Tag Archives: north-rhine westphalia

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

Martin Schulz, formerly the European Parliament president, has returned to German domestic politics in recent weeks. (Facebook)

For the past two elections, Germany’s center-left has tried to stymie chancellor Angela Merkel with two jowly, doughy figures compromised by high service in Merkel-led ‘grand coalition’ governments. 

And for the past two elections, Germany’s center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) has won a smaller share of the vote than at any other time in postwar German history.

For months, it appeared that the Social Democrats were set to sleepwalk into making the same error in 2017.

With the federal election formally set for September 24, it seemed that the SPD would choose as its candidate for chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister who serves as vice chancellor in the current Große Koalition and who has served as the party’s official leader since 2009.

Though polls showed Merkel’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), in power since 2005, losing some ground to the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany), they still maintained a consistent lead of anywhere from 11% to 17% against the Social Democrats. With Gabriel at the helm, the SPD seemed content to lose another election to Merkel, perhaps willing to suffer as the junior partner in her fourth-term governing coalition or otherwise in complete opposition.

So it was a surprise to see Gabriel on Tuesday bow out of competition to lead his party into the 2017 elections and instead endorse Martin Schulz, who stepped down as the president of the European Parliament just weeks ago to return to German politics. Continue reading As Gabriel steps aside, Schulz gives Germany’s SPD best shot in a generation

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

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

Nine European women who could join Hillary Clinton at the top


Part of the undeniable appeal of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign is her push to become the first woman to lead the United States, enhanced by the fact that she aims to succeed the first African-American president.USflag

But, if elected, Clinton will be far from the only powerful woman on the world stage.

If she wins the November 2016 presidential race, she’ll join a list of world leaders that includes German president Angela Merkel, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.

What’s more, there’s never been a better moment for women leading their countries. Assuming that Clinton wins the presidency in 2016 and serves two terms, it’s not inconceivable that she’d lead the United States at a time of ‘peak’ female leadership. But nowhere is that more true than in Europe. In fact, it’s not inconceivable that each of the six largest member-states of the European Union could have women in charge during a potential Clinton administration.

Here’s who they are — and how they might rise to power. Continue reading Nine European women who could join Hillary Clinton at the top

SPD party membership approves German grand coalition


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

Lower Saxony state elections also a mild barometer for Merkel’s federal CDU


State elections in Lower Saxony later this month are to Germany’s center-right what elections last year in North-Rhine Westphalia were to Germany’s center-left. Germany Flag Iconlower_saxony

Last year, state elections in North-Rhine Westphalia were somewhat of a barometer of German federal politics, and the incumbent minister-president Hannelore Kraft’s win in May 2012, extending the strength of her Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, the Social Democratic Party) as well as of her coalition partner, Die Grünen (the Green Party).  Her commanding position as a pro-growth, pro-Keynesian premier in Germany’s most populous state instantly made her a possibility for a future jump to federal politics — and until she ruled herself out, a likely more savvy challenger against chancellor Angela Merkel in federal elections expected later this autumn (certainly more charismatic, in any event, than the SPD’s chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück).

Although Lower Saxony is only just Germany’s fourth-most populous state, it lies just to the north of North-Rhine Westphalia, and like North-Rhine Westphalia, it’s a bit of a political weathervane.  It launched the career of former chancellor SPD Gerhard Schröder, who was minister-president of Lower Saxony from 1990 to 1998 before sweeping to federal power in the 1998 federal elections.  Since 2003, the Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union) has, however, controlled Lower Saxony’s Langtag, its 152-member unicameral state parliament.

And its current minister-president since 2010, David McAllister (pictured above with Merkel), like Kraft, is a rising star who could one day make a leap to federal politics.  Born in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War to a German mother and a Scottish soldier who came to Germany during World War II, at 41, he’s one of the youngest rising CDU leaders, and political observers both within and outside Germany pit him as a credible successor to Merkel as the head of the CDU federally — Merkel even offered him a position as general secretary of the federal party in 2005, though McAllister declined at the time.

There’s some irony that ‘Mac,’ whose English is Scottish-accented due to his half-British roots, found his political base in Hanover, the capital of Lower Saxony, given that the British monarchy traces its 18th century roots to Hanover.  He has retained a British passport and has built ties to UK prime minister David Cameron.  He proposed to his wife at Loch Ness in Scotland, and he married her in 2003 wearing a kilt.  Suffice it to say his elevation in the future as Germany’s chancellor would bring about an interesting chapter in Anglo-German relations, just 68 years after World War II ended.

Nonetheless, a Kraft-McAllister showdown in, say, 2018, isn’t an incredibly unlikely scenario — but first, he’ll have to win the Jan. 20 elections in Lower Saxony.

The CDU currently holds 68 seats and it governs Lower Saxony in alliance with the economically liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democrats), who hold 13 seats.  The SPD holds just 48 seats, their traditional allies, the Greens, hold 13 seats, and the more radical Die Linke (The Left Party) hold 11 seats.

The CDU won 42.5% in the prior January 2008 elections to just 30.3% for the SPD and, while polls show the CDU with a steady, but narrower lead, the election results will invariably be seen through the prism of the parties’ respective strengths — given that the CDU is expected to win the election, it will be seen as a troubling sign for Merkel’s federal party if the race is incredibly tight, or if the SPD pull off an upset win.

Polls generally mirror national polls — with the CDU outpolling the SPD, with the Greens polling in the low double-digits, and the FDP, The Left and the new protest party Pirate Party each poll below 5%, the threshold for parties to win seats to the Landtag.  That’s not a small likelihood — in 1998, the FDP won just 4.9% and was consequently shut out completely, and The Left only won their first seats in Lower Saxony’s parliament in 2008.

Despite the CDU’s steady lead, however, the fear for McAllister is that the FDP could lose all of its seats in the Landtag, thereby forcing him to govern with the Greens or the SPD — or worse for the CDU, allow the SPD to form a governing coalition with the Greens.

Stephan Weil, who is leading the SPD in the regional elections, is the popular mayor of Hanover (since 2006) — his wife, Rosemarie Kerkow-Weil, is the president of the University of Hanover.  A vote that results with Weil as minister-president could boost the SPD’s hopes — and spur doubts about Merkel’s CDU — in advance of federal elections this autumn. Continue reading Lower Saxony state elections also a mild barometer for Merkel’s federal CDU