Daily Briefing

Horst the Bavarian, tormentor of chancellors

Fraction meetings in Berlin
Watching, waiting, plotting. Source: Reuters

Germany is in the throes of a political crisis, as you might have heard. And the man who caused it will, as is his wont, do his best to keep the controversy alive today so that he can star in the evening news on TV.

His name is not Donald Trump in this case, but Horst Seehofer. He is simultaneously the boss of the Christian Social Union (CSU), a party that exists only in Bavaria, and the federal interior minister of Germany. As such, Seehofer has in effect given Chancellor Angela Merkel an ultimatum: Fix the migrant crisis this week, or I, Horst the Bavarian, will turn back migrants at the German border, daring you to fire me, so I can take my party out of your lame coalition.

So today Seehofer, during coalition talks that are certain to be tense, is slated to reveal — drum roll — his own so-called “master plan” to fix the migrant problem. Or maybe not. Few people have actually seen this master plan, although it keeps being talked about. Maybe that’s the point.

A politician whose worldview stops at the Bavarian border, Seehofer is a character made for Oktoberfest beer tents. He rolls his Rs in a sonorous Bavarian timbre. He is the father of an illegitimate child, and also cheerfully and demonstratively Catholic. Above all, he fancies himself close to the people, the populus. For fun, he doesn’t have yachts or villas, but an elaborate toy train in his basement. Within weeks, this man could make history — or be history.

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What do you do when you have an intractable problem which may threaten the earth but won’t become manifest for years, perhaps decades? Why, that’s obvious. You appoint a commission. And you give it a name nobody will associate with the original problem. Voila, Germany’s “Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment.” It meets for the first time today.

Normal people call it the “coal commission.” That’s because its job is to figure out how to exit from coal-based power generation in Germany. This is urgent because Germany covets the label “green” but is missing all its targets for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.

So now Germany needs a plan to phase out coal power as it is already phasing out (by 2022) nuclear power, in favor of some combination of renewables and gas. The problem is that this will hurt coal-mining regions, including areas of the former East Germany that are already anything but happy-go-lucky. For an analogue, think West Virginia. Then think of West Virginians and Trump. Then translate that to the Alternative for Germany.

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Let’s all blame “Easy Rider.” Maybe if Peter Fonda hadn’t looked quite so sexy on a Harley-Davidson, the bike wouldn’t have become the icon of Americana that it is. And then the European Union might not have singled out Harley-Davidson (along with peanut butter, blue jeans and some other deliberately symbolic goods made in Republican constituencies) for tariffs in retaliation for Trump’s opening salvoes.

But that’s what the EU did, hoping to persuade Trump to declare an early truce in the trade war he seems hell-bent on waging. How awkward for him that Harley-Davidson now says it will, gasp, move some production outside of the United States, to evade the EU’s measures. Easy Rider Made in Mexico? Explain that to your base.

As a classical liberal, I want to scream: When, oh when, will we stop this insanity? As a realist, I want to play a dirge for the end of an era: Bye bye, David Ricardo; hello Smoot-Hawley.

 

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