BOCHUM, GERMANY— Angela Merkel’s rise to the chancellorship of Germany is a triumph more symbolic than real.

Merkel, the first woman and the first former East German to become chancellor, assumed her position on Oct. 10 following a split vote in the Sept. 18 general election and three weeks of closed-door negotiations among the five parties that hold seats in Germany’s parliament. While some commentators see Merkel, leader of the conservative, pro-free market Christian Democrats, as the second coming of Margaret Thatcher, the reality is she will find her hands tied by the deals she had to cut with the Social Democrats, the main opposition party.

Major economic proposals – tax laws, revised employment regulations and union laws, obscure but profoundly influential banking and finance legislation, etc. – will likely stall out on the floor of parliament as politicians look warily toward local elections in two years. Meanwhile, because the Greens have been sidelined, and because the New Left Party of former Finance Minister Oskar LaFontaine actually represents populist outrage about high unemployment, Merkel’s coalition government will likely be forced to appear as if it’s responding to populist concerns about protecting German workers, without appearing to deal directly with Lafontaine’s xenophobic new party.

That means the only legislation likely to be considered seriously in parliament will pertain to immigration policy. Although the German government can toughen its immigration policies only so far before it risks violating EU regulations, Merkel’s government will be tempted to target immigrants and ethnic minorities as the source of Germany’s economic woes in order to distract voters from highly unpopular economic restructuring. Exactly what she has planned is hard to say.

The main conceit and central theme of her government will be the “German family.” Forays on
the immigration front will be justified on the grounds of making Germany more friendly to German families – with the ostensible aim of getting the sinking birth rate above the death rate. But the real aim is to save Germany from takeover by ethnic minorities, who, in contrast to so-called Aryan
Germans, eagerly rear multi-child families. However, the track record of the new Economy and Technology Minister, Edmund Stoiber, in his home state of Bavaria reveals the actual premise of Merkel’s government: servitude to Big Business. Under Stoiber, the oh-so-German firm Siemans shipped thousands of jobs to China without any discernible benefit to Bavaria, to German workers or to German consumers. Stoiber did nothing to staunch the job losses.

This points to a great big contradiction at the heart of the Christian Democrats’ political economy: They give Big Business what it wants but claim to be pro-German. Yet, what Big Business wants is the elimination of German laws that prevent its pulling up the tent stakes and moving to India or China or Brazil. Quite simply, Big Business is bad for the German family.

The main reason young German couples do not have children is because they’re either afraid of or depressed about the future. They know they cannot give their children the same quality of life in which they themselves grew up. They also know that their own job situation is, at best, tenuous. They know they don’t have savings in the bank. They know that newly reformed welfare laws are risible. They know that unemployment here is likely to increase.

One tempting solution for Merkel? Find a scapegoat. Distract the common people from the economic machinations of an ultra-elitist government. Pike the foreigner to pacify the natives.

C.R. Leopold is an American-bornwriter currently living in Germany.