Leadership in Germany

Americans’ obsession with the American president precludes attention to what’s happening elsewhere in the world. But, while the U.S. is burning, other countries are similarly struggling. I refer not only to tightening autocracies, but to wobbly democracies.

Germany is a case in point. For decades it has been an exemplar of democratic liberalism. A haven of stability and security. A bedrock of peace and prosperity.

In the recent past, though, not so much.

Germany’s private sector:

It’s impossible to exaggerate the stain of malignant malfeasance that continues to beleaguer Germany’s heretofore fabled car industry. The emissions cheating scandal that first broke almost three years ago at Volkswagen, ultimately revealed that some 11 million vehicles had been rigged with fraudulent software. Since then Volkswagen has canned its CEO, among other top executives, and has paid some $25 billion in penalties, fines, and compensations. Still the scandals continue. Just this week the chief executive of Audi (Volkswagen’s luxury brand) was arrested. And just this week the German Transport Ministry ordered Daimler to recall 774,000 vehicles, again because of “inadmissible” software related to emissions control. In sum, bad leadership in the German car industry has been endemic – and it continues to pollute.

Germany’s public sector:  

Chancellor Angela Merkel, now in her fourth term, initially enjoyed two terms of nearly unmitigated success. Then she survived a controversial third term to win a fourth. But now, in her last round, she is paying the piper. Merkel initially struggled for weeks even to cobble together what has already turned out a fragile coalition government. And now her ostensible partners are threatening to quit the coalition should she fail to bow to their wishes. In Germany, as in the US, the most contentious issue is immigration. In Germany though it’s gotten so bad that a couple of days ago Bavarian Conservatives nearly brought down the government. Moreover, the chancellor’s interior minister is giving his nominal boss just ten days to come to an asylum agreement with other European countries, lest he go off on his own to act unilaterally. In sum, the heyday of Germany’s most prominent and in many ways most successful post-war leader is over. This means that Germany will now look a lot like other liberal democracies – including the U. S. Germans like Americans and other Europeans will be up against the problem of how to govern when the old rules of cooperation and compromise are largely out the window.


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