On Thursday evening last, a large crowd of students and lecturers alike assembled in an Arts Block lecture theatre to listen to Irish Times Berlin correspondent, Derek Scally, discuss the current and eccentric political happenings in Germany, a much-anticipated event organised by Germanic Soc.
The evening began with welcoming comments from the president of the society, Senior Sophister Law and German student, Ruairi O Siocru, as well as a witty nod to the large turnout. He then invited Scally to the stage.
The focus of Scally’s speech centred on Disengaged Deutschland: Return of the Right. Having been based in Berlin for over twenty years, Scally was a worthy candidate to discuss such matters to the assembled and intrigued masses.
Describing himself as an “accidental German”, Scally’s speech focused on where the German and Austrian political systems currently lie and he speculated on what could be coming in the political environment in the future.
In what the audience soon learnt was his typical self-deprecating humour, Scally quipped “To be completely honest, I don’t know.” However, his speech also drew reference many times to the so-called “curious bridge” between Germany and Ireland.
This was very relatable to many of the audience members who had lived abroad as Scally himself reminisced on his Erasmus year abroad in his now adopted city of Berlin, where the classes that he learnt the most in took place in “dive bars.”
His enthusiasm for all things German, particularly its capital, was apparent as he spoke fondly of Berlin’s constant transformation. In an amusing metaphor, he proposed that attempting to understand Europe with Germany would be akin to “watching a 3D movie with one eye.”
In a further light-hearted comment that warmed the hearts of the many German learners in the audience, he suggested that “learning German was the smartest thing to stay off the dole queue” leading to chuckles.
Scally then provided a concise and interesting insight into the current German political system as it stands following the election last September.
At present, Merkel, a ghostlike figure in Berlin, is attempting to form a coalition, now dubbed the Jamaica coalition, that will lead the nation during her fourth and probable last chapter at the helm of Germany.
Scally compared Merkel to mustard, attempting to bring the salad dressing of political parties altogether to make a salad worthy of leading the nation.
At present, the players in this potential government are Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), their Bavarian ally, the more conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Green party and the more business orientated liberals, Free Democratic Party (FDP). These parties have thus far failed to reach a general consensus, with Scally citing the varying and quite different aims of each party throughout his speech.
Scally cited a poll of German citizens in which 45% think this coalition is a worthwhile venture for the country, which is a 12% drop since the poll was first conducted right after the election. This may have been caused by the long waiting time and failure of the “strong and wily” Merkel who many now consider “have lost the spin of the merry go round.”
Scally also explained the importance that the coalition comes to fruition. The interests of Europe and Germany are usually aligned and nothing can happen in the European Union without the support of Germany.
At present, the French president Emmanuel Macron is pushing a European Forum proposal which is a “Eurozone economic government” featuring a finance minister and funding. Merkel is currently cool on this idea according to those in Berlin as the general view is that there are “enough to get on with”, from the war on Terror and the turbulent and unpredictable Trump.
This outside pressure from the EU, along with that within the country, means that a government formation must occur or else a snap election is possible. Scally firmly believes there will only be one winner of a new vote and it surely will not be Merkel.
The potential victor in this hypothetical election scenario is the Alternative für Deutschland, a far-right party that began as an anti-bailout party. Scally clarified the mixture of beliefs that defines the only party gaining support in the nation. One element of the party is its conservative outlook which intensifies the current views of the CDU.
They have an issue with the Euro, treating it as a “conspiracy against tax payers.” Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) also does not support globalisation, focusing on the country itself. The other element of the party provides a tougher front on anti-immigration.
Scally insists that the party has managed to tap into the “concerns of the ordinary German” during this time of terrorism fears and the simultaneous influx of migrants into the nation.
Scally also discussed Brexit and how Germany views Ireland’s role in the current proceedings. Merkel’s advisors find it to be an interesting time for our small island who could be seen to “hide behind Britain.”
For us, Brexit could be an opportunity to replace the absent British voice, a valuable liberal pro-business and globalisation figure in Brussels. However, Scally revealed that Merkel’s advisors are not optimistic on the current talks: “they are taking bets on when things will break down.”
Enda Kenny made certain that the Irish issue remained centre in German minds by visiting before his leaving the post of Taoiseach and that seems to have filtered into the German media as Scally mentioned constant reports on the radio and television about Ireland during this time.
Scally ended his talk with an enthusiasm urging to all to seize the opportunities that await the Irish in Germany. He mentioned the shortage of an Irish perspective within many aspects of German society, from research, science and economics. He wants to see Leo Varadkar “in lederhosen at Oktoberfest breaking Twitter.”
However, he feels like this is not the main interest of Varadkar at present, commenting on his many trips to Canada and the United States. He spoke highly of the opportunities available for the Irish people throughout the nation, ending the speech with the line: “Germany is waiting, get the hell over there.”
This was then followed by the questions element of the evening which quickly grew lively, featuring questions from Erasmus students, lecturers and other Irish students.
The topics ranged from the similarity of LePen’s National Front in France to AfD, the rise of the right in Austria and the struggle for national identity in Germany.
The explanatory answers often featured anecdotes that illustrated the wide-ranging career of the journalist in the German speaking countries, which also involved writing German articles for respected German newspaper, die Zeit.
The evening ended with widespread applause and chatter as enthused audience members discussed the speech as they filed out of the lecture theatre, thus ending a very successful event organised by Germanic Soc.