Speaking at a joint press conference with outgoing American President Barack Obama on his farewell tour, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made chilling remarks about her views on the need for government to control the internet and slammed anti-Islamisation protesters who she accused of hijacking the German spirit for liberty.
German Chancellor Merkel, who is presently deciding whether to run for a historic fourth term on the strength of her pro-migrant policies which have seen her lauded with praise by President Obama, moved to address populism in her joint address.
Calling the surge of interest in right-wing politics a “wave” that “engulfs us,” Ms. Merkel noted the sentiment “seems to come from the United States,” but in an oblique reference to President-Elect Donald Trump said it was an issue she was dealing with in Europe, too. She said:
“Look at the European parliament. There are a lot of people who are looking for simplistic solutions and are preaching simplistic solutions which are very unfriendly policies. We have them here in Europe, too, we have them in Germany too.”
Apparently blaming this rising populism — politics that are popular with voters — on the internet, the German chancellor implied the internet would have to be subject to restrictive censorship laws as were enacted by many European nations to stem the disruptive effect of the printing press. She said:
“Digitisation is a disruptive technological force that brings about deep-seated change and transformation in society. Look at the history of the printing press, when this was invented what kind of consequences it had. Or industrialisation, what consequences that had.
“Very often, it led to enormous transformational processes within individual societies and it took a while until societies learned to find the right kinds of policies to contain this, to manage and steer this. We live in a period of profound transformation.”
The chancellor also took time to speak out against the populists within her own country, blaming the exporting of manufacturing jobs abroad for discontent about mass migration. Picking up on the slogan for anti-mass migration and counter-Islamisation movement PEGIDA ‘Wir Sind Das Volk’ — ‘We Are The People’ — the chancellor said:
“The most important and noble task of politicians these days is to see that each and every person can find his place. But those who purportedly belong to certain groups say ‘we are the people, and not others’.”
The saying has been inherited by PEGIDA from the counter-Communist rule movements in East Germany in the 1980’s. Merkel, a former member of an East German Communist group, said those words as a protest against overbearing government power and had brought joy to her then but not today. She said:
“At the time when we had [this saying] in the GDR [East Germany] when the people stood in the streets and said ‘we are the people’ it filled me with great joy, but the fact these people have hijacked it does not fill me with joy.”
Ms. Merkel’s comments on web censorship may be welcomed by many in the traditional mainstream media, whose grip on news narratives has been weakened by digital news services like Breitbart.
This week Germany’s Zeit newspaper published a piece calling for controls to prevent “a German Donald Trump”, while Britain’s Independent former newspaper website published a list of “fake” news sites which they claimed may have “swayed votes towards Donald Trump”. One of those listed was Breitbart News.