Tag Archives: free democrats

Kraft steps down as NRW result gives boost to Merkel’s fourth-term hopes

Hannelore Kraft will step down as the regional leader of the Social Democratic Party in North Rhine-Westphalia after leading the state’s government for seven years. (Facebook)

There’s no way for the German left to sugarcoat Sunday’s regional election result in North Rhine-Westphalia.

It’s the clearest sign yet that after flirting with Martin Schulz earlier this year, German voters are coming back to Angela Merkel and the center-right Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union).

North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous state, and it’s one of the industrial and technological heartlands of Europe. It’s a relatively left-leaning state — since 1966, the only CDU leader to run the state’s government was Jürgen Rüttgers, from 2005 to 2010. Moreover, it’s the state where Schulz, the SPD’s chancellor candidate for this September’s federal elections, grew up. It’s home to 17.8 million of Germany’s 82 million-plus population. So four months before the national election, NRW has as more predictive power than you might typically expect for a state election, considering that its electorate equals just over one-fifth of the electorate that will decide the national government in September.

It’s too soon to guarantee that Merkel will win a fourth consecutive term, even with the decisive victory last weekend — the third and most important CDU win in three state elections this year. But the result is a clear sign that Schulz’s center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) is struggling to connect with working-class voters who are turning increasingly to alternatives from the anti-immigrant right to the protectionist left to the reassuring stability of the Merkel-era CDU. Indeed, the CDU campaigned throughout the spring on the notion that Merkel and her allies amounted to a ‘safe pair of hands.’ Continue reading Kraft steps down as NRW result gives boost to Merkel’s fourth-term hopes

Saarland’s predictive value for German federal elections is virtually nil

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a conservative Christian Democrat, won a second term as minister-president in Saarland on March 26. (Facebook)

No sooner than Martin Schulz seemed to have captured political lightning in a bottle, his party fizzled in the first state-level test in the leadup to Germany’s autumn federal election.

In the southern state of Saarland last weekend, chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) not only won the election, but improved its support since the last election in 2012, giving the state’s conservative minister-president, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has served in that role since 2011, a second term.

Headlines blared that the narrow defeat somehow marked a defining moment for Schulz, the newly crowned leader of the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party), which has pulled into a virtual tie with the CDU in opinion polls for the national vote in September.

Don’t believe the hype.

It’s one of the smallest of Germany’s sixteen states, both in area and in population (996,000). Nevertheless, Saarland’s size isn’t the only reason its election results will have little impact on a federal election still six months away and even less predictive value. It’s true that the state election, the first of three such state-level votes this spring, showed that the CDU’s political power isn’t evaporating overnight. But Merkel and Kramp-Karrenbauer, whose Christian Democrats led every opinion poll in the weeks and months preceding the vote, should have expected to win Saarland’s election.

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RELATED: As Gabriel steps aside, Schulz gives
Germany’s SPD best shot in a generation

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Though the renegade Social Democrat Oskar Lafontaine — one of the founders of what is today the democratic socialist Die Linke  ran the state government from 1985 until 1998, when he briefly became Germany’s finance minister, Saarland before 1985 — and since 1999 — has always been friendly territory for the Christian Democrats.

Far more consequential will be the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in Germany (with around 17.8 million people) and one of its most wealthy, on May 14 — and in Schleswig-Holstein a week earlier.

In NRW, Hannelore Kraft, a pro-growth Social Democrat who has often been mentioned as a future chancellor, is hoping to win reelection to a third term (she assumed the office of minister-president in 2010). Though the state is historically competitive, Kraft is a popular official, and the SPD has recently taken a meaningful lead since Schulz — who grew up in Eschweiler, a city on the state’s western edge near both The Netherlands and Belgium — became the party’s chancellor candidate. If the Social Democrats fail to hold NRW, it will be a far more depressing harbinger, for many reasons (a fifth of the German electorate, a longtime bellwether, popular SPD incumbent, Schulz’s home state), than the Saarland result.

Continue reading Saarland’s predictive value for German federal elections is virtually nil

Garibashvili’s resignation in Georgia a reboot for ruling ‘Dream’ coalition

Prime minister Irakli Garibashvili abruptly resigned days before Christmas, amid deepening troubles for the Georgian Dream coalition. (Facebook)

Though the disparate groups who hold power today in Tbilisi rode to power three years ago as the ‘Georgian Dream’ coalition, life for them is quickly devolving into something more like a nightmare.Georgia Flag Icon

With fresh elections due in October 2016, prime minister Irakli Garibashvili resigned abruptly on December 23 after just over two years in office (and at the ripe old age of 33). The political crisis has left Georgia, including both the government’s supporters and detractors, stunned. Giorgi Kvirikashvili, foreign minister only since September 2015 and, formerly, the minister of economy and sustainable development, became Georgia’s new prime minister-designate on Christmas Day. Like Garibashvili, he’s a political unknown with longtime ties to Ivanishvili, formerly the head of the Ivanishvili-owned Cartu Bank.

Before ascending to power, Garibashvili was a longtime employee of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who financed the Georgian Dream (ქართული ოცნება) coalition, united mostly by its opposition to the policies and anti-Russian orientation of Georgia’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili. Garibashvili rose quickly in the new order after the Georgian Dream coalition won the 2012 parliamentary elections. While Ivanishvili himself held the premiership between October 2012 and November 2013, it was Garibashvili, by then a trusted Ivanishvili adviser, who took the pivotal role of minister for internal affairs. In that position, barely out of his twenties, Garibashvili was tasked with ‘reforming’ the Georgian police forces, though he spent more time throwing several former Saakashvili era officials in prison.

When Ivanishvili decided to step aside from frontline politics, no one believed that he was necessarily ceding control of Georgia’s new government, and Garibashvili never truly shook the impression that he was really just a puppet serving at Ivanishvili’s pleasure. That impression will be even harder to shake now, with tongues wagging that it was Ivanishvili who ordered Garibashvili’s resignation.

The Garibashvili government's failures in the aftermath of devastating flash floods in June 2015 were amplified when many animals from Georgia's national zoo escaped onto the streets of Tbilisi. (Beso Gulashvili / Reuters)
The Garibashvili government’s failures in the aftermath of devastating flash floods in June 2015 were amplified when many animals from Georgia’s national zoo escaped onto the streets of Tbilisi. (Beso Gulashvili / Reuters)

It isn’t an outrageous leap to believe that Ivanishvili is still calling the shots in Georgia’s government, nor is it unrealistic that he is eager to shake up Georgian politics, above all to protect his return on investment as fresh elections beckon.

Garibashvili never had much of a political power base independent of Ivanishvili. Moreover, he often clashed with Giorgi Margvelashvili, Gerogia’s president, who easily won the October 2013 presidential election (to what is now a mostly ceremonial office, thanks to reforms in the last year of the Saakashvili era that transferred power from the presidency to the parliament). Margvelashvili, formerly a little-known academic and former education and science minister, owes his position, like Garibashvili, mostly to Ivanishvili and his bankroll, though he is nominally an independent and he has demonstrated his willingness to disagree with Ivanishvili publicly from time to time.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the Garibashvili-led government has struggled for the past two years. The economic expansion of the Saakashvili years, with its technocratic zeal for improving infrastructure and attracting foreign development, are now a long-faded memory. Inflation is up, GDP growth is stagnant by the standard recent trends (now expected to be less than 3% and far below the 5% prediction earlier this year) and Georgia’s currency, the lari, is down — by nearly 40%, compared to the US dollar in the last 15 months. Garibashvili’s government has lurched between the rhetoric of reform and a far more unfocused reality, given the varied perspectives among the nationalists, socialists and liberals that comprise the many parties that comprise the Georgian Dream coalition.

His government is also tainted with the appearance of incompetence. Flash flooding in June 2015 caused a devastating humanitarian crisis in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, but it also wiped out the national zoo, killing many animals and letting many others escape, leading to surreal photos throughout the international media of a hippopotamus (among other beasts) stomping through city streets. Continue reading Garibashvili’s resignation in Georgia a reboot for ruling ‘Dream’ coalition

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. 

saxony 2014

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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

An interview with Greek-German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis

Chatzimarkakis

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:

greece gdp

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

SPD party membership approves German grand coalition

grossekoalition

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

merkelgabriel

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

gabriel

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

kretschmann

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

Austrian NEOS may win seats in Nationalrat in resurrection of liberal politics

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While Germany’s major liberal party suffered a historic defeat in last weekend’s parliamentary elections, a new Austrian party may win enough seats to return a liberal voice to Austria’s parliament for the first time in nearly 20 years in Austria’s national elections this weekend.austria flag

If it can win 4% of the vote on Sunday, the Das Neue Österreich (NEOS, The New Austria) could enter the Nationalrat, the key 183-member chamber of Austria’s parliament, which would mean that free-market and social liberals would have a voice in Austrian parliamentary politics for the first time since the Liberales Forum (Liberal Forum) lost all of its seats in the 1999 parliamentary elections.  Polls in the lead-up to Austria’s election show the NEOS gaining strength, but still hovering between 3% and the 4% electoral hurdle, and the NEOS continues to gain credibility and momentum in the final days of the campaign.

What’s more, if the NEOS enter the parliament, and the two current governing parties, the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) of chancellor Werner Faymann and the center-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party), fail to win an absolute majority of seats to continue a two-party grand coalition, the NEOS could conceivably enter government as well in Europe’s first ‘red-black-pink’ coalition.

Given the coziness of Austria’s political elite, and the fact that grand coalitions have dominated Austrian governance in the postwar era, there’s much to recommend the return of a fresh and liberal voice to Austrian politics — or even Austrian government.  Not too shabby for a party that didn’t exist one year ago.

The NEOS were founded as a political party in October 2012, mainly as an alliance of what remains of the Liberal Forum and the Young Liberals, another small party, under the leadership of Matthias Strolz.  Since September, the party’s lead parliamentary candidate has been Hans-Peter Haselsteiner, the CEO of Austrian construction company Strabag and a Liberal deputy in the Nationalrat in the 1990s — it was a stunning reversal for Haselsteiner, who had previously remained somewhat aloof from the NEOS earlier this year.  Not only does Haselsteiner have the deep pockets to finance a strong showing, he’s also one of the most well-known liberals in the country.  Austrians vote for parties through an open-list proportional representation system, so if the NEOS surpass the 4% threshold, the NEOS should count on at least seven seats in the Nationalrat.

Moreover, if the NEOS do enter the Nationalrat, they could lower the total number of seats that the SPÖ and ÖVP can hope to win, making it even more likely that the SPÖ and ÖVP will be forced to look for a third coalition partner to cobble together a governing majority.

In an ironic twist, the NEOS could well enter Austria’s parliament just days after Germany’s Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) narrowly failed to win 5% of the vote and, accordingly, Germany’s liberal party failed to win a single seat in the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, for the first time since 1949.  Continue reading Austrian NEOS may win seats in Nationalrat in resurrection of liberal politics

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:

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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.

Close state election in Hesse could tilt federal Bundesrat further left

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While all of Germany goes to the polls on September 22 to elect a new national government, voters in the state of Hesse will also be choosing their own state government.hesse flagGermany Flag Icon

Although Hesse isn’t as large as Bavaria, which held its own state-level elections on September 15, exactly one week before the federal vote, the election in Hesse is as much a tossup as the national election is likely to be a certain win for German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Hesse, a state in south-central Germany that borders both Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, is home to Frankfurt, the financial center of Germany and in many ways the financial center of Europe.  With just over 6 million residents, Hesse is only the fifth-most populous state in Germany, but its role in the German economy means that the result on Sunday is important — its GDP per capita, on a regional basis, is Germany’s highest (except for the small city-states of Hamburg and Bremen). hessemap

It’s also important because the result of the Hessian election will determine five votes in the Bundesrat, the upper house of Germany’s parliament — a loss here on Sunday would leave the center-right with firm control of just 10 out of 69 votes in the upper house.  That would strengthen the parliamentary check that the center-left holds through its domination of the state governments that cumulatively determine the representatives to the Bundesrat.

It’s also a state where the two main center-right and center-left forces are balanced nearly equally in polls — the race is expected to be incredibly close.

Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) has controlled Hesse’s government since the 1999 elections, when Roland Koch led the CDU into government alongside the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party).

But things took a poor turn after a particularly brutal election in January 2008, after Koch and the CDU took a hard-right, anti-immigrant turn.  The CDU and the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) essentially tied in that election — each won 42 seats in the 118-seat Landtag (state parliament).  With neither the CDU’s preferred coalition partner, the Free Democrats nor the SDP’s preferred partner, Die Grünen (the Greens), winning enough seats to form a stable majority, it left the democratic socialist Die Linke (the Left) holding the balance of power after it won 5.1% of the vote, enough to win (just barely) six seats, entering Hesse’s Landtag for the first time.

SPD leader Andrea Yspilanti ultimately decided to work with the Left — controversial for the party’s links to former communists in East Germany — but a revolt within the Social Democrats caused her attempts to fail and led to early elections in January 2009.  The Hessian electorate blamed the Social Democrats for the political crisis, and the SPD dropped 13% from its result just a year earlier, giving the CDU/FDP coalition a reprieve.

Koch stepped down as minister president in August 2010 to pursue business interests, handing over the reins to trusted acolyte Volker Bouffier (pictured above, left, campaigning with Merkel).  Bouffier previously served as Koch’s decade-long minister of the interior (and sport), embracing more robust surveillance and police techniques throughout the 2000s, which earned him the nickname, ‘Black Sheriff.’ Continue reading Close state election in Hesse could tilt federal Bundesrat further left