For All Nails #244: Look for the Union Label

by Johnny Pez

Imperial Chancellery
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
28 April 1976

Exterior Minister Joshua Merkel no longer felt anything approximating superstitious awe when he entered Chancellor Grauer's office. It was sad in a way -- it meant that the memory of Adolph Markstein was fading. His ghost no longer haunted the corridors of the Chancellery. Sic transit gloria mundi, Merkel thought with a mental sigh.

Merkel was rather surprised to find that he was not the only visitor to Grauer's office. Also present, and already seated, were Defense Minister Scheibl and Interior Minister Döppner. He greeted the Chancellor and the other two ministers and took his seat.

"Gentlemen," said Grauer without preamble as he lit his cigar, "I have called you here to inform you that Herr Wolfsberger and his colleagues have withdrawn from the government."

The Exterior Minister was not terribly surprised. Grauer had known all along that reducing farm subsidies might cost him the support of the Peasants Party. The need to reduce the budget deficit had been urgent enough that Grauer had been willing to take the risk. Unfortunately, the gamble hadn't paid off -- with the Peasants Party gone, Grauer's majority in the Imperial Diet was also gone. Now, for the fifth time since becoming Chancellor nineteen months before, Grauer had to build a new coalition out of the disparate parties that made up the Diet. He had always managed it before, but he was fast running out of viable coalition partners.

And what was Merkel doing here? If Grauer wanted to discuss rebuilding the governing coalition, then he ought to be talking to Deputy Speaker Kallenbach. Obviously, then, Merkel wasn't here to discuss the new government itself, but rather its foreign policy implications.

Sure enough, Grauer continued by saying, "As I needn't remind all of you, this leaves us sixteen seats short of a majority in the Diet, and Herr Kallenbach has had his hands full trying to create a new one. In the end, he was obliged to bring the Socialists into the government."

The Socialists!

Ever since the Bloody Eighties, the Socialists had been the pariahs of Germany. Their French colleagues had slaughtered that nation's royal family, and launched a political jihad that had spread chaos and bloodshed across the face of Europe. The party had been suppressed in Germany on at least three occasions, but they had always somehow managed to worm their way back into the political process.

They were the most disreputable party in Germany, and now, for the first time since their foundation a century before, they were going to be part of a national government. It didn't bear thinking about.

Except, of course, that Merkel was now obliged to think about it, since he would be part of the same government. Or would he? Now Merkel understood the real reason he was present. If he and his 42 followers in the Diet refused to be part of Grauer's latest government, the Chancellor would have to continue hunting for a majority. In all likelihood, without Merkel's faction of the Germany Party, Grauer would be unable to form a government. That would put the ball in Hans Steiner's court, though most likely he'd have no better luck than Grauer in putting together a majority. In which case, there would be another set of elections, and who knew what that would bring? Judging from the last elections, and the by-elections since, nothing good.

"So," said Merkel, "what price are the Socialists asking for their participation?"

"Six cabinet posts, including Labor," said Grauer.

"And what of the Socialist party manifesto?" asked Merkel. "Among their other demands, they've called for the withdrawal of all our armed forces stationed outside the Inner Empire, independence for the Outer Empire, and the establishment of a republic in place of the Empire."

"Well, of course we won't be withdrawing our armed forces; not all of them, at any rate," said Scheibl. "The Arabian garrisons are an economic necessity, and the A.R.R. wouldn't last ten minutes if we withdrew from the Russian states."

"And there's no question of Germany becoming a republic," Döppner added. "That may be well enough for the New Zealanders and the North Americans. Frankly, given what they've got to work with, I don't blame them. I see no reason, though, for us to change the perfectly sensible constitutional arrangement we have now."

"On the other hand," said Grauer, "the success of our recent withdrawal from France seems to indicate to me that holding on to the Outer Empire may be unnecessary. We would be no less secure than we are now, and we could cut defense expenditures by a significant amount."

Merkel couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Have you any idea what it's like in the Outer Empire? The Dacians in Hungary are always restive, the Ukrainians in Poland are ready to rise up at a moment's notice, and the Serbs would just as soon kill a Croat as look at one. Those states were all designed by von Richter to dissolve into chaos if we ever withdrew from them, and that's just what will happen. Remember what it was like in the Habsburg Empire during the Bloody Eighties? It'll be just like that, except that it will be happening in every direction you look."

Grauer peered at Merkel, his cigar seemingly forgotten in its ashtray. "Herr Merkel, I don't want to hear about how we can't cut the Outer Empire loose. I want to hear about how we can cut it loose. I have no intention of keeping half a million men under arms in support of an outdated policy. Give me options, Herr Merkel, give me a plan."

It was Grauer's use of the word 'plan' that did it. Merkel suddenly remembered something that King Frederick had suggested at the last Imperial Council meeting. "Well," he said cautiously, "I suppose we might try to reorganize the Outer Empire along the lines of the Zollverein. In fact, we could even make it an extension of the Zollverein -- add a political dimension to it. That way, we'd have more than just the Outer Empire, we'd have the Roman Bloc, too, perhaps Numidia as well. Fix the Outer Empire into a larger matrix of states, and that would solve part of the stability problem right there. Add in some political reforms and the usual economic carrot-and-stick package, and we just might be able to pull it off."

Now Grauer was puffing away at his cheroot -- a good sign. He sent a smoke ring drifting off in the direction of the framed world map hanging from the wall to his left. It impacted, Merkel noted, on Europe. "Now that, Herr Merkel, is a very interesting idea. Very interesting indeed. A political Zollverein. I like it -- the same, but different. And it shouldn't be too difficult to sell to the Socialists, they'll be overjoyed at the prospect of having a whole new legislative body to posture in."

Merkel himself was still unhappy. "Herr Chancellor, the potential for trouble is still enormous. Mark my words, some damn foolish thing in the Balkans could cause the whole edifice to come tumbling down."

"That is why we have diplomats, Herr Merkel," said Grauer. "And generals." After sending another smoke ring at the wall map, he added, "Just one thing -- have you got a name for this political whatever-it-is?"

Merkel allowed himself to look thoughtful. What was that name Frederick had suggested again? Ah, yes. "Herr Chancellor," he said after a suitable pause, "I was thinking of calling it the European Union."

Forward to FAN #245: Laylat al-Ragha'ib.

Forward to 14 May 1976: Grits, Interrupted.

Forward to European Unioin: And You Could Have It All.

Return to For All Nails.

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