Tag Archives: CSU

Merkel may be down, but don’t rule her out for a fourth term just yet

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Germany’s chancellor since 2005, Angela Merkel is widely believed to be preparing to seek fourth term in the 2017 federal elections. (Facebook)

It’s entirely possible that September 2016 marks the worst month of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s career.Germany Flag Iconmecklenburg-vorpommern berlin

Merkel’s center-right party, the Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) fell to third place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a relatively low-population state of just 1.6 million that sprawls along the northern edge of what used to be East Germany. While the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) has been traditionally stronger there in elections since reunification, two factors made the CDU’s loss particularly embarrassing. The first is that it’s the state that Merkel has represented since her first election in 1990 shorly after German reunification. The second, and more ominous, is that the CDU fell behind the eurosceptic, anti-refugee Alternative für Deutschland (Afd, Alternative for Germany), a relatively new party founded in 2013 that today holds seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 state assemblies and that, according to recent polls, will easily win seats in the Bundestag in next September’s federal elections.

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Two weeks later, on September 18, Merkel’s CDU also suffered losses in Berlin’s state election. As left-wing parties have long dominated Berlin’s politics, and the SPD placed first and Germany’s Die Linke (the Left) and Die Grünen (the Greens) placed third and fourth behind the CDU. But even in Berlin, the AfD still won 14.2% of the vote.

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Taken together, the state election results forced a mea culpa from Merkel on Monday. The chancellor, who is expected (though by no means certain) to seek a fourth consecutive term next year, departed from the calm, steely confidence that since last summer has characterized her commitment to accept and integrate over a million Syrian refugees within Germany’s borders. Merkel admitted, however, that she would, if possible, rewind the clock to better prepare her country and her government for the challenge of admitting so many new migrants, and she admitted lapses in her administration’s communications. With the AfD showing no signs of abating, it’s clear that its attacks on Merkel’s open-door policy are working. Merkel’s statement earlier this week admitted that her policies have not unfolded as smoothly as she’d hoped.

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Indeed, German polls are starting to show that voters are souring on Merkel and her approach to migration, so much that in one poll in August for Bild, a majority of voters no longer support a fourth term for Merkel. All of which has led to hand-wringing both in Germany and abroad that Merkel’s days are numbered.

Don’t believe it. Continue reading Merkel may be down, but don’t rule her out for a fourth term just yet

Has Germany (and Europe) reached peak Merkel?

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In the span of six days, German chancellor Angela Merkel has made a teenage Palestinian refugee cry with her government’s stand on refugee and immigration policy (then tried to pet her, in what must be one of her most cringe-worthy moments as chancellor), reiterated her increasingly isolated position in Europe in opposition to LGBT marriage equality and almost allowed her finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble to force Greece out of the eurozone, in the process undermining Merkel’s authority both at home and within the wider eurozone.Germany Flag Icon

Some week.

Merkel, who won a narrower-than-expected victory in the 2005 election, reached the apex of her political power in September 2013, when her governing Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) nearly won an absolute majority in the country’s parliamentary elections. Despite being forced back into a ‘grand coalition’ with the rival center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party), Merkel’s popularity crested. At long last, she had won a clear personal mandate for her cautious, seemingly ideology-free leadership.

But when faced with policy issues — like Greece, LGBT rights and immigration — featuring such sharp contrasts, Merkel’s popularity was always going to fall from those stratospheric levels.

The crisis over Greece’s future highlighted the limits of Merkel’s conciliatory governing style — to sit back, wait for a consensus to emerge and follow public opinion, even (or especially) if it means co-opting a rival party’s positions. That’s how Merkel has handled everything from nuclear power to raising the minimum wage. But there’s a limit to that kind of governance. Continue reading Has Germany (and Europe) reached peak Merkel?

Three ways Europe and Greece could blow their last chance at a debt deal

varoufakiseuclidPhoto credit to EPA/BGNES.

The world woke up to the news Monday morning that outspoken Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis had, at long lost, been dismissed by his prime minister, Alexis Tsipras.Greece Flag Icon

Varoufakis (pictured above, right, behind Greece’s new finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos) had become, to say the least, a brake on negotiations with the Eurogroup, even though his widespread popularity and strident anti-austerity boosted Tsipras’s government to a stunning victory in Sunday’s debt negotiations referendum, whereby 61.31% of voters rejected a prior plan offered by Greece’s European creditors.

European officials struggled to reach consensus with Varoufakis, who just last week, in the middle of the rushed referendum campaign, referred to his European ministerial colleagues as ‘terrorists.’ Tsakalotos, an Oxford-trained economist, is expected to take a more mild-mannered approach, and he already supplanted Varoufakis as Greece’s chief negotiator back in April. That was, however, only to the extent anyone could supplant the motorbike-riding, free-wheeling Varoufakis, who gave his final press conference as finance minister Sunday night in a t-shirt.

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Greece will have wasted five years in depression

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Varoufakis’s resignation, along with a pledge of national unity across Greece’s mainstream domestic political spectrum, breathed new life into hopes for last-minute talks for a third bailout, allowing the country to reopen its illiquid and perhaps insolvent banks, lift (at least partially) capital controls that have limited daily cash withdrawals to €60, restore liquidity to ATMs that have run out of cash altogether, address Greece’s €1.6 billion default on June 30 to the International Monetary Fund and meet a July 20 deadline to make a €3.5 billion payment to the European Central Bank.

For all the celebration that followed the resounding ‘no’ vote in Sunday’s referendum, the coming Sunday could bring financial austerity far more severe than Greece has known in the past five years, marked by a nearly 30% drop in GDP growth and a 26% unemployment rate. Failure to reach a deal could result in a shortage of cash, food, medicine and so many other necessities to the extent that European leaders are whispering that Greece could require humanitarian aid.

Notwithstanding the dire consequences, a deal is not necessarily likely — or even possible. If they’re lucky, the European Union has five days to prevent Grexit. Here are four reasons why it will be so difficult in the hours ahead.  Continue reading Three ways Europe and Greece could blow their last chance at a debt deal

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

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We now have most of the results from across Europe in the 28-state elections to elect all 751 members of the European Parliament.European_Union

At the European level,  the center-right, Christian democratic European People’s Party (EPP) emerged with about 25 more seats than the center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES).

That immediately gives former the EPP’s candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, former Luxembourgish prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, a boost in his efforts to actually become the Commission president. But it’s still far from automatic, despite Juncker’s aggressive posture at a press conference Sunday evening:

“I feel fully entitled to become the next president of the European Commission,” Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, told supporters late yesterday in Brussels after the release of preliminary results. Premier for 18 years until he was voted out of office in December, Juncker also gained recognition in his dual role as head of the group of euro-area finance ministers during the debt crisis.

Juncker (pictured above) still must to convince the European Council to propose him as Commission president, and he’ll still need to win over enough right-wing or center-left allies to win a majority vote in the European Parliament.

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That process, which could feature a major battle between the European Council and the European Parliament, will unfold in the days, weeks and possibly months ahead.

But what do the results mean across Europe in each country? Here’s a look at how the European elections are reverberating across the continent.  Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

SPD party membership approves German grand coalition

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In an overwhelming endorsement of Germany’s new grand coalition, party members of the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) have approved the governing agreement between the SPD and chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right union.Germany Flag Icon

Nearly 370,000 German party members approved the agreement by the lopsided margin of 75.96% in a vote that was held over the past two weeks, the results of which were announced earlier today.  The vote followed the November 27 agreement struck among SPD leaders and leaders of Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) and Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the  Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU, the Christian Social Union).

So what next?

Expect Merkel to name a new cabinet within the next 24 hours, and expect her formal reelection as chancellor to come early next week.

You can read more background about the coalition deal here and here, but here’s a short list of points to keep in mind: Continue reading SPD party membership approves German grand coalition

Germany reaches coalition deal, faces SPD party vote

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With the holidays coming, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s goal was to have a coalition government in place by Christmas.Germany Flag Icon

Those plans took a huge leap forward today, as Merkel’s governing Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party), together with their more conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU, the Christian Social Union) reached a coalition deal with the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party), paving the way for a return to the same ‘grand coalition’ that governed Germany between 2005 and 2009.

Generally speaking, the terms of the deal are as follows:

  • A hike in the German minimum wage across the board to €8.50, a key concession from Merkel to the SPD.
  • More regulation over employees and increases in pensions, both concessions to the SPD.
  • The government will not raise any additional taxes or issue additional debt, maintaining a key CDU-CSU campaign pledge.

Sometimes feisty coalition talks lasted nearly a month, and the deal comes over two months after the election. Taken together, it represents a fairly generous deal for the Social Democrats, whose 470,000 party members will now vote in the next two weeks to either accept or reject the coalition deal — the ballot results are due on December 14.

The CDU-CSU hold 311 seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, just five short of an absolute majority in the 630-seat Bundestag, following a tremendous victory for the CDU-CSU in the September 22 federal elections.  Those elections saw the CDU-CSU’s previous coalition partner, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) wiped out completely from the Bundestag after failing to cross the 5% electoral threshold.  Though the Social Democrats won 192 seats, it still represented their second-worst election result in the postwar period.

Though Merkel and SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel will announce further details as to the new government’s policy agenda later today, cabinet ministers won’t be named until after the SPD party membership vote.  But it’s expected that CDU finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble will remain in his position (unlike in the first grand coalition, when the SPD’s Peer Steinbrück held the post).  It’s also expected that Frank-Walter Steinmeier will return as foreign minister, a role he held during the first grand coalition.  Gabriel is expected to become the SPD’s floor leader in the Bundestag or assume a super-charged economy ministry.

So what to expect next?

Merkel’s concessions — especially the €8.50 minimum wage — represent just about as far as the conservative chancellor could go, and it’s likely that Bavarian minister-president and CSU leader Horst Seehofer isn’t thrilled with the deal. (Seehofer, fresh off his own landslide victory earlier in September, is unlikely to leave his perch as Bavaria’s chief executive to take a job in Merkel’s cabinet.)

In particular, the minimum wage increase makes it much more likely that the Social Democratic rank-and-file consent to the government.  If the party vote fails, it’s hard to see how there’s any appetite for a grand coalition, though I would expect Merkel and the SPD to take one last go before Germany moves to new elections — both because Merkel is anxious to get on with European governance matters and because the SPD still trails the CDU-CSU by a wide margin in polls, so Merkel could conceivably win an absolute majority if snap elections are held early next year.  A Bild poll last week showed SPD voters only narrowly in favor of a deal by a vote of 49% to 44%, though at that point, Merkel was still resisting the SPD’s push for hiking the minimum wage.

If the deal is approved, however, don’t expect the grand coalition to work as smoothly as the first coalition.   Continue reading Germany reaches coalition deal, faces SPD party vote

Merkel’s CDU-CSU, Gabriel’s SPD stumbling toward a not-so-grand coalition in Germany

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We’re less than two weeks from December.  That means that the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, has been sitting for about a month, and we’re weeks away from the self-imposed deadline that chancellor Angela Merkel placed on securing a new coalition government.Germany Flag Icon

In case you forgot, Merkel won a handsome victory in the September 22 federal election, when her center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) — together with the Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria) — won 311 seats in the Bundestag, just five seats short of an absolute majority.  It was the biggest victory for Merkel’s Christian Democrats in nearly two decades, harkening back to the wide margins that former CDU chancellor Helmut Kohl won in 1990 and in 1994 in the afterglow of the relatively successful reunification of West and East Germany.

But while the CDU-CSU savored a sweet victory, their coalition partners between 2009 and 2013, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) failed to win any seats in the Bundestag for the first time since 1945, leaving Merkel with two options — a minority government or a coalition government with more leftist partners.

Though Merkel flirted throughout early October with Die Grünen (the Greens), a tantalizingly novel coalition that would have remade the German political spectrum, the Greens pulled out of talks on October 16.  So for over a month, coalition negotiations have been exclusively among the CDU, the CSU and the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).  Earlier in November, the coalition talks were going so well that CSU leader and Bavarian minister-president Hoorst Seehofer worried that the harmony would subsume the real policy differences between the German right and the German left.

As Merkel quipped earlier this year, Christmas comes sooner than you think, and Merkel, Seehofer and the SPD’s leader, Sigmar Gabriel (pictured above), are under increasing pressure to agree on a coalition agenda — and given that the CDU-CSU’s 311 seats and the SPD’s 192 seats constitute 79.8% of the entire Bundestag, expectations are high that such a wide-ranging coalition will tackle long-term reform both in Germany and in the European Union.  Moreover, any coalition deal agreed among the three parties must also win subsequent confirmation from a vote of 470,000 SPD members in December.

So what’s holding up the deal?  Continue reading Merkel’s CDU-CSU, Gabriel’s SPD stumbling toward a not-so-grand coalition in Germany

Merkel’s coalition talks with Green Party leaders this week seem serious

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German chancellor Angela Merkel, fresh off a victory at the end of last month in her country’s federal elections, turned this week to a once very-unlikely coalition partner — Germany’s Die Grünen (the Green Party). Germany Flag Icon

When news broke last week that Merkel would hold talks with the Greens, it was easy to blow it off as a formality.  After all, everyone assumed after the September 22 elections that Merkel’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) would form another ‘grand coalition’ with the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).

But throughout the campaign, I listed all of the reasons why a ‘black-green’ coalition made a lot of sense — and those reasons still make as much sense now as they did before the election.  Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear power in 2011 removed the key policy difference that most divided her from the Greens.  The leadership and the rank-and-file membership of the Greens is becoming older, wealthier and, in general, more like the CDU electorate.  Moreover, its younger members are less radical and more moderate, and don’t have the same antipathy to business as the (pardon the generalization) founding ‘1960s, hippie, flower child’ generation.

With the announcement that the Greens and Merkel’s CDU will explore a second round of talks over a potential coalition, however, everyone seems to be taking seriously the possibility of a ‘black-green’ coalition, which would be unprecedented in national German politics (though the Greens and the CDU joined forces in government recently, to mixed results, in Saarland and Hamburg).

There were always really compelling reasons why another CDU/SPD ‘grand coalition’ makes little sense.

After all, Merkel’s near-landslide victory left her CDU and the more Catholic, conservative, Bavaria-based Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union) just five seats short of an absolute majority.  She doesn’t need the SPD’s 192 seats, she needs five votes.  Moreover, the SPD’s collaboration with Merkel won it few votes, neither in Germany’s 2009 federal elections when the grand coalition’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier led the party to its worst election result in postwar history nor in the most recent elections when the grand coalition’s finance minister Peer Steinbrück led the SPD to its second-worst result.  As such, the SPD is looking to draw a contrast with Merkel over the next hour years, not prop up Merkel’s government as her junior partner.

That means that the SPD will be looking for the first opportunity for snap elections — and it’s not exactly a foregone conclusion that Merkel will lead the CDU/CSU into a fourth consecutive campaign.  At first glance, a coalition with the Greens may seem more bold, but it might well be the more cautious option for Merkel.  They’ll be less likely to cause problems for Merkel and, with a smaller parliamentary caucus,

Here’s the breakdown of seats in the lower house of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, following the September 22 vote, which will have 630 seats — a ‘grand coalition’ would amount to about four-fifths of the entire Bundestag.

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Given that the CDU’s coalition partner between 2009 and 2013, the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), failed to surpass the 5% electoral threshold and lost all of its seats in the Bundestag in September, there’s only one other party to which Merkel can turn — the Greens.

Though Merkel’s coalition partners might both regret their cooperation (i.e., the SPD and the FDP both notched postwar nadirs in 2009 and 2013, respectively), there’s a strong case that a ‘black-green’ coalition could give the Greens a new identity at the very heart of Germany politics.  As a junior partner in Merkel’s third consecutive government, its supporters wouldn’t expect much, so to the extent that the Greens moderate Merkel’s agenda over the next four years (through policies that boost renewable energy or reduce CO2 emissions), their core voters should be fairly satisfied.  But the Greens stand to pick up many more centrist voters that might otherwise vote for the SPD or even for the CDU or the FDP.

The Greens ran an undeniably leftist campaign, pledging tax hikes and a 15% wealth tax to boot, along with the oft-ridiculed national ‘Veggie Day,’ and one of its four leaders, Jürgen Trittin, a former environmental minister from 1998 to 2005, faced ridicule over his approval of a pamphlet from 1981 that appeared to call for the legalization of sex between adults and minors.  Despite polls that in 2011 showed the Greens winning up to 25% or even 30% of the vote, they finished with just 8.4% of the vote — a swing of 2.3% less than their 2009 total.

Former Green Party leader and foreign minister Joschka Fischer, among others, took the Greens to task for their campaign within 48 hours of the election:

“It looks almost as though the current leadership of the Greens has gotten older but still hasn’t grown up,” Fischer told SPIEGEL following Sunday’s vote. “They followed a strategy that not only failed to win over new voters, but drove away many old ones.” Noting the party’s focus on tax hikes and social spending during the campaign, Fischer said that emphasizing a “leftist course” was a “fatal mistake.”

Former party head Reinhard Bütikofer has likewise not been complimentary of the current Green leadership. “The failure … to engage in a serious debate with Chancellor Merkel regarding … her policies for Europe granted her political hegemony” on the issue, he told SPIEGEL. He also criticized Trittin for being a mouthpiece of the party’s left wing.

Since the election, the Green leadership resigned en masse, and they elected two new leaders, including the centrist rising star Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who had served as one of two chancellor-candidates for the Greens during the election.  The Greens, who have long been divided between a more centrist realo (‘realist’) faction and a more radical fundi (‘fundamentalist’) faction, have long elected leaders in pairs (the new leftist Green leader is Anton Hofreiter, who, unlike Trittin, comes from the new generation of Greens parliamentarians).

But the clear exemplar of Greens success is Winfried Kretschmann (pictured above), the first and only minister-president of any of Germany’s 16 states — and in Baden-Württemberg, a wealthy (and relatively conservative) state in Germany’s southwest that’s a hub for commerce and industry.  Though Kretschmann came to power in 2011 on a wave of opposition to the Stuttgart 21′ rail development project, Kretschmann is now helping to implement the project after it won nearly 60% support in a subsequent referendum specifically on the project’s future.  Kretschmann, who’s firmly within the ‘realo,’ right wing of the Green Party, has won plaudits from business leaders as well, and he’s apparently playing a role in the CDU-Green negotiations.

Severe obstacles remain to a ‘black-green’ coalition. Continue reading Merkel’s coalition talks with Green Party leaders this week seem serious

That ‘transcending ideology’ thing from Obama 2008? Angela Merkel did it. Obama hasn’t.

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Last Sunday’s election wasn’t just a victory for the German center-right — it was a very personalized victory for Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, who will become just the third postwar chancellor to serve three terms.*  USflagGermany Flag Icon

Germans largely saw Merkel as the only viable chancellor candidate (sorry, Peer Steinbrück!), and they flocked to support Merkel for steering Germany largely unscathed through a global financial crisis and a subsequent eurozone crisis in an export-oriented economy that’s still growing and producing jobs for Germans.  They admire the fact that she’s steered the eurozone through the worst of its sovereign debt crisis and avoided the single currency’s implosion, all while tying bailouts for Greece and other Mediterranean countries to austerity and reform measures that would make more profligate countries (like Greece) more ‘German’ in their approach to state finances.

But beyond the infantilizing ‘Mutti’ meme or the idea that Merkel represents a ‘safe pair of hands,’ she has won over many Germans because she’s been such a pragmatic and non-ideological leader.  Though Merkel leads the ostensibly center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party), it’s really hard to know what the CDU stands for these days other than the continuity of another Merkel government — and that’s likely to pose a difficult challenge for Merkel’s successor in 2017 or 2021 or whenever.

Merkel’s made some ideological compromises to her Bavarian counterparts, the Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union)  — for instance, she has avoided the question of marriage equality, preferring that the German constitutional court largely deliver equal rights and benefits to same-sex partners at a time when both conservative governments (in the United Kingdom) and leftist governments (in France) deliver legislative solutions.

By and large, though, Merkel eschews ideological litmus tests.  Merkel campaigned on an economic agenda that varies only slightly with that of her rival center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).  While the SPD favored a €8.50 minimum wage, Merkel pushed a sector-by-sector minimum wage approach.  Both parties supported increasing elements of the German social welfare model, such as child allowances and a rise in pensions.  While the SPD and other leftists pushed for tax increases, Merkel has been content to draw a line at merely no tax increases, to the disappointment of Merkel’s liberal coalition partners, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), who were completely wiped out of Germany’s parliament in Sunday’s elections.  After the nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima reactor in Japan in 2011, Merkel announced that Germany would phase out nuclear energy, thereby accomplishing in one fell swoop one of the German left’s top priorities since the 1970s — and perhaps the top policy goal of the Die Grünen (the Greens).

German political scientists refer to it as ‘asymmetric demobilisation‘ — Merkel has so blurred the lines between her position and the SPD position that on the top issues — economic policy, Europe, foreign affairs — the SPD can’t draw an effective contrast to her.

Merkel, in essence, has governed as a perfectly non-ideological leader.

Sound familiar?

It should to most Americans, who elected Barack Obama in 2008 in large part due to his pledge to transcend the increasingly polarized politics of the United States.  Here’s what Obama said upon accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president that summer:

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past…. For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result.

In effect, Merkel has done, in her quiet and unassuming way, what Obama has utterly failed to do — govern in a way that transcends traditional ideological divides.

You could say that Obama’s rhetoric is the standard boilerplate that any change candidate serves up in American politics — the same ‘Washington-is-not-the-answer’ tropes that Republicans and Democrats have rolled out since Ronald Reagan swept to power 33 years ago on an appealing anti-government message.  But Obama’s reputation in 2008 came mostly from his keynote address to the 2004 Democratic national convention on this precise issue:

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

So there’s a lot of reason to believe that Obama genuinely believed he could transform the political dynamic in American politics.

But his absolute lack to do so is perhaps Obama’s greatest failure as a president.  Say whatever you want about his policies, the Obama era in many ways constitutes a high-water mark for American political polarization.  Republicans now lean even more to the right, in the thrall of a tea party movement that demands no compromise from Republican officeholders.

There are all sorts of rationales that explain why Merkel has succeeded in becoming non-ideological and why Obama hasn’t — but none of them are completely satisfying.  Continue reading That ‘transcending ideology’ thing from Obama 2008? Angela Merkel did it. Obama hasn’t.

German election results — federal Bundestag and Hesse state results (in five charts)

Election officials released provisional results overnight in both the federal Germany election to determine the makeup of the lower house of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, and the Hessian state elections.Germany Flag Iconhesse flag

Here’s where things stand in the total national ‘party vote’:

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As predicted by exit polls earlier Sunday, neither the new eurosceptic party, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) nor the longtime liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) won more than 5% of the vote — meaning that they have not won any seats in the Bundestag.

The final total won by chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) — together with the Bavarian Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union) — comes to 41.5%.  That’s exactly the same percentage that the CDU/CSU and chancellor Helmut Kohl won in the 1994 German elections, and it’s just 2.3% less than Kohl’s total in the 1990 elections, which came in the aftermath of the largely successful reunification of West Germany with East Germany.  It’s an absolutely huge win for Merkel — but we already knew that as polls closed Sunday.

Here’s a look at how Sunday’s election result compared to the previous elections in September 2009:

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There are no absolutely clear winners except the CDU/CSU, which improved on its 2009 totals by a staggering 7.8% — including a nearly 1% improvement by the CSU (which is pretty incredible, given that the CSU seeks votes solely in Bavaria, home to just 12.5 million of Germany’s 80 million residents).

The FDP obviously had a disastrous result — the party’s worst result in Germany’s postwar history, which comes after its postwar high of 14.6% just four years ago.  Both leading FDP figure and economics and technology minister Rainer Brüderle, party leader and vice chancellor Philipp Rösler and former party leader (until 2011) and foreign minister Guido Westerwelle are all likely to step aside from their top leadership positions.

The center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) improved slightly on its 2009 result, which was a postwar low for the party under chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served as foreign minister in the 2005-09 CDU/SPD ‘grand coalition’ government.  But the SPD’s performance under its 2013 candidate Peer Steinbrück, who served as Merkel’s grand coalition finance minister, was its second-worst result in postwar German history.

Die Grünen (the Greens) also suffered a retreat from its 2009 totals and especially from polls in 2011 that showed them winning between 20% and 25% of the vote.  The poor result follows an unfocused campaign with at least four different leaders.  The Green platform swung from promoting ‘Veggie Day’ to advocating tax increases, despite the fact that its electorate is becoming more moderate, less radical, older and wealthier.

Die Linke (the Left) appears to have retained its traditional strength as the second-most popular party in the eastern states (second to Merkel’s CDU), but it has also lost support since 2009.  Though its leaders were crowing that it will be the third-largest party in the Bundestag for the first time since reunification, the CDU appears to have made significant inroads into the Left’s eastern heartland.

Though the AfD had a superb performance, it obviously fell 0.3% short of entering the Bundestag and, while it will work hard to retain relevance in next spring’s European elections, it’s difficult to tell if it can retain and grow its strength between now and 2017.

Here’s the breakdown of the seats in the Bundestag — due to so-called ‘overhang seats’ resulting from the way in which additional seats are allocated to bring seat totals in line with the ‘party vote,’ there are 630 seats:

bundestag seats

With 311 seats, Merkel is five seats short of an absolute majority.  Without the option of her previous coalition partner, the FDP, it means that she has three options: Continue reading German election results — federal Bundestag and Hesse state results (in five charts)

LIVE BLOG: Can Merkel win an absolute majority?

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With results yet to come in, the first exit polls show that German chancellor Angela Merkel winning a huge mandate.Germany Flag Icon

Here’s the ZDF exit poll:

  • Merkel’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) and its Bavarian sister party Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union): 42.5%.
  • The center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party): 26.5%.
  • The democratic socialist Die Linke (the Left): 8.5%.
  • Die Grünen (the Greens): 8%.
  • Conservative, eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany): 4.8%.
  • Liberal Merkel coalition partner Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party): 4.5%.

Let’s start with what we know.

How much of a victory is this for Merkel? It’s absolutely huge.

With 42.5% of the vote, Merkel’s CDU/CSU union would win just 1.3% less than Helmut Kohl won for the CDU/CSU in 1990 — and that was in the afterglow of reunification.

It looks like Peer Steinbrück will have led the SPD to a better result this year than Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the former foreign minister who led the SPD to win just 23% in the 2009 election.  It’s still not a great result for the SPD, and the exit polls show that the SPD didn’t actually narrow the gap in the final days as some pre-vote poll surveys had indicated.

Now let’s think about what’s still uncertain — it’s obvious that Merkel’s preferred coalition partner, the FDP, is struggling.  It would be the first time in Germany’s postwar period that the FDP fails to win enough seats to enter the Bundestag — their worst result was in 1969, when it won just 5.8% of the vote, and it follows their best-ever result from 2009 — 14.6%.  It’s been a spectacular collapse, and it’s hard to believe that Philipp Rösler’s leadership will survive very long.  There’s a lot of rebuilding ahead.

(Note that in Hesse, where state elections are being held, the FDP is falling short with just 4.8% as well.  While the CDU has won around 39%, the SPD is winning 31%, the Greens 10.5% and the Left 6% — and that means we could see another SPD-led attempt to govern with the support of the Left. Either way, it’s hard to see the current CDU/FDP coalition continuing to govern.  Here’s more on that race).

It’s still too soon to know whether the AfD or the FDP will win less than 5%.  But if they do, it’s conceivably possible for Merkel to win an absolute majority with just the seats of the CDU/CSU.  Thought 42.5% isn’t an absolute majority when the denominator is 100%, it comes very, very close when the denominator is 85.5% — the sum of the voter support of the four parties to clear the 5% hurdle.

If Merkel falls just a handful of seats short, and the FDP doesn’t enter the Bundestag, it may not be worth entering a coalition, but trying to govern with a very strong minority government.

Obviously, a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD would be the most likely coalition, but as I’ve argued for weeks, a ‘black/green’ coalition between Merkel and the Greens has a lot of natural appeal.

* * * * *

Update, 13:51 ET.

So it seems pretty clear that the CDU/FDP coalition that governs Hesse will not be reelected.  But neither will the SPD/Green coalition have enough seats to control the Hessian Landtag.  That leaves the Left, which will win around eight seats, as the kingmaker — just as in 2008, when the SPD found itself in nearly the same situation.  When that happened in 2008, it led to a year of disorder that ultimately resulted in snap elections in 2009.  SPD leader Andrea Yspilanti faced an internal revolt when she tried to form a government with the support of the Left, and Hessian voters gave the SPD 13% less support in the 2009 elections.  This time around, we’ll have to see if Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, the new SPD leader in Hesse, can deliver a more graceful partnership with the Left.

Volker Bouffier, the CDU leader, will also likely try to determine if there’s space for a grand coalition or even a CDU-Green coalition in Hesse.

* * * * *

Update, 14:07 ET.

Even if Merkel wins an absolute majority of 300 seats in a 598-member Bundestag, there are a couple of good reasons why she might want to form a coalition with either the SPD or the Greens:

  • CSU hardliners.  With an ultra-thin majority, Merkel will not have a huge margin for victory.  That could risk pulling her further to the right.  Even if the AfD doesn’t make it into the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament already has a mildly eurosceptic party — the Bavarian CSU.  Top CSU leaders, including Bavarian finance minister Marcus Söder have called on Greece to leave the eurozone, which makes them about as eurosceptic as the AfD.  In a world where Merkel will want the flexibility to negotiate further bailouts for Greece, Portugal and other challenged European economies, and potentially a European banking union or greater fiscal control, she’ll want the support of a strong pro-European government.
  • Bundesrat considerations. With the likely loss in Hesse, the CDU/FDP will control just 10 seats in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament.  Leftists will control 41 seats, and CDU/SPD grand coalitions at the state level will control another 18 seats.  That means that Merkel will still have to look toward consensus in order to govern, and pulling either the SPD or the Greens into government could smooth the passage of legislation through the upper house.
  • Political calculation.  It may look like joining a coalition as Merkel’s junior partner is hazardous to your health as a political party.  The SPD, after four years in a grand coalition with Merkel, had a disastrous 2009 election and now the FDP, after four years in government, will leave the Bundestag altogether.  But a coalition with the Greens could make political sense for both the CDU and the Greens.  By separating the Greens from their traditional partners in government, Merkel could generate even more disunity on the German left.  But the Greens have had a difficult election — and there’s now evidence to show that they do better under a moderate, business-friendly platform (see the success of Winfried Kretschmann, the only Green minister-president, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg) than under the kind of leftist campaign — tax increases and advocating ‘veggie day’ — that the Greens ran in the federal 2013 campaign.  A turn to the center could really maximize the potential of the Greens in the 2017 election, and nothing could telescope that shift more than a partnership with Merkel that pulls Germany’s government ever so gently from the right to the center over the next four years.

Update, 15:58 ET.

Projections are now divided between showing the CDU/CSU with 295 seats, just short of a majority, and with 303 seats, just barely a majority:

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We’re obviously going to have to wait to know the final numbers.  Keep in mind also that there’s still a chance that the eurosceptic AfD could still sneak into the Bundestag.

 

 

Germany (and Hesse) votes today!

What better way to kick off Germany’s election day — and the second full day of Oktoberfest in Munich — with Johannes Brahms’s ‘Academic Festival Overture,’ a loose assortment of what amounts to student drinking songs?Germany Flag Icon

Germany, with 80 million citizens, is the most populous member of the European Union, and it’s also the economic engine of Europe these days, for better or worse.

Angela Merkel, chancellor for the past eight years, is almost certainly likely to continue as chancellor, with her center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) and the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union), poised to win more than 10% to 15% more than the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).

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German voters will cast two ballots — for a local representative in each of 299 districts, plus the national ‘party vote’ for a political party to determine an additional 299 seats in the lower house of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag.  The ‘party vote’ generally determines the proportion of seats that a party will hold in the Bundestag.

The drama comes down to whether Merkel will be able to continue her coalition with the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) — which is polling at around just 5%, the threshold to win seats in the Bundestag — or be forced back into a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD.  Or, as I’ve argued at EurActiv, the third possibility is a historical ‘black-green’ coalition with Die Grünen (the Greens).

We’ll have a pretty good idea in about 10 hours of the universe of possibilities.

Between now and then, check out some of Suffragio‘s prior German election campaign coverage:

Photo credit to Alex Cole.

Your weekend cocktail-party glossary for the German election

Plakate zur Bundestagswahl

You’ve mastered the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, you’re ready for the showdown over the US government shutdown and the debt ceiling fight, and you’re ready to hit the party circuit this weekend, wit and pith at the ready.Germany Flag Icon

But wait! You’ve forgotten that Germany, the most populous and arguably the most important country in Europe, is going to the polls on Sunday to elect a new government.

You know that Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor for the past eight years, is likely to return for a third term chancellor, even though it’s less clear which governing parties will join her in coalition.

You know that her center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) holds a wide, double-digit lead over the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).

And you know that, as far as elections go, it’s been a particularly boring one — even by the standards of Germany’s relatively muted consensus-driven politics.

But what else should you know about Sunday’s election?

Not to worry.  Here’s all the lingo you need to sound (and be) in the know about what’s likely to happen this weekend in Germany — and what might happen in its aftermath. Continue reading Your weekend cocktail-party glossary for the German election

Top German Green Party leader tagged with sensational sexual politics kerfuffle

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The final weeks of the German election campaign have been marked by something less than substantive debate, what with the largest turn of events being center-left chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück posing on the cover of a top news magazine giving German voters the bird.Germany Flag Icon

But with just six days to go until voting to determine the membership of the German Bundestag, the lower (and most important) house of its parliament, all eyes are on Jürgen Trittin and Die Grünen (the Greens) after a sensational story has put Trittin, a longtime Green leader, very much on the defensive.

The scandal involves a Green Party pamphlet from Göttingen in 1981 — just two years after the Greens formed as a political party — that Trittin approved and which called for the legalization of sex between minors and adults.  Trittin was a student at the time, one of five members of an editorial board that approved the manifesto, and claims not to have known the extent of the pamphlet.

Trittin, who served as the environmental minister in center-left chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government between 1998 and 2005, today accepted full responsibility for the pamphlet and apologized for any minor role he played, which he claimed incorporated the stance of a radical gay rights group.

No one disputes the substantive content of the actual allegation, but it’s hard not to see the kerfuffle as a dirty trick against the Greens — family minister Kristina Schröder was quick to demand Trittin’s resignation, and other members of the center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) were also quick to attack Trittin and the Greens.  Alexander Dobrindt, the secretary-general of the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, the Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union), called Trittin a front man for a ‘pedophilia cartel.’

Dobrindt himself is no stranger to controversy after calling on Greece to leave the eurozone last year during the heart of the eurozone’s financial crisis, and his CSU is the main force preventing the legislative adoption of marriage equality in Germany.

The CDU/CSU’s sanctimonious tone against Trittin is akin to demanding that Merkel to resign because of her now documented, minor involvement with the communist Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED, Socialist Unity Party) as a young scientist in East Germany.  Even though Merkel had ties in her student days to the SED, so did most prominent East Germans, due to the nature of living in an authoritarian dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.  No one credibly believes that any minor collaboration should outweigh the role she played as a democratic activist in the late 1980s or doubt her legitimacy over two decades as a top policymaker in the reunified Germany.

But the Greens, which got their start as a radical leftist group and emerged from the new political movements of the 1970s, including the environmental movement, the pacifist movement and the sexual revolution, formally endorsed Germany’s anti-pedophilia laws in 1989.  The Green Party has been hit with charges of supporting pedophilia in the past, and it was Franz Walter, a political scientist investigation the party’s past affiliations with pedophile activists, who discovered to link to Trittin.

It’s also not difficult to understand why the CDU/CSU is brimming with such stern disapproval — the profile of the Green Party’s electorate has become older and wealthier over the past decade.  So if the latest scandal causes Green voters to think twice about their support (especially soft Green supporters), many of them will consider voting for the CDU or the CDU’s liberal junior coalition partner, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) instead of the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).  That’s important — while the CDU/CSU leads the SPD by between 12 and 16 points in most opinion polls, the FDP is winning around 5% in polls, which is the threshold for winning seats in the Bundestag on the basis of proportional representation.

So in a world where the Green vote collapses, it would be much better for Merkel if the SPD gains a few more votes, so long as the FDP gains a few more votes (at least enough to win 5% of the electorate).

Given the state of the campaign, the Greens have already been doing a pretty good job of confirming their own irrelevance.  If it’s been a horrible campaign season for the SPD and the FDP, it’s not been an easy one for the Greens.  Polls show the Greens winning between 9% and 11% of the vote, and markedly less than the 20% to 25% that polls showed the Greens winning in much of 2011 — after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan but before Merkel announced her support for phasing out Germany’s nuclear energy. Continue reading Top German Green Party leader tagged with sensational sexual politics kerfuffle

FDP shut out of Bavarian parliament, CSU wins absolute majority

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The result of today’s state elections in Bavaria has both good news and bad news in terms of Angela Merkel’s hopes to win a third term as chancellor in exactly one week.bavarian_flag_iconGermany Flag Icon

With results still coming in, the center-right Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union) will improve vastly upon its historically poor result in the prior September 2008 election, giving Bavaria’s minister president Horst Seehofer (pictured above) an absolute majority in the 187-member Landtag, Bavaria’s unicameral state parliament.

The current projection gives the CSU 101 seats, with just 43 seats for the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) and 18 seats each for Die Grünen (the Greens) and the center-right group of independents, the Freie Wähler (FW, Free Voters).

Here’s the latest snapshot of the result:

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That’s great news for the CSU, which has controlled Bavaria’s state government consecutively since 1947.  The Bavarian-based CSU is the sister party of Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party), which competes everywhere else in Germany, and the two parties work together as a union for federal political purposes.  So the fact that the CSU increased its support by over 5% in what was already a center-right heartland is a sign that Merkel will be able to drive up the number of seats that the CDU/CSU will win in next week’s federal elections.

It’s an amazing turnaround for the CSU, which won less than 44% five years ago and was polling just 40% as recently as 2010.  It’s a huge win for Seehofer personally as well, given that his personality dominated the CSU’s presidential-style campaign, the same tactic that Merkel and the CDU have deployed for next week’s federal elections.  It puts Seehofer alongside recent CSU leaders who have dominated Bavaria’s recent past, such as Franz Josef Strauß in the 1970s and 1980s and Edmund Stoiber in the 1990s and 2000s.  Given the relative strength of the Bavarian economy vis-à-vis Germany and, especially vis-à-vis Europe, the CSU’s win is not surprising — Bavaria’s reputation long ago solidified its image as the land of laptops und Lederhose.

But it’s horrible news for the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), which won just 3.2% today, falling far short of the 5% threshold required to win seats in the Landtag.

Seehofer and the CSU depended on a governing coalition with the Free Democrats for the fast five years, and Merkel and the CDU/CSU govern in coalition with the Free Democrats at the federal level as well.  Since riding a wave of popularity in the late 2000s (the Free Democrats won nearly 15% of the vote in the 2009 federal elections), its public support collapsed shortly thereafter.  After a series of poor performances in state elections, foreign minister Guido Westerwelle stepped down as the party’s leader.  But its new leader Philipp Rösler, Germany’s first Vietnamese-born party leader, has hardly done much better.  Under his leadership, though, the Free Democrats actually gained support in two key state-level votes — in the May 2012 North Rhine-Westphalia election and the January 2013 Lower Saxony state elections.

The FDP’s loss in Bavaria comes at a devastating time, however.  Seehofer and the CSU in Bavaria will no longer need a coalition partner, but that’s not likely to be the case for Merkel next week, so Merkel needs the Free Democrats to perform much better nationwide in seven days.  While Merkel’s CDU/CSU widely leads in the polls in advance of next week’s federal election, Merkel is unlikely to win the kind of outright majority that Seehofer won today (because the rest of Germany tilts further to the center and to the left than the Catholic, socially conservative Bavaria).  Just as for Bavaria’s state elections, there’s a 5% threshold for winning seats on the basis of proportional representation in the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s national parliament, and polls show the Free Democrats treading at about 5% support nationally.

So if the Free Democrats win less than 5% next week, Merkel will be forced to look to other alternatives: an unstable minority government, return to a ‘grand coalition’ with the rival Social Democrats or a more creative solution, such as a ‘black-green’ coalition with the Greens.  Even if the Free Democrats win more than 5%, their ranks are likely to be so decimated that Merkel may be forced into an alternative anyway.  Continue reading FDP shut out of Bavarian parliament, CSU wins absolute majority