TheBigPond - spotlight on what South African business and business people have been up to in Europe. Edited by South African journalist Christo Volschenk from Stuttgart, Germany. Note: This blog has migrated to a new home at www.thebigpond.eu.
Need an experienced web-editor, copywriter, or corporate newsletter writer? Christo Volschenk worked as a financial journalist in South Africa for 16 years, before moving to Germany in 2002. Go to his website (www.creativenglish.de) for more on him, his rates and his skills.
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PLAY IT DIRTY, GERD
Bild, the biggest newspaper in Germany, yesterday asked the interesting question: How does one fight an election against a woman? More specifically, how is chancellor Schr?der supposed to fight against the opposition candidate Angela Merkel?
This was an interesting question, since Merkel is the first female chancellor candidate in history. No chancellor has ever had to defend his empire against a woman before.
This is virgin territory for Schr?der, so to speak. (But, it's highely unlikely. She's already on her second husband.)
(Interesting side-issue: The top brass in the SPD and Greens, namely Schr?der and foreign affairs minister Joschka Fischer have each been married 4 times. Yes, between these two they've been through 8 marriages. Suddenly the king of Swaziland looks like a "Praktikant"!)
Back to the story.
If you asked me how Schr?der should fight this election campaign, I would say: Dirty. Play the man (in this case woman) and not the ball. The dirtier it gets, the better.
Why? Well, it's the only chance he has of winning. If he plays "officer and a gentleman" in this election campaign, he will definitely lose.
The electorate is tired of "politicking and politicians". They don't want any more. Merkel understands this. That's why one of the first things she said after her nomination was: We're going to fight an honest, clean fight (or something to that effect...)
She has the high-ground. The support of the electorate. She's on the pedestil.
Schr?der's men have no chance of getting back on the pedestil. All they can do is to pull Merkel down from the pedestil. With a negative campaign.
And everytime Merkel falls for the trap and hits back below the belt (so to speak), she will have lost. And Schr?der will have closed the (still substantial) gap between him and Merkel another notch.
(The gap I speak about, is the gap in support as calculated from public polls.)
Personally, I don't think Schr?der is that kind of guy. Somehow that game is below him, I feel. He's not that hungry any more. But, the guys around him. Well, they might want to play dirty. They are still hungry enough.
And Merkel? Will she fall for the trap? My guess: No ways.
And if she somehow suddenly found herself in the mud-bath and must throw back to survive...will she be able to do it? Most definitely.
Not for nothing The Economist this week dubbed Merkel "the iron-curtain lady"!
NEW WEBSITE IS "ON AIR"
I'm very happy to announce that my "business website" went live today.
It's at www.creativenglish.de
Please go there, look what I do, and then run to your rich uncles and tell them to commission me for something.
If your uncle doesn't read English, wait a while. The German version of the website will go "on air" soon.
The website was done by a design outfit here in Stuttgart called Designstadl. They must be the best in Germany. I don't think it can get any better. I want to thank them.
LOOK, HONEY! EICHEL JUST SHRUNK YOUR JOB
A conversation in Bundespresident K?hler's kitchen overheard by my "deep throat" this morning....
"Look, honey. Eichel just did your job for you. It's all here in the paper. And the clever man needed only 3 paragraphs to explain why Germany needs an election in September.
"So, can we go on our summer holiday, now? Yes, I know it's a bit early, but Schr?der's bunch will also stop working early. In fact, more than a year early."
I studied the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD), and, tats?chlich, there it was. She (I know, I'm jumping to conclusions) was correct. Eichel did put his finger on the problem.
I quote (one sentence summary in English below): F?r den ?rger der B?rger ?ber den Stillstand in der Politik zeigte Eichel Verst?ndnis, machte daf?r aber den unionsdominierten Bundesrat verantwortlich.
"Ich teile die Einsch?tzung weiter Teile der Bev?lkerung, dass es so nicht weitergehen kann: Die L?nder im Bundesrat agieren aus parteipolitischen Gr?nden gegen die Bundesregierung.
"In den vergangenen drei Jahren hat der Bundesrat nichts anderes getan als zu versuchen, die Bundesregierung gegen die Wand zu fahren.
"Wenn das so weitergeht, geraten wir in eine Systemkrise."
Short English translation: They've got us by the throat. We can hardly breathe. We gotta get outa here, before anyone notices we have a system crisis!
Well, that's how observers translate.....
FIRST PRIZE FOR GERMANY: A SHORT REFORM PERIOD
In the days after it became clear Germany will (or might) be going to the polls in September this year, public polls predicted a comfortable win for the opposition under Angela Merkel.
I suspect this "comfortable win" will gradually evolve into "a tight race" as we get closer to election day in September.
As the electorate learns more about the reform plans of the opposition and as it hits home that:
* reforms can't be avoided by voting for the opposition and
* that the reforms planned by the opposition might on balance bring just as much pain.
And, I suspect, Merkel's people realise this...
Thus, the temptation will be huge to keep the details of the reform program away from the voters until after the election in September.
But, if they could resist this temptation, they might just do the country a big favour.
Because a short, powerful and cleverly managed reform period after the election, would be the biggest gift politicians could give Germany.
And, in my view, a "window of opportunity for quick reform" could be opened by clear communication before election day.
In my view, bad communication contributed a lot to "the Schr?der downfall". This came in many forms, including half-truths and untruths. (Remember the over-optimistic economic forecasts used to fight the last election?)
Would the electorate not appreciate a party which communicates clearly during the run-up to the election - sticking to the issues and avoiding petty politicking?
I think so. The best the opposition (or any party) could do on this front is to release a clear, understandable, consistent reform plan. Detailed and with a time schedule. All on paper.
If this could be done before the election, the victorious party would have a clear mandate for reform in the months thereafter.
In turn, this would enable the new government to proceed fast and without having to look over its shoulder to often to see if the voters are still in tow.
In this way, the reform period could be kept short(er) and sweet(er) (with less political bickering).
All of this could result in business and consumer confidence returning to the economy (and in politicians regaining some of their lost stature) sooner after the election and for the economy to start ticking over sooner.
This will be the biggest present the Merkel and Schr?der camps could give Germany.
But, if the Merkel clan fell to the temptation to withhold as much as possible from the voter before the election, then the fight for the voter's support will go on after the election and the reform process will drag on (yet again).
Then the chance to reform quickly would have been lost.
And Germany's period of low growth (which started in 2002) could extent well beyond 2007.
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WHY K?HLER SINGS IN THE SHOWER EVERY NIGHT
According to today's edition of the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD) Bundespresident K?hler said it's far from cut and dry that he will call for parliament to be dissolved and an early election to be called, in the event chancellor Schr?der loses the confidence vote on July 1.
Well, well. Either K?hler is a lesser man than I thought, or he is just playing to the crowd.
I think the latter. He's not seriously thinking of "refusing" an early election.
Earlier it was reported that Schr?der didn't first notify K?hler (as he was apparantly supposed to do) before going public with his decision to call for a confidence vote on July 1 and so force an early election. And that K?hler was a bit sour about that.
A bit pissed off, as they say in the classics.
Now, this "nothing is cut and dry stance" of K?hler might be a little childish game "to get Schr?der back", or worse "to let him sweat a bit for his lack of respect for the office of the president".
But, I think higher of K?hler. From what I've observed about him (remember, that's how I come to most my conclusions and views) I think he won't allow himself to be shaken by something small like Schr?der's (understandable) political game.
Much more likely, he's just using the occasion to "build the stature and importance" of the presidency. Which, in itself, is not wrong. Maybe even a good idea, in this constitutional set-up where the president is often seen as nothing more than "an important person who puts fresh flowers on war memorials".
In fact, I'm sure K?hler can't believe his and Germany's luck with this early-election thing. After all, K?hler is an economist. He sees the world through the eyes of an economist.
And any economist who looks at Germany's economic deadlock today and hears about this amazing opportunity to escape from it relatively elegantly, will sing in the shower until the hotwater geezer is empty.
So, here is my take on the thing: Look out for K?hler to make a big ho-ha about his "big decision". Expect him to say several times: I'm still collecting evidence/opinions....haven't yet made up my mind.
In other words, expect him to build the tension a bit.
But, also expect him to say "yes" for an early vote in the end.
And expect him to make a long speech to motivate his decision. Also expect him to mention not a word about the REAL reason for his decision, namely that it will be good for the economy to get this reform period behind it as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Viva, political games, viva!