The lessons learned from GermanyIs the century of Germany coming again? Not just Europe, but the entire world is paying attention to Germany again. Some foreign scholars and media already call today’s unified Germany “The Fourth Empire” and refer to Chancellor Angela Merkel as “Kaiser.” The international prediction that Germany would suffer an extended slump because of the expenses to rebuild East Germany after the reunification has been proven wrong. Germany not only overcame the aftermath swiftly but also plays the role of a mainstay in the integrated Europe as the most solid economy in Europe despite the global economic crisis.
Those in Korean media, the National Assembly, academia, local governments, education, unification movement and civil groups want to learn about Germany and visit the country. They are especially interested in the economic, welfare, employment and education policies as well as the experience of reunification. Some lawmakers even formed a study group to learn about Germany’s policies. The German boom is quite desirable as a way to seek an alternative system since Korea is also a divided country and American neo-liberalism is in crisis.
However, the latest German boom is missing out on the core. They are not studying German politics, the prime element that makes the economic development welfare system and unification of Germany possible. Politics determines the rise and fall of a country by setting the direction of the community, concentrating the capacity and allocating resources. The gist of today’s Germany is German politics. And if there’s one thing that Korea needs to learn from Germany most urgently, it is nothing but German politics.
Then, what is the main point of German politics? In short, German politics is all about coalitions. Since the end of World War II, all German governments have been coalitions. While 22 governments are formed under Chancellors Konrad Adenauer, Ludwig Erhard, Kurt Kiesinger, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schroder and Merkel, there has never been a single-party government. Even when a single-party government was possible, Germany chose to form a coalition. It is truly amazing. While I was writing this very column, I learned that Christian Democrats and Social Democrats made final agreements on forming a coalition.
How can this coalition politics be possible? It is based on profound reflection on the national fiasco caused by extremism and internal discord. The tragedy of modern Germany from World War I, failed Weimar Republic, crisis of the German Revolution, Nazism, breakout of World War II, divided occupation and German division led to strict repentance on arrogance, hostility, monopoly of values, exclusivism and extremism. Germans accepted that their own values may be wrong and the opinions of others could be right. The collective introspection on the possibility of error inspired politics of humility, tolerance, concession, dialogue, compromise and coexistence. It all adds up to a coalition government.
The word “coalition” originates from Latin roots for “raising together.” Politics, which is derived from “polis,” refers to the mutual agenda of all free citizens and the affairs of the community. Coalition is already a crucial part of politics itself. Therefore, coalition politics begins from the humble stance to accept the shortcomings of the people and to work together to improve the community.
What are the effects of coalition? The best merit is the excellence. Coalition politics goes through negotiation to choose the best plan, wisdom, policy and people. It is better to choose from different party rather than limiting to the policies and people of one party. The ultimate purpose and secret of coalition politics is to choose the very best for the community. Since Aristotle, major political philosophers emphasized “mixed political bodies” as the best form of politics. Mixed government refers to today’s coalition politics. In fact, various core policies in postwar Germany were adopted in the course of forming coalition governments through “give-and-take” deals and agreements.
Secondly, coalition makes administration consistent, sustainable and predictable. The national vision and policy chosen as a result of coalition can be maintained for an extended period and sets the direction of the community.
Drastic change and abolishment of policies after government change are unnecessary and impossible. The social market economy, the Miracle of the Rhine River, welfare policy, Eastern policy, apology on history, German unification and the European Union are products of long-term policies and figures.
For example, the Miracle of the Rhine, Ostpolitik and German Unification wouldn’t have been possible if Erhard, Brandt and Genscher hadn’t pursued consistent policy for an extended period of time as a finance minister, foreign minister, deputy chancellor and chancellor through different governments.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor at Yonsei University and visiting professor of the Free University of Berlin.
by Park Myung-rim