Published : 2013-03-20 20:06
Updated : 2013-03-20 20:06
Germany has recently emerged as a source of inspiration for Korean politicians who want to arm themselves with more effective and sophisticated tools to solve a raft of tasks facing their country. Some of them have opted to spend a period of self-reflection and soul-searching in Germany to prepare for another leap forward in their political career.
The European powerhouse has certainly made remarkable achievements that Korean politicians and policymakers may do well to look to in their efforts to balance economic growth with social welfare and lay the groundwork for national reunification. Last year’s election of Park Geun-hye as Korea’s first female president has also increased interest in the leadership of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who has steered efforts to overcome the eurozone debt crisis, coordinating internal differences over Berlin’s role.
This is not the first time that Germany has drawn intensive attention from Koreans as a model they should learn from. In the 1960s and ’70s, government officials, entrepreneurs and workers in Korea toiled to achieve the “Miracle on the Han River,” inspired by the “Miracle on the Rheine.” After the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, the ensuing German process of political, economic and social integration suggested many lessons for policymakers and scholars here to consider in making preparations for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
The latest wave of learning from Germany comes across the board. It appears to be regarded by many Koreans nearly as a cure-all for the problems their country has been grappling with. Germany is becoming a popular destination for Korean politicians and officials who want to study its system and experience on the spot. Sohn Hak-kyu, a senior adviser for the main opposition Democratic United Party, led this trend by leaving for Germany early this year to attend a six-month study program at a Berlin university. Sohn, who unsuccessfully ran in the DUP presidential primary last year, was recently joined by his former rival Kim Doo-kwan and former Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan, who worked for independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo during his short-lived campaign in December.
Dozens of lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties are preparing to launch a bipartisan group to study Germany’s social and economic systems. Another group of legislators have met periodically for years to discuss German lessons for Korea’s unification.
The recent fever of learning from Germany is certainly nothing that should be downplayed. It is rather desirable that the nation’s leaders, through this process, are inspired and better prepared to cope with pressing problems.
The closer they look into the accomplishments of the European powerhouse, Korean politicians may come to a deeper realization that they have been avoiding the harder part. As indicated by many experts, painful structural reforms made in the 1990s laid the foundation for Germany’s current success. Its measures to make labor markets more flexible and the welfare system more efficient are far from populist promises Korean politicians have made to voters. Its political culture to settle discords through consultations and compromises should also be learned by political parties here. The German fever could do more good for the country if it leads to actual changes in politicians’ attitudes.