Tag Archives: FDP

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

Don’t risk overrating AfD’s rise in German state elections

Since taking over the Alternative for Germany party last year, Frauke Petry has steered it in a stridently anti-migrant direction. (Facebook)
Since taking over the Alternative for Germany party last year, Frauke Petry has steered it in a stridently anti-migrant direction. (Facebook)

It’s tempting to argue that results from three state elections in Germany on Sunday spell the beginning of the end for chancellor Angela Merkel.Germany Flag Icon

In all three states, the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) won representation for the first time at the state level. That means that the AfD’s parliamentary presence will rise to eight German state assemblies, with the party poised to enter the Bundestag in the next federal election (after narrowly missing the 5% electoral threshold in September 2013).

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RELATED: Kretschmann wins big in Germany’s prosperous south

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It’s not the first time that radical parties have made minor gains in elections. In the 1992 Baden-Württemberg state elections, the hard-right Die Republikaner (Republicans) won over 12% of the vote, making it the state’s third-largest party. Hard-right parties have routinely won a small share of the national vote, though never enough to enter the Bundestag. Former East German communists founded what is today the radical leftist flank of Die Linke (The Left) and, despite a quarter-century from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the party (certainly not as hard-left as it was in 1989) is still controversial.

It’s true that Merkel has taken a bold stand in welcoming refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, and that policy has left many German voters concerned that the rate of immigrants — over one million since the migration crisis swelled last summer — is more than Germany society can assimilate culturally, socially and economically.

It’s not an unfair concern, so it’s not surprising that the AfD’s popularity is rising. Since its creation in 2013 as a party of mildly eurosceptic academics, it has turned sharply right under a new more hardline leader, Frauke Petry, a 40-year-old chemist and businesswoman whose anti-migration rhetoric has attracted voters scared of the effects of so many new German refugees. The AfD’s turn was so hard that Bernd Lucke, one of the movement’s founders, quit the party last summer.

The migration crisis may have been the impetus for the AfD’s emergence, but it’s no surprise that a right-wing alternative to Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) is coming into view. She has become Germany’s most dominant politician in a generation by occupying virtually all of the ideological territory on the center-right and the center-left, leaving her right flank somewhat unprotected.

Hugging the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) into two grand coalitions since 2005, she’s shown a willingness to poach its most popular policies, including a raise in the German minimum wage. She’s been at the center of difficult battles to keep the European Union united, including last summer’s near-disastrous negotiations to keep Greece in the eurozone. The effect has been that more moderate voters have flocked to the CDU — so much so that she nearly won a remarkable absolute majority in the Bundestag in September 2013.

But it also means that voters who want change are turning not to the CDU’s junior coalition partner, the SPD, but to fringe groups, including the AfD. While the AfD’s gains are real, and they shouldn’t be ignored, neither should they be overstated. Far-right politics in Germany have existed for years, and while it’s true that the AfD clearly took votes from the CDU in Sunday’s state elections, it also appears that the AfD draws from far-left voters in eastern Germany and from disaffected SPD voters in western Germany.

The three states that held elections on March 13 couldn’t be more different, and it’s a risk to make blanket statements about the future of German politics through generalizing the results of Sunday’s elections.

Taking them one by one shows that, though the AfD risk is real, the electorate remains by far in favor of Merkel’s moderate approach to governance.  Continue reading Don’t risk overrating AfD’s rise in German state elections

Anti-migrant mood brings record win for Swiss People’s Party

Toni Brunner, the leader of the Swiss People's Party, will celebrate his party's best-ever result in October 18 elections. (Keystone)
Toni Brunner, the leader of the Swiss People’s Party, will celebrate his party’s best-ever result in October 18 elections. (Keystone)

Amid dual concerns about rising immigration and creeping concerns about the reach of the European Union’s writ in non-member Switzerland, today’s Swiss national elections are further evidence of a rightward shift that could complicate governance in a country with a long tradition of consensus-driven government.
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Though Switzerland hasn’t received the deluge of refugees as neighboring Austria and Germany, fears about the largest number of refugees arriving in Europe since World War II, boosted the anti-immigration, right-wing Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP, Swiss People’s Party), which won a record 65 seats in Switzerland’s 200-member Nationalrat (National Council), the lower house of the bicameral  Bern-based Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly) — more seats than any other single party has won at any election since 1917. Those gains follow the successes of the far-right Freedom Party in two state elections in the past three weeks in neighboring Austria.

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When one party wins an election in Switzerland, it doesn’t mean that the party controls government. Instead, under the Swiss ‘concordance’ system, the four major parties of both left and right share membership on the Federal Council, a seven-member executive board that governs Switzerland and that is indirectly elected by the Federal Assembly. Historically, the Federal Council prides itself on collegiality and compromise. The Swiss presidency rotates annually among the seven members, though the presidential role is chiefly ceremonial. Furthermore, there’s no equivalent of a ‘prime minister,’ and the strong regional government of Switzerland’s 26 cantons means that executive power in the country has always been particularly weak, dating to the federal system agreed in 1848.

But Sunday’s result is prompting calls for a Rechtsrutsch — a move from a grand-coalition government to a more clearly right-leaning government on the basis of the SVP’s superior result.

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RELATED: Swiss immigration vote threatens access to EU single market

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Both houses of the Federal Assembly will determine the Federal Council’s composition in a secret ballot on December 9. The SVP’s rising strength means that it will take a much more aggressive stand toward shifting the Federal Council to the right, tightening Swiss policy on immigration and the European Union.

In addition to the National Council, Swiss voters were also electing all 46 members of the upper house, the Ständerat (Council of States). Continue reading Anti-migrant mood brings record win for Swiss People’s Party

Vestager’s profile hangs over Danish election

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She’s not running for anything in Denmark’s parliamentary elections on Thursday, but even from Brussels, Margrethe Vestager, the country’s European commissioner for the high-profile competition portfolio, looms larger than just about anyone on the Danish political scene — included prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and her main challenger for the premiership.European_Uniondenmark flag

Less than a year into her tenure as the EU’s top cop on competition law, Vestager has moved forward with narrow charges (in the Commission’s parlance, a ‘Statement of Objections’) against Google for allegedly prioritizing search results from its own Google Shopping program over other results. Hardly a week later, she filed charges against the Russian state energy company, Gazprom, for anti-competitive behavior that the Commission argues resulted in higher prices in the Baltics, Poland and Bulgaria. In recent weeks, Vestager also open an investigation into whether Amazon was abusing its dominant market position to restrict innovation and competition in the e-book industry.

That’s made her, increasingly, a bête noire in the powerful Silicon Valley. Mike Honda, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives for a California district representing Silicon Valley, denounced the charges in April, arguing that Google was instead one of the most ‘innovative and life-changing technologies in human history.’

It’s not just American and Russian companies — Vestager is also looking into allegations that Luxembourg’s aggressive tax deals with companies violated European Union state aid rules, even though most of the tax decisions came during the administration of Luxembourg’s prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, now the president of the European Commission and who nominated Vestager for the role last autumn. She’s also investigating several European governments for providing assistance to their respective utilities industries.

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RELATED: How Helle got her groove back in Denmark’s snap election

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Not since Mario Monti took on General Electric’s Jack Welch and Microsoft’s Bill Gates has an EU antitrust enforcer taken such an aggressive tone with companies operating in the EU marketplace. It’s certainly a more direct, even transparent way of proceeding that her predecessor, Spanish commissioner Joaquín Almunia, who preferred negotiating closed-door settlements — a tactic that did not work, so far, with Google. In a throwback to the Monti days, Vestager last week threatened to block GE’s bid to acquire the French energy business Alstom without further modifications to the proposed merger — and that’s after the French government last year stepped in to demand a better deal.  Continue reading Vestager’s profile hangs over Danish election

AfD, FDP thrive in Hamburg state elections

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It’s a slow election year in Germany, so there will be few tests at the state level for chancellor Angela Merkel, her center-left ‘grand coalition’ partners or any of the various challengers to Merkel’s hold on German centrism.hamburgGermany Flag Icon

That makes the results from Sunday’s election in Hamburg, a city-state in the German north, perhaps more important than they otherwise would be, and it’s not great news for Merkel’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), which won just one-third as much support as its center-left rival (and partner in federal government), the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).

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RELATED: Thuringia and Brandenburg election results —
Left, AfD on the rise

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The CDU and the SPD continue to be the largest of Germany’s political parties and, notwithstanding the fact that they have joined together in the second ‘grand coalition’ in 10 years, the two parties fight fiercely at the state level and will contest Germany’s next national elections later this decade. Nevertheless, it wasn’t unexpected that the SPD, under the leadership of Hamburg first mayor Olaf Scholz (pictured above), would easily win the election. Though the SPD lost four seats, enough to deprive it of its absolute majority, Scholz will almost certainly form the next government, likely with Die Grünen (the Greens).

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The troubling aspect for the CDU isn’t that it did so poorly in Hamburg, which has traditionally leaned toward the SPD, but that it seems to be losing voters to more right-wing alternatives, including the mildly eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany), which actively advocates that Greece and other countries leave the eurozone. It’s the four state where the AfD has now surpassed the minimal threshold to win seats in the state parliament/assembly.  Continue reading AfD, FDP thrive in Hamburg state elections

Thuringia and Brandenburg election results: Left, AfD on the rise

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With the world’s attention more focused on Scotland’s independence referendum this week — or even on Sweden’s national elections — it’s tempting to give short shrift to two state elections in eastern Germany last weekend. But, taken together, they portend major implications for the future of German politics.

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The first is the now undeniable rise of the conservative, eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany). Having narrowly missed the 5% threshold to win seats at the national level last September, the AfD won nearly 10% the August 31 elections in the eastern state of Saxony.

In the September 14 elections, the AfD blew past 10% in both states — winning 12.2% of the ‘list’ vote in Brandenburg and 10.6% of the vote in Thuringia. Not only has the AfD displaced the fast-withering Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), it now threatens to steal both social and economic conservative voters from the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) of three-term chancellor Angela Merkel. Years of Merkel’s cautious pragmatism and two ‘grand coalition’ governments may have caught up to the CDU, giving the AfD a wide berth on the German right.

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RELATED: CDU wins Saxony, but faces tougher road in two weeks’ time

RELATED: Left hopes to make eastern breakthrough in
German state elections

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Meanwhile, Germany’s socialist party,  Die Linke (Left Party), will continue as the junior partner to the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) in the Brandenburg state government. More extraordinarily, it has supplanted the SPD as the clear party of the left in Thuringia.

Its leader, Bodo Ramelow (pictured above) could become the state’s next minister-president, which would mark the first time that the  Left has controlled any state government in Germany. Established after reunification as the remnants of the former East German socialist party, it now also includes a significant band of former disaffected left-wing SPD members and supporters.

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Continue reading Thuringia and Brandenburg election results: Left, AfD on the rise

CDU wins Saxony, but faces tougher road in two weeks’ time

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It’s not necessarily that Saxony is shifting to the right, as The Economist wrote earlier this week about the results of last Sunday’s state elections in Saxony.Germany Flag Iconsaxony

It’s more that right-leaning voters are switching allegiances from one party to another, not unlike similar shifts in western Germany and at the federal level. 

Though the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) will have to find a new junior coalition partner, there’s no doubt that it will continue to govern under minister-president Stanislaw Tillich (pictured above with German’s chancellor Angela Merkel), who won his second reelection after assuming the office in May 2008. 

Neither its junior partner in the outgoing government, the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), nor the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD, National Democratic Party) met the 5% hurdle to return their legislators to  Saxony’s 126-seat state parliament, the Landtag.

Many of their voters appear to have supported the newly formed, anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) instead, which won 9.7%, making them the fourth-largest party in the Landtag with 14 seats. 

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RELATED: Left hopes to make eastern breakthrough in German state elections

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None of this news, however, was unpredictable, because the results largely lined up with polls. 

The election was most disastrous for the Free Democrats, a party that, it’s not an exaggeration to say, faces political extinction.  Though the FDP made some of its strongest gains in its history in  2009 at both the federal and at state levels, it’s been facing backlash  for the past four years. In last September’s federal elections, it lost all 93 of its seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, shut out for the first time in postwar history. Now that it’s lost all of its seats in Saxony’s Landtag, it will no longer be a part of any state government, a massive turn for a party that just one year ago controlled the German foreign ministry, among other portfolios. It now holds seats in just eight of 16 state assemblies, a number that could drop to six if it wins less than 5% of the vote in upcoming September 14 elections in Brandenburg and Thuringia. 

The AfD, also a party with center-right tendencies, is best known for its relatively eurosceptic stand, even if its euroscepticism is muted by the standards of the United Kingdom, France and even The Netherlands. Continue reading CDU wins Saxony, but faces tougher road in two weeks’ time

Left hopes to make eastern breakthrough in German state elections

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Bodo Ramelow (pictured above) isn’t a Stasi throwback intent on socializing Thuringia into a communist hellhole.Germany Flag Icon

Instead, he’s a rather boring Lutheran born in West Germany, but he could also become the minister-president of the former East German state after state elections on September 14, which could give Die Linke (Left Party) control of its only state in Germany. Thuringia is just one of three eastern states voting throughout the next month, joining Brandenburg on September 14 and Saxony two weeks earlier on August 31.

The Left Party, in particular, has a strong following in the former East Germany, given its roots as the former Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (Party of Democratic Socialism), the successor to the Socialist Unity Party that ruled the eastern German Democratic Republic during the Cold War. As such, the traditional Western parties have been wary of partnering with the Left Party.

That’s beginning to change as the German left increasingly considers a more unified approach, and eastern Germany has been a laboratory for so-called ‘red-red coalitions’ between the Left and the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party). As such, the Left Party served as the junior partner in Berlin’s government for a decade between 2001 and 2011 and in the state government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern between 1998 and 2006. Furthermore, a red-red coalition currently governs Brandenburg, and its leaders hope to renew a second term for the government in September’s election.

Though the outcomes aren’t roughly in doubt, the elections take place under the backdrop of news that the eurozone could be sinking back into economic contraction. Initial numbers from the second quarter of the year showed the economy contracting by 0.2% — the first contraction since 2012 — after first-quarter growth was revised down from 0.8% to 0.7%.

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RELATED: Has the first Ossi chancellor been
good or bad for the former East Germany?

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That’s in addition to the income gap that still plagues eastern Germany, where economic growth lags significantly behind the states of former West Germany, nearly a quarter-century after reunification:

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The east’s lagging economic growth, the strength of Die Linke, and  growing unity between the SPD and Die Linke are common themes in all three state elections over the next month.

Saxony: August 31

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Saxony is the most populous of the three eastern states voting over the next month, making it the biggest prize. But it’s also where the governing Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) of chancellor Angela Merkel are most assured of winning reelection. Continue reading Left hopes to make eastern breakthrough in German state elections

Why Clegg should step down as LibDem leader

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Though he may well survive his party’s horrendous defeat in Sunday’s European elections, Nick Clegg’s decision to cling to the leadership of the Liberal Democrat will almost certainly doom it to equally damaging losses in the May 2015 British general election. United Kingdom Flag Icon

Appearing weary in a television interview after his party lost 10 of its previous 11 seats in the European Parliament, Clegg (pictured above) defied calls yesterday from both inside and outside his party to step down as leader.

It’s axiomatic that junior coalition partners tend to suffer in elections. ThFreie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), which joined German chancellor Angela Merkel in government between 2009 and 2013, lost all of its seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, for the first time since World War II in last September’s federal elections. It, too, suffered on Sunday, losing all but three of its previous 12 MEPs in Sunday’s election as well. 

In Ireland, the center-left Labour Party, the junior partner in a government led by center-right Fine Gael, lost all three of its MEPs and won just 5.3% of the vote. Its seven-year leader, Eamon Gilmore, who has served as Ireland’s Tánaiste, its deputy prime minister, and foreign affairs minister, since 2011, resigned on Monday, taking responsibility for Labour’s horrendous showing. 

Gilmore’s example makes Clegg’s position even more awkward.

Paddy Ashdown, a member of the House of Lords, and the party’s leader between 1988 and 1999, defended Clegg, as did former leader Sir Menzies Campbell. But private polls, leaked to the press, show that Clegg’s Liberal Democrats are headed for an equally jarring defeat in 12 months, and that Clegg himself could even lose his seat.

Clegg is widely viewed as having lost a series of debates with the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage, who led UKIP to a stunning victory on Sunday, winning 27.5% of the vote and 24 seats in the European Parliament:

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Farage credited his victory, in part, to the debates with Clegg, though he crowed on Monday that Clegg’s position as leader is untenable, and that he would be ‘surprised’ if Clegg leads the LibDems into the next election.

To Clegg’s credit, neither Conservative prime minister David Cameron nor Labour leader Ed Miliband were willing to debate Farage by strongly defending European integration and the continued British role in the European Union. Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair noted Clegg’s integrity yesterday for doing so, while accurately highlighting the more fundamental problem for the LibDems heading into election season:

Blair praised the way in which Nick Clegg had shown leadership in confronting the anti-EU mood in the country. “To be fair to Nick Clegg – I don’t want to damage him by saying this – over the past few years he has shown a quite a lot of leadership and courage as a leader.

“The problem for the Lib Dems is nothing to do with Europe. The problem they have is very simple: they fought the 2010 election on a platform quite significantly to the left of the Labour party and ended up in a Conservative government with a platform that is significantly to the right of Labour.

Partly in response to UKIP’s rise, David Cameron agreed last year that, if reelected, he will hold a referendum on British EU membership in 2017. Continue reading Why Clegg should step down as LibDem leader

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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RELATED: Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

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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)

An interview with Greek-German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis

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If there’s anyone in European politics who straddles the line between the two cultural realities of Europe today, it’s Jorgo Chatzimarkakis.European_UnionGermany Flag IconGreece Flag Icon

Born in 1966 to Greek migrants in the Ruhr Valley, in what was then West Germany, Chatzimarkakis has served for the past 10 years as a member of the European Parliament from Germany’s liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party). 

Over the course of the past five years, that’s put Chatzimarkakis in one of the most unique roles of any European policymaker. As a German MEP, he belonged to a party that was one of the most outspoken critics of using German funds for what seemed, at the heart of the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis, like an endless number of bailouts for troubled European economies, including Greece’s.

But as an MEP of Greek descent,  Chatzimarkakis also understood the emotional and social toll of the economic crisis from the other perspective, in light of the pain Greece continues to suffer due to the bailout — often referred to in Greece simply as the ‘memorandum,’ in reference to the Memorandum of Understanding that sets out the terms of the Greek bailout with the ‘troika’ of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

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RELATED: In-Depth: European parliamentary elections

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Though the bailout program has kept Greece inside the eurozone, it’s come at a huge cost. The conditions Greece accepted in exchange for the loan program required tough budget cuts, tax increases, and reduced state salaries and pensions, exacerbating an economic downturn that, for Greece, has now developed into a full-blown depression. Unemployment is still nearly 27%, youth unemployment is even higher, and the Greek economy has contracted for six consecutive years:

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Cuts to education, health care and other programs have strained the Greek social fabric, civil strife and strikes are seemingly endless, and politician violence has increased. The neo-fascist Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) is now the third-largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, despite the efforts of the current national government to prosecute many of its leaders. Though Greece’s economy may expand this year, for the first time since 2007, it’s clear that the effects of the downturn will reverberate for years to come.

In the 2014 European elections, Chatzimarkakis is running for the European Parliament in Greece, having formed a new political party, the Hellenic European Citizens (Έλληνες Ευρωπαίοι Πολίτες).  Continue reading An interview with Greek-German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis

Swiss immigration vote threatens access to EU single market

2007SVPAn infamous campaign poster from the 2007 Swiss election that depicts a flock of white sheep inside Switzerland, with one kicking a black sheep outside — the implication being that the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP, Schweizerische Volkspartei in German; UDC, Union démocratique du centre in French) would tighten immigration policies to keep out migrants and perhaps reverse the trend of greater immigration to Switzerland in recent years.  Critics pointed out the nastier racist undertones of the poster.swiss

It’s that advertisement that I had in mind today as Swiss voters elected by a narrow 50.3%-to-49.7% margin to adopt an initiative ‘against mass immigration’ that would introduce quotas to Swiss immigration, despite the wishes of the Swiss government and Swiss business interests and the warnings of top EU officials.  The result threatens the existing treaties between Switzerland and the European Union that guarantee the free movement of persons, one of the four ‘core’ EU freedoms.

It’s a significant victory for the SVP, which has emerged as a major force in Swiss politics through its forceful advocacy of a nationalist, conservative agenda to restrict immigration and oppose greater EU integration.

The result means that the Swiss government now has three years either to renegotiate or revoke the bilateral agreement finalized in 2002 with the European Union over free movement of persons.  That treaty is part of a larger package that provided Switzerland access to the EU single market in exchange for enacting certain aspects of EU policy, and it’s part of a wider process that has more closely integrated Switzerland with the European Union over the past decade.  The country’s historic independence means that it’s never seriously pursued EU membership — Switzerland joined the United Nations only in 2002, after all.   Continue reading Swiss immigration vote threatens access to EU single market

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

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.

bundestag seats

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