europeans, the most important things are the human rights, peace, life respect, individual rights and religion. Instead, they believe that the followings things represent most European Union and are less important for them: respect for other cultures, Law of the State (l’ état de droit) and democracy.
What is secularism and secular identity?
According to Casanova, secularization of Europe is an undeniable social fact. Religion does not play a key role in the fate of people and a new social model emerged in the recent decades of European history. According to Ferrari, secularization is the process where decisions affecting politics, law and economics must be based on reason, not on the faith of one or other citizen. The private and the public life are completely separated. In the era of secularization, religion belongs to the sphere of private life and public life has no room for religious affairs. Taking into account the flux of foreign minorities in Europe which carried with them new cultures and religions, secularism was the ideal solution to create inclusive societies without discrimination on the grounds of those cultural elements. To prevent the danger of a clash and to ensure the equal treatment of all religions, it is essential to ground the public sphere on a principle that is universal and neutral and therefore capable of being accepted by all people regardless of their religion: this principle is human reason. Consequently, Church and State are two different entities with different goals and different means which sometimes may cooperate for the social and common good.
Secularization has been a new and universal concept which according to Weber is a unique feature of European thought. But how has secularization emerged and prevailed in European societies? According to Linda Woodhead, there have been numerous social and political changes which favored the emergence of secularism after the 1970’s. First of all, individual rights gained ground and people determined their lives as they wished without letting anyone get involved in their decisions. Other changes such as late capitalism and consumer capitalism, tertiary knowledge open to large part of people, urbanization, globalization of economy in the post-colonial era, well — educated and skillful young people from all the social classes, women rights and women emancipation, sexual revolution and feminist movements, political emancipation constituted the fertile ground where secularism built its own building. Linda Woodhead offers two definitions for secularization. The first one is the social secularization which is the process whereby religion loses its power and influence over and within society while personal secularization has to do with the decline of individual allegiance and commitment to religion. State marginalized Church in Western states but still lays on its support in cases of emergency. Church still has impact on many people lives and its messages are strong enough even if many people decide not to follow strictly these guidelines and instructions.
A secular Christian identity
Someone would wonder how European and enlightened, secular societies are compatible with the rates of the study by Pew Research center where the majority identify themselves as Christian. As Casanova mentions, large numbers of Europeans even in the most secular countries still identify themselves as “Christian”, pointing to an implicit, diffused and submerged Christian cultural identity. According to Casanova, “secular” and “Christian” identities are intertwined in complex and rarely verbalized modes among most Europeans. However, scholars coming from different backgrounds, support the view that European secularism is selectively secular and is more friendly towards Christianity and less tolerant towards other religions and especially Islam. According to them, European secularism is a result of Christian cultural identity which still applies its standards and ignores other cultures and religions. Ferrari mentions related to that view that this secularism is double-standard secularism where the conditions of access to the secular public sphere, apparently the same for all religions, are actually more demanding for non-Christians religions whose doctrinal and organizational characteristics are less compatible with the secular profile that distinguishes the public sphere. The secular character of the current European societies has a lot been under doubt by the leaders of the Church and of various religions. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in his message towards the “Le Parti Populaire Européen” for its 21st Congress writes “ The history of Europe which contains some common features has been abandoned by modernity. We have to take into consideration the religious dimension if we want cohesion…and this is why our Church and PPE have started a fertile dialogue since 1995”.
Le Foulard Islamique and Women rights in Christianity & Islam
During summer 2016, mainstream and social media were full of images from arrests of Muslim women wearing burkini in French beaches. Burkini is officially banned by French Law and these arrests generated a wave of protests by human rights activists and Muslims all over the world. These protests had to do with the freedom of expression of Muslim women and Muslims in general and if finally the French secular state treats equally everybody without discrimination. On the other side, secularists talked about respect to the secular state of France and its laws of forbidding ostentious religious symbols.
France is the first European secular state where the State and Religion were separated and where the neutrality (Laïcité) of the State towards religion was applied. The Government passed the Law of 9 December 1905, installing in France a regime of Separation of Church and State which remains the current regime. The State must provide to everyone the possibility of attending at the ceremonies of his Church and of being instructed in the beliefs proper to his chosen religion. Equality between the various religions implies that there is no state religion, no “official” or dominant religion, no recognized Churches..No religion has a particular public status. Toleration must be extended to all religions, and even to unbelief. What is more, the church must be subject to political control.
These values have been reflected also on the European Convention of Human Rights and especially on the Article 9, paragraph 1 which protects the freedom of religion. The second paragraph sets the limits between the public and the private sphere where religion belongs Article 9 (2) allows governments to limit “manifestations” of religion or belief, albeit “only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedom of others” The wearing of veil brought initially in France a clash of cultures and traditions. As Ferrari writes, “On the one hand, immigration have brought into Europe an increasing number of people who follow religions that are not traditional in the Old continent (in particular, Islam): on the other hand an increasing number of citizens claim the right to follow publicly the tenets of their religion in matter of dress codes, gender relations, family law and so forth, and this is outside the private domain to which religion had been confined.
The veil of Muslim women reflected a symbol of oppression in European secular societies and lack of human rights. In 2004, the French National Assembly passed a legislation which makes it illegal for Muslim women to wear headscarves within French public schools. To be precise the legislation refers to the banning of ostentatious religious symbols within the secular domain of the public school system. The Jewish kippa (yarmulke) as well as “oversize” crosses are prohibited with the Muslim headscarf.The ultimate objective was the complete assimilation of these religious groups to the French values and principles and the creation of a more cohesive and inclusive society. The scarf only gradually became a charged political symbol of the presence of Islam in France. The beginning was made in 1989 where a principal in secondary school in Creil (a suburb in Paris) expelled three girls because they wore the headscarf. After this, a series of social battles in favor of the scarf or against the scarf was followed for many years. Cultural differences were brought into the surface. Muslim women who wear a hijab often being represented as agents of “fundamentalism” or “terrorism” and as indicators of the inassimilable nature of Muslims in Europe. On the one hand, people defended the cultural and religious traditions and the freedom of religious expression and on the other hand, people defended the secular values, the place of religion in the private sphere, the freedom of Muslim women from oppression, violence and patriarchal structures. Each side accused the other of ignorance or xenophobia but both sides defended human rights from a different perspective.
But what Muslim women say about this? Islam as every religion is internally diverse and has many branches with different views, more or less strict, towards human rights and women rights. In the study of Sara Silvestri, 132 Muslim women living in European countries took part in order to reach some conclusions regarding how they embody their Islamic tradition in their daily lives. Young generations are eager to access Islamic knowledge, to intellectually, spiritually and critically “own” their religion. Many women seek personal empowerment through close and conscious adherence to religious performance, by studying the Quran and Arabic independently, by attending lectures, by becoming able to challenge tradition and to dispute male leadership from within. Also, many women reject the male dominant and traditional forms of Islam and stop belonging to institutions and conservative communities. Consequently, they live their own spirituality in their own unique way even when they do not follow religious practices (non organized Islam). In the study of Nadia Jeldtoft, where she interviews people who do not belong to organized Islam, she states “ The practices have been adapted to fit into everyday life. They are spiritual because they provide interviewees with a space of their own to practice Islam on their own terms.” As Jeldtoft mentions, the nature of this form of religion is private and internalized with an individual approach. Many Muslim women believe that headscarf is a symbol of universal values and modesty and they feel better wearing it and not oppressed.
It is of crucial importance to make a short comparison with the liberty that women enjoy in Christianity. Europe has its roots in Catholicism and later some countries were led by Lutheranism and Protestantism. After the Early Christianity, the position of women got deteriorated and they became objects under the ownership of their family male members or second class citizens. Lutheranism place the male in the position of everybody’s master (paterfamilias) and women were confined in the domestic sphere with no public speech or influence. A new model of civic order where women were excluded, was promoted by Lutheran theology. Apart from their marginal role as care takers of their family, women also were depicted as devils who try to bring troubles (witch hunting).
After many centuries, women started playing a more crucial role in the Church and its operations. In a money based economy, men were absolutely interested in the profit making and women took care of charity affairs. In the last decades, modernity paved the way for Christianity. Its traditional and conservative methods were not tolerant by young people and radical measures should be taken in order to find an effective balance. Female autonomy led to the first steps for the change in the traditional typology of gender models in Christianity. In November 2016, Pope Francis extended power to priests to forgive abortion. This is the next big step of Roman Catholicism to the female reproductive autonomy which was unconceivable some years ago. Female reproductive autonomy was established as a human right in international law by the Convention of the Elimination all Forms of Discrimination against women, in force since 1981 ratified by 168 states. The Holy See, along with eight Muslim States has not signed this Convention, nor the 1952 Convention on the Political Rights of Women.
How Can Parity Be More Proportional?
International diplomats located in Bosnia-Herzegovina have recently launched an initiative requesting the Parliament of one of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s two entities, the Federation, to reconstitute its upper chamber, the House of Peoples, in line with „more proportional representation“. Yet, how can representation in the House of Peoples be more proportional, when already based on the principle of parity? Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Representation can be based either on the principle of proportionality or on the principle of parity. When based on the principle of parity, it cannot possibly be more proportional. Moreover, such an initiative encroaches on the sovereign right of that very Parliament to constitute and reconstitute itself, without external interference.
Indeed, what does sovereignty mean in the present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina? In the rest of Europe it has been adopted, almost axiomatically, in the traditions of both Locke and Rousseau, that sovereignty is indivisible and inalienable. For, the will of the people, as the expression of sovereignty, can not be divided; otherwise, it ceases to be the will of the people and becomes a collection of individual wills and then the people can only be a collection of individuals. Also, sovereignty can not be alienated from its bearer: power may be transferred, but not will; it is impossible for any organ to exercise the sovereign will save the sovereign body itself. The state, as a state, can no more alienate its sovereignty than a man can alienate his will and remain a man. There is but one possible bearer of sovereignty, the people.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, it has been accepted, no less axiomatically, in the tradition of its long-negotiated partition sponsored by international envoys, that this country’s sovereignty can easily be divided, alienated from its people as a whole and transferred to its constituent ethnic elements and then consumed by its three ethnic oligarchies in the form of unrestrained political power over the pieces of territory assigned to them in the process of partition. Actually, such a divided sovereignty is treated as transferred to these oligarchies and consumed in the form of their private property over the resources found on the given pieces of territory.
Thus, whereas sovereignty is elsewhere treated as generated by a contract signed by free individuals, who thereby constitute themselves as the people and sovereignty as their general free will, in Bosnia-Herzegovina sovereignty is treated as dissolved by a contract signed, under the auspices of international envoys, by its three major ethnic groups, renamed for that purpose as ‘constituent peoples’, who thereby construct only a provisional state structure with no declared or acting bearer of sovereignty. ‘Constituent peoples’ are perceived as the contractors who should presumably be represented on the basis of the principle of parity in the parliamentary institutions, on the levels of both state and its two ‘entities’ (Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska), and it is only their three wills that are taken into account, although even they are not treated as sovereign, either, but only as dependent on each other’s acquiescence.
Moreover, yet another part of the country’s divided sovereignty has been transferred to the so-called High Representative (a diplomat appointed by major international powers), whose will may reign supreme over particular wills of the oligarchies claiming to represent their respective ‘constituent peoples’. In this sense, as a part of the country’s Constitution, the High Representative comes closest to the notion of the sovereign, although in practice this person rarely exercises his will and imposes his decisions on the three oligarchies in question. Still, the position in the Constitution makes the High Representative irremovable from the country’s legal structure, in spite of the permanent efforts of the three ethnic oligarchies to eliminate this potential threat to their unrestrained power.
Yet, is such a multiple division and transfer of sovereignty truly a part of the Bosnian Constitution, or it is rather an arbitrary interpretation of the country’s constitutional structure by both foreign diplomats and local politicians? In the preamble of the country’s Constitution one can really find its sovereignty divided among several different categories, positioned as sovereignty’s bearers:
Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, as constituent peoples (along with Others), and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hereby determine that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is as follows.(The Dayton Peace Agreement, Annex 4, The Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina)
A similar formula can be found in the Washington Agreement (1994), which preceded the Dayton Peace Agreement (1995) and served as the basis for creation of the Federation of BiH, as one of Bosnia’s two entities:
Bosniacs and Croats, as constituent peoples (along with Others) and citizens of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the exercise of their sovereign rights, transform the internal structure of the territories with a majority of Bosniac and Croat population in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina into a Federation, which is composed of federal units with equal rights and responsibilities.
Here sovereignty is divided between Bosniacs, Croats and others – whatever their ethnic identity or a lack of identity – and they are all treated as possessing a double identity,first as constituent peoples and then as citizens of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For, the form ‘constituent peoples (along with others)’ presupposes that ‘others’ – whatever their ethnic identity or a lack of identity – are also to be treated as ‘constituent peoples’, along with Bosniacs and Croats. By analogy, Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, along with Others, are to be treated as both ‘constituent peoples’ and ‘citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ in the Dayton Peace Agreement’s Annex 4.But who can actually be proclaimed the bearer of sovereignty on the basis of these two constitutional acts?
Following the modern theories of sovereignty mentioned above, if sovereignty is to be regarded as indivisible and if, accordingly, there can be only one bearer, then the bearer must be the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, acting as a whole. Then the ‘constituent peoples’ (Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, along with Others) are to be understood simply as the constituent elements of the whole, which cannot be treated as multiple bearers of sovereignty. And then the citizens may be represented in a unicameral parliament, founded on the principle of proportionality.
On the other hand, if we take sovereignty as divisible, the ‘constituent peoples’ maywell be regarded as its multiple bearers. Then, however, these ‘constituent peoples’ are not to be reduced only to Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs: the preambles used in both of these constitutional documents suggest that the category of Others is to be regarded as equal to the categories of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs.
Constitution makers, obviously, had no clear answer to the question of sovereignty’s (in)divisibility in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina: instead of a formulation that would follow the principle of sovereignty’s indivisibility (for example, „Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs (along with Others) as citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina“), they introduced the ‘constituent peoples’ as parallel to the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and thus proposed a form of shared sovereignty between the citizens and the ‘constituent peoples’. This shared sovereignty is reflected in the structure of the parliamentary institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina and both of its entities: all the parliaments are bicameral, the lower chambers representing the citizens on the basis of election results in accordance with the principle of proportionality, and the upper chambers representing the ‘constituent peoples’ on the basis of the principle of parity.
Yet, even such relative consistency has ceased to exist in the practical implementation of these two principles. In the the upper chamber of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the House of Peoples, the principle of parity is applied only to representatives of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs (each represented with 5 seats), while Others are totally absent, as if they do not exist in the Constitution’s preamble among ‘constituent peoples’, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs. In the upper chamber of the Parliament of the Federation of BiH, the House of Peoples, the principle of parity is again applied only to representatives of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs (each represented with 17 seats), while the number of representatives of Others is arbitrarily reduced to only 7 seats, as if Others are not to be found among ‘constituent peoples’ in the Constitution’s preamble, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs, and as if the principle of parity can be applied selectively or in some reduced manner. Similarly, in the upper chamber of the Parliament of Republika Srpska, the Council of Peoples, parity is applied again only to Serbs, Bosniacs and Croats (each represented with 8 seats), while Others are represented with only 4 seats, as if they have not been put into the category of ‘constituent peoples’, along with Serbs, Bosniacs and Croats. In other words, even if we theoretically accept the possibility that sovereignty may be divided between the ‘constituent peoples’ and the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, such shared sovereignty is in its constitutional implementation distorted to such an extent that only Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs are recognized as ‘constituent’, whereas Others are sometimes treated as partially constituent, with a reduced number of seats, and sometimes as non-constituent, that is, practically non-existent!
Obviously, when the principle of parity is applied in such a selective manner, it ceases to function as parity. Otherwise, Others would be represented in all these parliamentary institutions on the basis of parity, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs. And then, it only means that Others have been permanently discriminated in the political reality of Bosnia-Herzegovina and that such a constitutional discrimination must be removed if the model of shared sovereignty is to be applied at all. If not, then full sovereignty must be given back to the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, regardless of whether they link their identity to any of its ethnic groups or not. And that has to be reflected in the structure of all its parliamentary institutions: the Houses of Peoples should be abolished and the parliaments should then become unicameral, so that only the citizens would be represented in the Houses of Representatives, based on the principle of proportionality and the principle one person/one vote. Of course, for that purpose the country should get a new constitution, adopted by its own Constitutional Assembly, instead of the one tailored in such an inconsistent (and theoretically problematic) manner by foreign diplomats as a part of the international peace treaty.
However, the international diplomats calling for „more proportional representation“ obviously do not distinguish between, and directly mix up, the principle of proportionality and the principle of parity. They assume that the House of Peoples in the Parliament of the Federation of BiH is based on the principle of proportionality, and ask for more proportionality, although it is clear that parity is its sole founding principle. For, political representation can either be proportional, reflecting the proportion of actual votes for actual political parties and candidates, or it can be based on parity, reflecting the parity between the constituent elements of the entire constituency (presumably, of the country’s population as a whole). As already noted above, it is the principle of parity in the House of Peoples that has been violated by under-representation of Others: while Croats, Bosniacs and Serbs are all represented with 17 seats in this House, Others are represented with only 7 seats. Yet, the diplomats do not pay any attention to this violation of the constitutional principle of parity. Instead, they suggest the Parliament to adopt even „more proportional representation“ in its upper chamber (which, in practice, can only be over-representation of one of the groups already represented in line with the principle of parity), so as to even further undermine its founding principle of parity, already violated by the existing under-representation of Others!
Such a legal absurdity is certainly unsustainable and can only lead to the total dissolution of the existing constitutional order in Bosnia-Herzegovina, already distorted by the abandonment of the principle of indivisibility of sovereignty and further undermined by the selective implementation of the principle of parity in the parliaments’ upper chambers. This brings us to a crucial point: either the parliamentary structures in Bosnia-Herzegovina will follow the logic of this request, abolish the existing provisional constitutional order and leave the country without any constitutional order whatsoever, or they will abolish this constitutional order and establish a non-provisional one, based on the principle of sovereignty’s indivisibility, reflected in a unicameral parliament, representing only the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole, regardless of their ethnic identity or a lack of it.
It is up to the parliamentarians. They may follow the principle of sovereignty as applied in the rest of the European countries, or obey the diplomats’ request, whatever the price for the country’s constitutional order. As for the diplomats, whoever they are, one should finally ask whether they would ever apply in their own countries any of the models they advocate for Bosnia.
Do Angela Merkel and Germany have a joint future?
Many foreign media and even some German media people reported during the endless appearing process for finding a coalition 2017/2018 about a “governmental crisis”. This mostly due to the lack of knowledge these coalition talks being a defined process despite taking unusually long. Germany sure wasn’t able to take major decisions hurting especially Emmanuel Macron and his affair of the heart: the renovation of Europe. On the topics Europe and Foreign Policy, Germany steps on the brakes for many years now, therefore the result remains the same – little or nothing happens anyway.
The new German government is in operation since a few weeks now but there is trouble brewing afoot in Berlin. Unexpectedly, the right wing AfD is pretty quiet at the time.
The CSU remains the arsonist
Those who have hoped the CSU (the Bavarian sister party to the CDU of Angela Merkel) will concentrate on governing the country after the forming of the government are utterly wrong. With the elections ahead in Bavaria, Horst Seehofer wanted to gather his voters and attract those who have left CSU for the AfD with the powerful comment “The Islam does not belong to Germany”. He even doubled within this context by adding “People of Muslim Belief belong to our country”. Just like one could take his belief and values off before going out on the streets. It certainly appears Horst Seehofer is able to abandon his belief and Christian values scarifying them to preserve his own power.
If you look into the history of Europe and Germany – and therefore Bavaria – you soon will discover Horst Seehofer wants to make the pure opposite of history to become reality. Whether by ignorance or on purpose is hard to determine, however based on facts the Bavarian Blusterer simply is wrong – “fake news” might the right term. During the early Middle Age Arabs and the academic people from their countries brought an enormous amount of knowledge to the backwardly European countries. People actually have to thank the Muslims for the following flourishing or Europe. They benefitted from countless innovative products and a vast knowledge transfer from the Occident into the countless by monarchs oppressed, socially underdeveloped and by a faint educational system inhibited countries of Europe. A startling detail: the majority of the academics originate from Chorasan – an expanded Afghanistan – and Iran, namely from the former intellectual stronghold Bagdad.
Angela Merkel took a clear position, criticised and rectified Horst Seehofers statement – who received it thin-skinned but did no longer make such unqualified statements.
Settlements within CDU still not finished
Angela Merkel has many areas with the need for improvement within her own party, too. While the Chancellor tries to convey she has understood the vote and is working on improvements her Health Minister Jens Spahn is backstabbing her. It took him just three appearances – perceived by the people concerned as big-headed and ice-cold calculated arrogance – to destroy Angela Merkels recently planted crop of hope. “Hartz IV does not mean poverty” was his first statement causing backlashes from many sources but also support by those who do not like governmental interventions (Hartz IV is the German unemployed support and welfare system introduced by the SPD in earlier times and a constant annoyance since it does not cover the rapidly increasing cost of life). With his second appearance Jens Spahn talked against the liberalisation of the abortion law unveiling his lack of knowledge and tact. Just a few days later he wanted to comply with his promise to create 8000 new jobs in health care and wanted to speed up the homologation of education certificates of nurses and doctors from other European countries. Again, the Health Minister unveiled he is unprepared since today it already is impossible to convince more than 1000 nurses from EU countries per year to come to Germany – also due to the questionable working conditions and much too low salaries in Germany.The situation is critical since many German nurses and doctors leave for better jobs in other countries like Switzerland. Based on these facts counting on foreign nurses and doctors seems to be questionable on two levels: these people leave a vacancy in their home countries and the problem in Germany becomes the burden of the foreign workers – the question is how long this can be done. Even more problematic is the continuous decrease of the quality in nursing which gradually becomes life-threatening, particularly with cheap foreign workers. Voices rise Jens Spahn is pulling wool on people’s eyes.
Even CDU exponents oppose the young politician and reveal there’s much to learn for Jens Spahn. At least, with his thoughtless, unemotional and erroneous appearances Jens Spahn is keeping all these issues prominently on top of the agenda of the Grand Coalition.However, the local CDU parties and the local party members have not yet understood the troubles of the German society, thus their ignorance could become a bigger problem than expected. The CNT Alliance visited some Kreisveranstaltungen (party gatherings) of the CDU in first semester of 2018 and discovered the mostly elderly party members are interested only in issues securing their own wealth. Other issueswere just briefly touched by the politicians on stage.
All this is a bit more than a tendency towards right. Like the strategy paper presented the group “WerteUnion” (Union of Values) beginning of April with lots of criticism for Angela Merkel. With this paper the opponents request a re-positioning of the CDU from the middle towards the right and fiercely oppose Angela Merkels refugee policy. Within this conservative manifesto they request the “return to the core values” of the CDU. The main part of the manifesto focusses on the Islam and migration. Again, it seems much easy for the authors of this manifesto to leave their Christian values behind (refugees) and putting them back in the centre of attention (Family) by demand. It doesn’t come as a surprise Jens Spahn sending a greeting to the approximately 100 people of this manifesto.
Interest to enthuse new members and to focus on younger people or migrants does not exist – in the contrary: our questions regarding rejuvenating the CDU or to include new members originating from foreign countries were quietly, but definitely opposed even with some discomfort. It seems Angela Merkel does not recognize the “Small AfD” among their own people – or she tolerates them on purpose.
Little fuss from the SPD
The partner in the coalition, the SPD, did not stir issues up after they’ve started governing. During the coalition negotiations the SPD has secured the Ministries of Finance, Justice and the Foreign Ministry besides others, much to the displeasure of those people in CDU and CSU who were keen on these jobs as well. With these ministries the SPD owns quite some power and the ability to steer the government: an excellent success for the negotiators of SPD.
At the other hand the SPD remains in a fuzzy situation not just within its own quest for identity. Several representatives of SPD do not find common ground regarding the welfare programme Hartz IV. Some people around vice president Ralf Steger for instance want to replace Hartz IV knowing the programme was introduced by the SPD but also is the reason for the downfall of the party. At the other hand, the Finance Minister Olaf Scholz wants to keep Hartz IV – since it is some kind of his own child from the time he worked for Chancellor Schröder, the facilitator of Hartz IV. The designated president of the party Andrea Nahles rarely shy of some “Kick-Ass”comments is very quit despite the discussion about Hartz IV and the job market being the opportunity for SPD to position itself clearly. She commented Jens Spahn’s intentional slip geared towards media with surprisingly soft voice, but straight into the face. Horst Seehofe and Jens Spahn are after the personal representation but missing out on their duties, and adds: “The primary job of the Chancellor is to sort out the act of government”.
Angela Merkel is flagging
Over the past years Angela Merkel became the symbol for political stability and predictability. She is popular in Germany and abroad but scratches in the paint become visible. Her political style is increasingly perceived as boring and leaden even by her own people. Usually, watched from distance she acts successfully and well balanced even for extensive problems. Angela Merkel is the chancellor of compromises and subtle but also of half-hearted decisions and stalling in front of complex problems. This works fine at the moment since economy runs excellent and tax revenues are on a steady high – both causing additional problems which she isn’t regulating. This stability increasingly is perceived as stagnancy which it actually is e.g. if looked at the Digital Offensive launched by the government many years too late.
Along with a certain fatigue in society towards Angela Merkel – a phenomenon previous chancellor Kohl encountered too – and her style the many postponed “building lots” become visible. Media often simplify the situation and explain the fatigue towards Angela Merkel merely with her misjudgment in the situation with the refugees and her catastrophic and negligent management of this issue. This, however, is just a small part of the real reasons for the poor results of the elections and the steep head wind Angela Merkel is facing. It is the combination of various diverse issues such as the state of emergency in nursing, poverty among the elderly, housing shortage, low wages and this in combination with contemptuousness and ignoring several population groups, particularly those at the far right of the political spectrum. The situation with the refugees therefore is just one part of the picture – but one people easily can discharge their hate and anger. Also because of the right wing party AfD right wing ideas and right wing protesting became “En Vogue” – even the voters of CDU/CSU are going towards the right. In this climate the uprising hostility against the Jews in the German society and the anti-Semitic activities of the past month are not unexpected. The internal policy of Angela Merkel was meant to be visionary and creative but it looks more like uncertain, delayed, reactive, and unveils many large problem.
Rumble at the right
The “old” parties still underestimate the right wing AfD. The equally underestimate the potential of right wing populism and the count of German citizen having conservative/right wing thoughts – even within CDU and CSU. For example, much disregarded by politics the right wing union “Zentrum Automobil” gained six mandates during the last works committee elections in March 2018 at the Daimler (Mercedes) plant in Untertürkheim (Stuttgart) – with the result of 13.2% they achieved a similar result like the AfD during the election last year, the Bundestagswahlen. The “Forschungsgruppe Wahlen“ stated approximately 15% of the members of the politically social unions did voted for AfD instead for SPD during the last Bundestagswahlen. A result pretty much replicated during the works committee elections at Daimler.
The statements by some of the exponents of the works committee of the IG Metall union: right wing ideas today are little visible but are spread subliminal throughout the whole company and, therefore, it’s expected to see a further rise of the “Zentrum Automobil”. The confronted union IG Metall got us evasive responses only.It seems this issue is hushed up. Time will tell whether Angela Merkel tactics to sit such problem out are the successful tactics for the unions. Looking at the general tendency in the country towards the right we believe Angela Merkel and the unions both are playing with fire.
Some more foreign policy?
During the past Germany was known for a little consolidated, imprecise and often lacking foreign policy. Domestic policy always was more important and it still is. The country focuses on economic foreign policy driven by the industry and its lobbyists, and otherwise relies on symbolic policy geared towards the media.
This image could slightly change. One of the first official acts by Heiko Maas, the new foreign minister, was his visit to Israel. His predecessor Sigmar Gabriel several times acted awkwardly and Angela Merkel didn’t want to become involved but Heiko Maas clearly, pragmatically and quietly put down some counterpoints.On top of it he clearly took position against the lighting up anti-Semitism.
Despite his appearances sometimes being perceived as nicely stage-made he did not make his own life easier since expectations are high now. The quick and friendly meet up with the French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Israel stirs up some hope Germany – after months of naval-gazing – finally will take over responsibility in Europe and the World. Moving from inactivity towards political creation with the friendly support by France.
The future of Angela Merkel
Foreign policy slowly picks up speed but Angela Merkel seems to have a hard time with her country. It no longer seems to be the Germany she knows. She seems to lose more ground contact the more she tries to understand the problems of society therefore losing more and more ground contact while facing fronts she has to fight. In the Bundestag CDU/CSU and SPD have to heavily deal with an number of parties, all of them having gained more than 5% of the votes. On top there is the AfD, the strongest party in the opposition owning an uncomfortable agenda – some of it even being attractive to her own party members.
With their vote for the Grand Coalition the SPD members have saved it and also saved the faces of SPD as well as the CDU/CSU. The SPD finds herself in a disruption and renovation process, even more so than the CDU. On top of it the parties of the opposition got stronger and this comes together with the incapability or the active reluctance of the governing parties to tackle the urging problems in the country in all consequence.
A forecast about the future of Angela Merkel and, therefore, of the German bipartisan system seems to be tricky. Though, the recent Grand Coalition steers towards the end of the factual bipartisan system in Germany. And people in Germany will be even more discontent for the next elections in 2021.The question how CDU/CSU and SPD will score is eligible. And whether the right wing AfD will establish itself as the third constant in the party landscape. The other question is whether the other parties will see the signs. Some media are singing the swan song for Angela Merkel forgetting she is not for nothing the most powerful woman in this world. It will be interesting to see how she will cope with the erosion on several fronts. It is not the end of Angela Merkel but she and her party are showing heavy signs of wear.
*Ajmal Sohail contributed to this article
Big mistake of EU against Washington
The EU is still confused! The U.S. government’s actions in the field of foreign affairs and economics have not been accompanied by strong and strong reaction from the European Union.
This has led the U.S. President Donald Trump to continue his efforts to isolate Europe in the international system more quickly. Since the beginning of the Tramp presence in the White House, the movements of nationalist and extremist groups and opposition to the European Union have intensified. That same issue has put the EU in jeopardy. It is widely believed that the President of the United States supports the collapse of the European Union and the euro- zone. However, it seems that some European officials still do not understand the deterioration of the situation in this region!
The fact is that if the European Union does not take a decisive decision against the United States and its policies in the international system, it will have to see its fall in the international system and the return to the twentieth century in the near future.
During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.
In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed.However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.
This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe.
But it seems that one of the issues that European leaders have not understood is the role of the United States in the process of destroying the European Union. This role is so high that few have the power to deny it: from the U.S. economic war with Europe to the direct support of the White House from nationalist groups in Europe. However, some European politicians still try to look at optimism about U.S. behaviors. Without doubt, this optimism will in the future lead to the destruction of the European Union.
Speaking at the Davos summit (2017), “Emanuel Macron” the French President warned of the victory of nationalists and extremists in Europe and said:
“In my country, if I do not make sense of this globalisation then in five, 10, 15 years time it will be the nationalists, the extremes which win — and this will be true of every country.”
The commonality of Merkel’s and Macron’s remarks is their concern about the return of European citizens to nationalism. As noted, this process has intensified in Europe. The extremist party of Freedom found way to the Austrian coalition government, and the increase in radical far-right votes in countries like France, Sweden and Germany, is a serious crisis in Europe. The recent warnings by the German Chancellor and the French President should therefore be seriously analyzed and evaluated.
But the main question is whether the French President and German Chancellor are aware of their great mistakes in the United States and the Trump government? Do they still ignore the White House’s role in strengthening extremist groups in the European Union? What is certain is that it is possible for Merkel and Macron to realize their deep mistakes over the Trump government that there is no longer a way to save the European Union.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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