Economics and politics - comment and analysis
4. January 2024 I Heiner Flassbeck I General Politics

Speechlessness is not politics – reflections at the turn of the year

It is an extraordinary privilege that at the turn of the year in Germany, the head of government is given the opportunity to address citizens directly via the public media at a time when they are particularly receptive. This speech gives the Federal Chancellor the opportunity to review the past year with all its upheavals, look ahead to the new year and give citizens a first-hand perspective. This privilege has rarely been utilised in recent decades, but the way it has been squandered this year is something new.

I confess it took me a lot of effort, but I read the German Chancellor’s New Year’s address. And although I really hadn’t expected anything, I was completely speechless afterwards. One is speechless in the face of the total speechlessness of the man who claims to want to lead Germany and perhaps even Europe. I mean, he talks, but he is absolutely incapable of saying anything. The only highlight: Scholz wants to invest heavily. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention that the state has no money to do so and that the European Central Bank wants to prevent private investment with high interest rates.

Yet there would have been so much to say at the beginning of this year. The Chancellor could have said, for example, that the government’s expectations regarding economic development at the beginning of last year had proved to be far too optimistic for Germany and Europe. The German government hoped for a “mild winter recession”, but the result was a year-round recession that is still not over. Scholz, however, says that there were forecasts by “experts” that predicted a decline in GDP of three, four or five per cent – and measured against this, they came through well. But we are not told who made these forecasts, so what he says makes no sense.

The Chancellor is obviously proud of the fact that price increases have fallen so quickly, but he has apparently forgotten that it was he and his ministers who talked about “inflation” for months without once pointing out the causes of the temporary price effects and the misguided European monetary policy with its horrendous negative consequences for investment activity.

The Chancellor should also not have left out the war in Ukraine. He should have realised that neither the Western attempt to “ruin Russia economically” nor the attempt to put Ukraine in a position to defeat Russia militarily were successful. He should have concluded that in this situation, only a negotiated solution can put an end to the insane killings, even if concessions to Moscow are unavoidable.

Israel and Gaza is also an issue that belongs on the German agenda. The Federal Chancellor should have admitted that his formula of “every right that Israel has to self-defence” was and is an empty formula, because Israel goes far beyond the right to self-defence, massively violates international law and apparently wants to permanently deprive two and a half million people of their living space.

Corona also deserves another mention from the chancellor. After all, we have officially known for a few weeks now (from the EMA, as explained in this letter) that the vaccination against the coronavirus was never suitable for preventing the infection itself and the transmission of the virus to other people. Because any reasonable person would conclude from this that the mass of government measures (such as the 3 G or 2 G rules) and many other discriminations against unvaccinated people were without any substantive and legal basis, an apology from the head of government would have been the least of it. The serious discussion of compulsory vaccination by me and my ministers, the Federal Chancellor should have added, “was absolutely irresponsible in view of the situation and I have dismissed the minister responsible, who still pretends to be a doctor”.

The Federal Chancellor does mention the Federal Constitutional Court, but of course he avoids a discussion about government debt. He should have said that he would do everything in his power this year to ensure that people in Germany are finally made aware of the importance of debt for economic development and the role of the state in this. Anchoring a debt brake in the constitution was an unforgivable mistake that robs the state of its ability to act, although the circumstances are such (as explained here) that it needs precisely this ability to act practically every day in Germany and throughout Europe.

Finally, the Federal Chancellor should have referred to Germany’s energy policy and the results of the conference in Dubai that has just ended. Dubai, he should have said, shows us with great clarity that a global phase-out of coal, gas and oil cannot be expected for decades to come. Although, after much wrangling, a sentence had been included in the final declaration that aimed to achieve a phase-out, an agreement regulating who, when and how the production of fossil fuels would be reduced and who would bear the costs was just as far away in 2024 as it was in Paris in 2015. According to the Chancellor, we will continue to do everything in our power, but a global strategy for phasing out fossil fuels is simply no longer on the cards after this conference.

The German politician, who bears the greatest responsibility, did not say any of this. His speech was not only speechless, but also pointless in the truest sense of the word. Anyone who talks like this is doing the business of the forces on the fringe right that he actually wants to fight. The European elections in June and the state elections in eastern Germany will show this with ruthless clarity.