Opinion: A campaign boost - thank you NSA! | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.07.2013

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Opinion: A campaign boost - thank you NSA!

National elections are only two months away in Germany, and the NSA scandal is a hot topic for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Finally, she's got something to pique voters' interest, says DW's Volker Wagener.

Voters are heading to the polls in about two months' time, but you wouldn't know it from the campaigning - or lack thereof.

If it wasn't for the NSA spying scandal, voters would hardly notice what's going on in domestic politics. The scandal has finally been able to breathe some life into parties and citizens alike.

No one has taken to the streets over the scandal yet, but people are busy venting their anger on social networks. Almost 80 percent of Germans want Merkel to face the US and lay down the law.

Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrats' main candidate in the September 22 elections accuses Merkel of violating the oath she swore when becoming chancellor - the oath that demands she avert danger from the German people.

Steinbrück had been relatively quiet for some time, and he chose the NSA scandal to really lay into her. But what about her?

Merkel, the mediator

Emergency situations have always been Merkel's specialty, but what constitutes an emergency is, of course, debatable. A spying scandal slap bang in the middle of an election campaign - and that is precisely what this NSA affair is - can make the most seasoned politician go weak at the knees. But not Merkel it seems.

She is seeing both sides, pointing out that US spying led to the foiling of 45 terror plots, five of which would have been on German soil. And, of course, we must all pay a price for security.

It's a strong argument if the information is indeed correct.

No clear stance

But the spying activities of the US - one of our strongest allies - violate German law. As German chancellor, she must denounce such activities. And she does. However, for her, counter-terrorism and data protection are equally important. She simply cannot decide which is more important.

We haven't been able to glean much in the way of whether or not the government is investigating this very juicy and awkward affair, or what it is, or isn't doing about it. The interior minister's trip to Washington was more embarrassing than revelatory.

Hans-Peter Friedrich demanded all the facts from Washington - as if secret services are more than happy to oblige and reveal their sources, methods and results.

Friedrich was bound to fail in Washington and that was just fine with Merkel, as she was trying to cover up something far more pertinent to her person and her campaign.

The German Intelligence Agency (BND) is not actually part of the interior minister's remit, nor is the coordination of the various intelligence services. Both are the responsibility of Ronald Pofalla, chief of staff at Merkel's chancellery.

Merkel wants the spying scandal as far away from her person as possible, as it is possibly her only weak spot in the run-up to the elections. Little surprise then that Friedrich was branded a "useful idiot" by the opposition and the media, before he even touched down in Washington. And certainly afterwards.

Sitting on the fence

It's not for nothing that Merkel is known as former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's ideological successor. Similar to Kohl, she has mastered the art of sitting on the fence.

It's not entirely clear yet in what direction the Snowden affair and, specifically Germany's response to it, is headed. To placate German voters who are understandably and traditionally worried about surveillance and spying, she has suggested an international agreement on data protection. It's a safe option.

But the NSA scandal has already violated German law. Why would the likes of the NSA, the KGB or Mossad be put off by any future global agreement? Whatever is technically possible, they are likely to exploit.

As I said, at last there is something to whet voters' appetite and get them interested in the September elections.

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