Thursday, August 18, 2005

Merkel's team

Angela Merkel, Chancellor Schröder's challenger is leading in the polls by 14 points despite a rather lacklustre set of policies, all of which can be characterized by the words "yes, but …."

However, that might change. Ms Merkel has announced her team and at least one appointment is threatening to be quite successful. She has appointed Dr Paul Kirchhof to take charge of the financial policy.

The fact that it might be quite a good idea is proved by the fact that it was immediately criticized by Peter Lösche, a political scientist at Göttingen University.
“Politics should not be about appointing friends but about competence and political experience and (Friedrich) Merz is clearly the one with those attributes,” – he said rather crossly, ignoring the fact that Merz’s financial ideas were largely Kirchhof’s in the first place.
At the same time the appointment was welcomed by the German industry federation (BDI) and Lombard Street Research, whose chief international economist, Gabriel Stein, breathed a sigh of relief:
“I was worried that the Christian Democrats still lacked a sense of crisis,thinking they could save the German model by tinkering with it. But this shows a much deeper readiness to get to grips with the issues.”
Dr Kirchhof’s main “sins” as far as the German media and academe are concerned, are his political independence and distinct coolness towards the European project.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard describes him:
“A Heidelberg law professor and former judge on the constitutional court, Dr Kirchhof wrote the landmark 1993 ruling on the Maastricht Treaty stating that Germany reserved the right to strike down any European Union directive that breached its own constitutional law.”
Not that the Karlsruhe court has ever bothered to use that ruling except to release a badly wanted alleged money launderer for various Islamic terrorist groups, not, presumably what Dr Kirchhof had envisaged, but you cannot have everything. Also, it is the thought that counts.

Dr Kirchhof’s biggest claim to fame is his radical 2001 plan to simplify the German tax system, something that is badly needed.
“In 2001 he drew up proposals to slash the top rate of income tax from 39pc to 25pc, while abolishing a dizzying range of 163 tax exemptions to offset the loss in revenue. Under the scheme, there would be three tax levels - 15pc, 20pc, and 25pc - with the top rate kicking in at just €20,000 a year (£13,600).”
Other appointments include Wolfgang Schäuble, Helmut Kohl’s foreign policy expert, as the spokesman on foreign and European affairs.

There is an interesting omission: Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber has no position. Partly, this is because he has not agreed to move to Berlin, should the party find itself forming the new government after the election.

Furthermore, Stoiber is not precisely popular as a politician. His recent critical remarks about the ossies, eastern Germans was another faux pas. The CDU appears to be struggling in that part of the country, despite Merkel's own origins and many of the votes might go to "Red" Oskar Lafontaine. Whatever one may think about the ossies and the effect they had on German politics, four and a half weeks before a crucial election is not the time to voice those reservations.


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