Tag Archives: NRW

How Peer Steinbrück became the Bob Dole of German politics


Peer Steinbrück is not going to be Germany’s next chancellor.Germany Flag Icon

Steinbrück’s standing in opinion polls has worsened since it became clear he would become the chancellor candidate of the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, the Social Democratic Party) — the more that Germans get to know Steinbrück (pictured above), the more they dislike him, no matter how many Bavarian mountains he climbs between now and September 22.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that chancellor Angela Merkel is assured of reelection, because while her own Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union), together with the Bavarian Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union), leads the SPD in polls, it’s uncertain whether its smaller coalition partner, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democrats), will win enough support to meet the 5% threshold to win seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament, though the FDP has ticked ever so slightly upwards in polls in the past couple of months.

Polls have been consistently remarkable since before 2013 began, and they make for grim reading if you’re an SPD supporter.  Here’s the state of things with about six weeks to go until voting:


That wouldn’t just mean a loss, it would mean a Bob Dole-style loss —  think back to the 1996 presidential election when Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton, who seemed so vulnerable after the 1994 midterm elections brought a Republican sweep of Congress, sailed to reelection against Dole.  Clinton aides disparagingly joked after the fact that it was like virtually running for reelection unopposed.  Dole won just 40.7% of the popular vote to 49.2% for Clinton — a landslide the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the United States since.

To put into perspective the kind of loss that Steinbrück and the SPD is facing, it’s important to remember what happened in the previous 2009 election, which at the time was the SPD’s worst postwar election result.  Under Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had served as foreign minister and deputy chancellor in the Merkel-led ‘grand coalition,’ the SPD won just 146 seats in the Bundestag (a drop of 76 seats) with just 23% of the party vote and 28% of the constituency vote.  (Half of the 598 Bundestag seats are determined in first-past-the-post single-member constituencies, the other half are determined on the basis of proportional representation on the basis of statewide party lists).

But if Steinmeier’s 2009 performance was a tragedy, Steinbrück’s 2013 performance is turning out to be a farce.  It’s amazing to believe that Steinbrück is in danger of leading the SPD to an even poorer result that Steinmeier’s in 2009, especially with the Greens set to improve on their 2009 performance.  Continue reading How Peer Steinbrück became the Bob Dole of German politics

Steinbrück set to challenge Merkel as SPD candidate for chancellor

In a month when most eyes have been on Germany’s current finance minister, all eyes are now on Germany’s former finance minister, Peer Steinbrück, who is now set to become the main challenger to German chancellor Angela Merkel in federal elections expected later in 2013.

In a bit of a surprise, Steinbrück was named as the candidate of the main opposition party, the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) on Friday after the other main contender, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, indicated that he didn’t want to run.

Among the trio of Steinmeier, Steinbrück and party leader Sigmar Gabriel, Steinbrück has always been the clear favorite.

But perhaps the most jarring element of Friday’s announcement was that SPD party leaders simply announced the news — in Germany, there are no primaries and no leadership contest as such to determine who will be the candidate for chancellor (essentially, think of the German chancellor much like a very strong prime minister rather than a president). Gabriel is highly unpopular among voters and Steinmeier previously led the SPD against Merkel and her governing Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) — to disastrous result.

In the previous September 2009 general election, Steinmeier won just 23% for the SDP and lost 76 seats (for a total of just 146).  The party thereupon fell out of the CDU-SDP “grand coalition” that had governed Germany since 2005.  The CDU, which won 34% and 239 seats, was able to form a more rightist coalition with its preferred partner, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), which won 15% and 93 seats. Steinmeier had previously served in the “grand coalition” as foreign minister.

The next federal election in Germany is expected to be held in September or October 2013.

Steinbrück, however, remains a less than ideal candidate — he served as Merkel’s finance minister from 2005 to 2009, so it’s going to be difficult for Steinbrück to draw as clear a contrast on economic policy as might otherwise be the case, even with signs that Germany, the last beacon of economic strength throughout the eurozone, is now also likely headed into recession.  As finance minister, Steinbrück famously (demonstrating his, ahem, willful side) derided Keynesian economics and criticized the stimulative approach of the UK’s government under Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, but he is well regarded, alongside Merkel, for steering Germany reasonably well through the 2008-09 financial panic. (Note: Paul Krugman will be happy).

On Europe, too, the German electorate seems receptive to a populist challenge to Merkel’s performance on European affairs — Germans are incredibly weary of four years of what they see as German bailouts of profligate governments from Portugal to Greece.  Nonetheless, the SPD is actually more pro-Europe than the CDU — and especially more pro-Europe than the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU, Christian Social Union).  In Bavaria, the CSU-led government’s finance minister Markus Söder has all but called for Greece to be booted out of the eurozone.

In any event, German voters seem fairly well disposed to giving credit to Merkel for walking a tight line between letting the eurozone crumble, on the one hand, and holding governments in Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Greece to very tight austerity plans in exchange for European monetary and fiscal support, on the other hand.

The latest polls show the CDU-CSU with a very healthy lead of around 38% to just barely 30% for the SDP — since 2010 and 2011, the gap has only grown wider in favor of the CDU-CSU.  The FDP, however, looks set to collapse, picking up just 4%, though the SDP’s preferred coalition partners, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (the Greens) poll a very strong 13%.  The newly-formed Piratenpartei Deutschland (Pirate Party) and the more leftist Die Linke (The Left Party) poll 6% each.  Given Steinbrück’s centrist characteristics, I would not be surprised to see the current soft support for the Pirate Party migrate to the Left Party or to the Greens — there will be a lot of room on the left in a Merkel-Steinbrück race to win support, both on Europe and on economic policy, especially if Germany’s economy continues in a downward trajectory.  Given the Left Party’s strong base of support in the former East Germany, there’s a real opportunity for the Left to break out.

The ideal candidate for the SPD may well have been the premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, who led the SPD to a huge victory in elections in May of this year.  A premier with charisma, who has championed a more activist state response to boost economic growth, and who could well have been Germany’s second woman as chancellor, Kraft indicated earlier this year that she was not interested in running for chancellor.


Election results: North-Rhine Westphalia

Results are in from North-Rhine Westphalia, and the vote went as expected: a resounding victory for the current coalition government: the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (the Social Democratic Party) and Die Grünen (the Green Party) both improved on their current representation in the Landtag, the parliament of Germany’s largest state.

The SPD now holds 99 seats (an increase of 32) and the Greens hold 29 seats (an increase of six), giving NRW premier Hannelore Kraft’s government a commanding majority in the Landtag.

The Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union) finished a poor second with just 67 seats, while the Freie Demokratische Partei (Free Democrats) will not only remain in the Landtag, but will hold 22 seats, an increase of nine.  Finally, the Piratenpartei Deutscheland (Pirate Party) will enter its fourth state parliament with 20 seats.  Die Linke (the Left Party) won 2.5%, below the 5% of support required to win seats under the proportional representation election system in NRW.

On Friday, I had set forth four key questions for the NRW — and we now have the answers: Continue reading Election results: North-Rhine Westphalia

Four questions for Sunday’s North Rhine-Westphalia state elections

Voters in Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, go to the polls on Sunday, May 13, to elect a new Landtag, the state parliament of NRW.

Politics in NRW, home to nearly 18 million Germans, is often seen as a barometer of German federal politics — it falls in the one-time industrial heartland of Germany, and the state lack neither the leftward tilt of the former East Germany nor the rightward tilt of Bavaria in Germany’s south.  State elections in NRW in 1995 foreshadowed the federal election of Gerhard Schröder, just as NRW elections in 2005 foreshadowed the success of current German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Barring any major surprises, however, the current government headed by a “Red-Green” coalition of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (the Social Democratic Party) and Die Grünen (the Green Party) under NRW premier Hannelore Kraft will improve on its success from the 2010 NRW legislative election.

The SPD has consistently led polls with around 37% to 40% of the vote to just 30% to 33% for the Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union) of Merkel and Norbert Röttgen, who is running against Kraft in the NRW election and who also serves as the federal deputy of the CDU and the environmental minister in Merkel’s government in Berlin.  Early elections were called in March, after the Freie Demokratische Partei (Free Democrats) caused the government’s budget to fail — rather than abstaining from the vote, it opposed the budget, thereby resulting in snap elections.

Given that the CDU has never been expected to win the state election on Sunday, it is unlikely to spur any crisis for Merkel at the federal level, but that doesn’t mean the election won’t have an impact on federal elections — with a German general election on the horizon in 2013, here are four key questions about the NRW election, each of which could ripple through federal politics: Continue reading Four questions for Sunday’s North Rhine-Westphalia state elections

North Rhine-Westphalia: barometer of federal German politics?

Since a mid-March budget standoff when the current government failed to pass its budget by one vote, North Rhine-Westphalia has been (rather unexpectedly) poised to hold early elections on May 13.

This is no small matter, as NRW is the largest state in Germany — with almost 18 million people, it comprises nearly one-fourth of Germany’s population, exceeding the populations of both Bavaria of the former East Germany.  During the post-war period, it was the heart of the Land von Kohle und Stahl (the ‘land of steel and coal’) — today it remains an industrial powerhouse within Germany, even if it has otherwise diversified economically as well.

NRW lacks both the socially conservative political tilt of Bavaria and the heavily socialist/leftist political of the eastern German states, so given its status as the largest German state, it is something of a traditional bellwether for federal elections, which are due in 2013. 

For instance:

  • The 1966 victory of Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (the Social Democratic Party) leader Heinz Kühn and subsequent SPD-led governing coalition with the economically liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (Free Democrats) foreshadowed a similar coalition at the federal level under Willy Brandt.
  • The 1995 SPD-led coalition with Die Grünen (the Green Party) headed by Johannes Rau similarly foreshadowed the coalition between Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD and foreign minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens.
  • In May 2005, the Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union) swept into power in North Rhine-Westphalia, giving momentum to the sense that Angela Merkel would sweep Schröder and the SDP out of power federally.

In the most recent 2010 election, the CDU and the SPD essentially tied with about 34.5% of the vote each and 67 seats each in the state parliament, the Landtag. The Greens finished third, with 12%, more than doubling their number of seats to 23, while the FDP held steady with just 13 seats. Die Linke (the Left Party) took 11 seats, entering the Landtag for the first time. 

Accordingly, the SPD-Green coalition precariously held just 90 of the 181 seats in the current Landtag, leading to the one-vote loss in March’s budget vote and early elections.

This time around, though, the SPD-Green coalition headed by Hannelore Kraft seems increasingly poised for a clear victory — the SPD leads with around 40% to the CDU’s 32% (with a healthy 12% for the SPD’s coalition partner, the Greens), and Kraft remains much more widely popular than the CDU’s Norbert Röttgen. 

At the same time, the CDU holds a small, but steady, lead over the SPD in national polls. 

Normally, Merkel might have been seen to be a ‘lame duck’ chancellor following a CDU defeat on May 13, but the NRW result seems increasingly irrelevant to federal political developments — so the expected SPD victory will cause little turbulence for Merkel as she continues to focus on Europe prior to federal elections next year.

While the NRW election may be irrelevant for the CDU, the SPD and even the Greens, however, it will be a vital test for both of the Free Democrats and the Pirates in advance of the next federal election. Continue reading North Rhine-Westphalia: barometer of federal German politics?