Tag Archives: schroder

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

Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)

In 2008, US president Barack Obama won the largest Democratic mandate in a generation, in part, by pledging to change the tone in Washington.USflag

But in 2016, after eight years of increasingly bitter and partisan posturing, it’s Obama’s one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, who now has the opportunity to transcend the hyper-partisanship that began with the divided government under her husband’s administration in the 1990s.

Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party laid bare the long-growing schism among various Republican constituencies. Currently, the two living former Republican presidents (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), the party’s most recent presidential nominee (former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney), its one-time 2016 frontrunners (former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio) and the Republican in the highest-ranking elected official — speaker of the House (Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan) — have all refused to endorse Trump.

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RELATED: That transcending ideology thing from 2008?
Merkel did it. Obama hasn’t.

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Despite the promise that the coming general election will be nasty, even by the recent standards of American politics, Clinton, if she’s nimble enough, can become a unifying and moderate figure who can work with both Republicans and Democrats. If Trump loses as badly as polls suggest he might, the Republican Party will be a shambles on November 8. The fight for Senate control was always a toss-up, and a Trump debacle could endanger even Republican control of the House of Representatives.

Increasingly, the debate in world politics is tilting away from traditional left-right discourses, replaced by a much darker fight, for the first time since the 1930s, between populist nationalism and globalist internationalism — and not just in the United States, but everywhere from the Philippines to the United Kingdom. In that fight, Ryan (and Bush and moderate Republicans) have much more in common with Clinton and the officials who will lead a Clinton administration than with Trump.

Make no mistake, if Clinton wins the presidency in November, she’s not going to form a German-style ‘grand coalition’ with Ryan and leading Republicans. Postwar German politics operates largely on consensus to a degree unknown in American (or even much of European) politics. Still, German chancellor Angela Merkel has already paved the way for how a successful Clinton presidency might unfold, and Clinton advisers would be smart to figure out, as the campaign unfolds, how to position Clinton as a kind of American ‘Mutti.’ Clinton is already reaching out to moderate Republican donors, but the challenge goes much deeper — to become a kind of acceptable figure to both blue-state and red-state America.

It’s not clear that Clinton has the same political skill to pull off in the United States what Merkel has done in Germany.

But it’s a rare opportunity, nonetheless, if she can.  Continue reading Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

Germany’s Left Party comes of age with Ramelow victory

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After months of inter-party negotiations, the east-central German state of Thuringia will have a government led by Bodo Ramelow, the state leader of the democratic socialist Die Linke (Left Party).thuringiaGermany Flag Icon

On the surface, it means that Die Linke, partially the successor to  Socialist Unity Party (SED) that ruled the eastern German Democratic Republic, will control a state government for the first time since reunification, which has bred a significant amount of controversy:

Never before in a fully democratic Germany has a regional election triggered so much protest, with thousands demonstrating outside the parliament in Erfurt on Thursday evening ahead of the vote, declaring that the “perpetrators” were heading back into office.

Demonstrators included former East German dissidents, some of whom had spent time behind bars for their opposition views. They shouted “Stasi out!” in reference to East Germany’s repressive secret police, and “The Social Democrats have betrayed us”.

Even center-right chancellor Angela Merkel has used stark language to reject a Left-led government, arguing that Ramelow’s victory is equivalent to putting Karl Marx in charge of government.

But that’s a fairly oversimplified narrative.

Ramelow and the Left will govern in coalition with two far more moderate center-left parties, the Die Grünen (the Greens) and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party). The SPD, nationally, governs in a ‘grand coalition’ with chancellor Merkel’s conservative Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union).

Moreover, the Left isn’t even the largest party in the Thuringia Landtag, the regional assembly:

thuringia landtag

Far from bringing a police state or a socialist revolution to the tranquil streets of sleepy Erfurt, the Left will be governing in coalition with two far more moderate partners. With the support of the Greens and the SPD, Ramelow’s government will have a one-vote margin in the Landtag. So even if it wanted to introduce radical far-left measures, the Left wouldn’t get very far.

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RELATED: Thuringia and Brandenburg results: Left & AfD on the rise

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

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It’s not clear, however, that it wants to do so. Thuringia provides the party with the opportunity that it can govern responsibly, even with a different ideological perspective than Merkel’s prevailing CDU or the moderate SPD. While the Left is relatively pro-Russia, plenty of former chancellors, from Gerhard Schröder to Helmut Kohl, have struck more lenient views toward Russia than most European figures. While the Left is also anti-NATO, that’s because it’s on the more ultra-pacifist side of a political culture that for decades has been incredibly pacifist.

Ramelow, a Lutheran union leader born in West Germany, is hardly a flamethrower, and he’s an advocate of pro-growth, anti-austerity policies. He’s called for wider investment in education and wants to provide a free year of kindergarten to every child in the state.

Continue reading Germany’s Left Party comes of age with Ramelow victory

As Italy assumes EU rotating presidency, Mogherini shines

9Mogherini

I spoke to the London bureau of Voice of Russia earlier today to share some thoughts about Federica Mogherini (pictured above with Russian president Vladimir Putin), Italy’s still-new foreign minister, and her role in shaping EU foreign policy:Italy Flag Icon

He says that her appointment did surprise some because of her youth and the fact that she has no real top-level ministerial experience. However, “Within Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party, she’s established quite a reputation as a rising star, particularly with regard to foreign policy. Beyond Renzi’s efforts of shaking up Italian policy paralysis, it was making quite a statement to appoint a 41-year-old woman as the new foreign minister”…

I argued that Mogherini and Renzi, who has now eclipsed French president François Hollande as the leading figure of the European left, are aiming for a more assertive Italian foreign policy voice. Mogherini has held forth on African migration to the European Union, Iran’s nuclear program, and the ongoing troubles in the Middle East, problems that have a significant diplomatic role for Russia as well as Europe and the United States.

I noted that though Mogherini, who is in Ukraine and Russia this week for talks with officials, is slightly more hawkish with respect to EU sanctions against Russia than perhaps former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi or former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, her top priority is maintaining a united EU foreign policy, especially nine days into Italy’s assumption of the EU six-month rotating presidency.

Italy has grown closer to Russia over the past two decades, and Putin and Berlusconi enjoyed a strong personal relationship that bolstered ties between the two countries. In many ways, that makes Mogherini, like German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is a great EU conduit to Russia:

“I think it’s better to say that she’s likely to take a unified line, depending on where other leaders in the EU stand. In many ways, I think Mogherini is a great conduit to help smooth EU talks with [Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov and other Russian officials.”

Though Mogherini could be mentioned as a candidate to succeed Catherine Ashton as the EU high representative later this year, I noted that Mogherini’s performance, strong as it may be, will be one factor in a set of discussions among the 28 EU member-state leaders that will also consider which states get which portfolios within the European Commission and that will consider the new president of the European Council. But with one of the frontrunners, Poland’s hawkish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, in some trouble for impolitic comments about his country’s bilateral relationship with the United States, Mogherini could emerge as a more conciliatory and diplomatic choice.

Photo credit to RIA Novosti.

Gerhard Schröder: a wasted opportunity in the Ukraine crisis

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If there’s anyone the European Union could have sent to Moscow on a quiet trip to de-escalate tensions with Russia in February, it was former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.Germany Flag IconRussia Flag Icon

Schröder served as Germany’s chancellor between 1998 and 2005, when he led two consecutive governments led by his center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).  As chancellor, Schröder cultivated strong economic ties with Russia, and in 2003, he led Europe’s opposition to he US invasion of Iraq, a cause that also found Schröder in alliance with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, who Schröder once called a ‘flawless democrat.’

But Schröder’s comments about the growing crisis have been far from discreet, greatly angering his successor, Angela Merkel. He has criticized the European Union’s approach to Ukraine, defended Russia’s right to annex Crimea, and validated Putin’s view that the NATO military action during the 1999 Kosovo War (an action Schröder supported in his first term as chancellor):

Mr. Schroeder told a discussion forum hosted by Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper that as someone who was aware of history, Mr Putin had certain justifiable “ fears about being encircled” and that since the end of the Cold War there had been “ unhappy developments” on the fringes of what was once the Soviet Union. He also claimed that the European Union appeared not to have “the remotest idea” that the Ukraine was “culturally divided” and had made mistakes from the outset in its attempts to reach an association agreement with the country.

Mr. Schroeder accepted that Russia’s intervention was in breach of international law but compared the Kremlin’s action to his own government’s military support for the NATO bombardment of Serbia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. “We sent our plans to Serbia and together with the rest of NATO they bombed a sovereign state without any UN security council backing,” Mr Schroeder insisted, adding that he had since become cautious in apportioning blame.

That puts his position almost entirely in line with Putin’s — and almost entirely at odds with the German government’s. Needless to say, that has also ruined whatever value Schröder may have had in soothing German and European relations with Russia.  Continue reading Gerhard Schröder: a wasted opportunity in the Ukraine crisis

Kosovo, Crimea and Putin’s ‘всех нагнули’ theory of foreign affairs

crimeariver

In his wide-ranging speech announcing the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, president Vladimir Putin had some choice words for the West: If you don’t like what Russia did in Crimea, you only have yourselves to blame — on the basis of the precedent in Kosovo in 1999.kosovoRussia Flag Icon

Though the officially translated remarks smooth over Putin’s salty language, it appears he used the slang term ‘всех нагнули,’ which, as Masha Gessen describes in Slate, is fairly graphic:

“It was our Western partners who created the precedent; they did it themselves, with their own hands, as it were, in a situation that was totally analogous to the Crimean situation, by recognizing Kosovo’s secession from Serbia as legitimate,” said Putin. And then, as he cited American statements on Kosovo, he got more and more worked up until he said, “They wrote it themselves. They spread this all over the world. They screwed everybody—and now they are outraged!” (The Kremlin’s official translators, who are forever civilizing the Russian president’s speech, translated this sentence as “They wrote this, disseminated it all over the world, had everyone agree, and now they are outraged!” The expression Putin used, however, was “vsekh nagnuli,” street slang for having had nonconsensual anal sex with everybody, rather than for having everybody agree.)

Gessen, in an otherwise fabulous essay that starts with her own days as a war reporter in the late 1990s in Serbia and Kosovo, retells the story of the Primakov loop — a moment that Gessen argues represents a key pivot point in US-Russian relations, when the NATO governments essentially left Russia out of the loop with regarding its campaign against what was then still Yugoslavia and the regime of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević.

Ironically, even as the 1999 Kosovo precedent has increasingly become a flash point in the current war of words between Moscow and Washington, Serbians went to the polls on the same day as the Crimea referendum. They elected a majority government under  center-right Progressive Party leader Aleksandar Vučić, a government that will be firmly focused on accession to the European Union, which has dangled the economic incentives of EU membership to advance a political settlement between Serbia and Kosovo.

Nonetheless, to understand the Putin doctrine of the 2010s, it’s worth revisiting the origins of the Primakov doctrine of the 1990s, which defined US-Russian relations and European-Russian relations in the same ‘zero-sum game’ terms.

Yevgeny Primakov is one of the more fascinating figures to emerge out of the presidency of Boris Yeltsin.  

Continue reading Kosovo, Crimea and Putin’s ‘всех нагнули’ theory of foreign affairs

What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster?

maidan

There’s apparently a limit on what Ukraine’s president can get away with.Ukraine Flag Icon

He could preside over massive amounts of corruption, he could jail his chief political opponent on ridiculously politicized charges, he could swerve disastrously between a pro-Russian worldview and a pro-European worldview, and he could even brazenly change Ukraine’s election law to win more seats.

But when the government of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych became responsible for the deaths of 88 protesters last week, even members within his own Party of Regions (Партія регіонів) were defecting from Yanukovych.  Arguably, until his police force unleashed lethal fire on hundreds of civilians, Yanukovych could point to a relatively legitimate electoral mandate in the previous 2010 presidential election (and, though it was flawed, the 2012 parliamentary elections).

interim

Since Friday, when the European Union seemed to broker a deal between Yanukovych and Ukraine’s opposition leaders, events galloped at a dramatically rapid rate (though apparently not too fast for Ukraine’s leading oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov and Dmitry Firtash), leaving Yanukovych in hiding in eastern Ukraine, under charges of mass murder.  The country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, voted in quick succession to elect speaker Oleksander Turchinov (pictured above), an opposition, pro-European politician, as interim president.

It also elected to restore the 2004 constitution, which restores more power to Ukraine’s parliament and away from its president, and set a tentative May 25 date for new presidential elections.  The parliament also cleared the path to free Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and a leader of the center-right ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина), who narrowly lost the 2010 presidential vote to Yanukovych.  Tymoshenko (pictured below) was jailed in late 2011 by Yanukovych’s government on charges related to her handling of the natural gas crisis in 2009 during her premiership.  That precedent, ironically, may be one of the reasons that Yanukovych remained so keen on holding onto power in Kiev — having established that he was willing to throw Tymoshenko in prison on politically motivated grounds, it’s Yanukovych who now faces imprisonment on the basis of far more serious charges.  Tymoshenko, who has ruled out leading Ukraine’s soon-to-be-announced interim government, will nonetheless be a leading candidate in the upcoming presidential ballot.  Though she’s been imprisoned throughout the current crisis, she’s also unsullied by having negotiated with Yanukovych, a group that includes another opposition favorite, heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko.

tymoshenko

Russia, who had delivered $3 billion of a promised $15 billion bailout, is obviously dismayed.  Though Yanukovych was never quite the Russian puppet that some Western leaders believed him to be, it’s clear that his sympathies lied to the east more than to the west.

So what comes next for Ukraine?  Past experience demonstrates that the story won’t end with ‘happily ever after’ upon the appointment of this week’s new interim government.  As I wrote last December, the Maidan protests — even if they succeed — won’t by themselves end Ukraine’s political crisis.  Just a year after the ‘Orange Revolution’ of December 2004 and January 2005 that brought Viktor Yushchenko power, the pro-European government crumbled into infighting that lasted until Yushchenko left power, massively unpopular, in 2010.  Yanukovych took advantage of the ongoing disunity of the Ukrainian opposition in October 2012’s parliamentary elections, winning largely by dividing the supporters of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland and Klychko’s newly formed Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (Український демократичний альянс за реформи).

crimea

Almost on schedule, this morning brings news of serious counter-protests in Crimea, the peninsula that lies in the Black Sea on the southeastern coast, one of the 24 oblasts that comprise Ukraine.   Continue reading What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster?

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

Your weekend cocktail-party glossary for the German election

Plakate zur Bundestagswahl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top German Green Party leader tagged with sensational sexual politics kerfuffle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bavarian elections provides Merkel, CSU a dress rehearsal for federal German vote

seehofer Exactly one week before Germans go to the polls to choose between center-right chancellor Angela Merkel and her center-left challenger Peer Steinbrück, Bavarian voters will elect its local state government in a key test for Merkel’s regional allies.Germany Flag Iconbavarian_flag_icon

The outcome isn’t incredibly doubtful because since 1947, Bavaria’s staunchly Catholic, business-friendly, socially conservative Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union) has controlled the 187-seat Landtag, the state legislature of Germany’s second-most populous state.

Given that the state has one of Germany’s — and Europe’s — best economies, the CSU looks set to strengthen its hold on Bavarian government in what amounts to a test run of many of the arguments that Merkel hopes will power her Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) to victory on September 22 alongside the CSU, which has been united with the CDU in federal politics for decades.  Merkel, who currently governs in an alliance with the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), hopes that voters will give her credit for steering Germany — and the entire eurozone — through the worst of a sovereign debt crisis that began in 2010 and an economic recession from which Europe may already be recovering.

But the CSU and Bavaria’s minister president Horst Seehofer (pictured above) can make an even more sanguine case on the basis of the Bavarian economy, which showcases several star multinational corporations, such as BMW, Siemens, and adidas.  Whereas the European Union had an average unemployment rate of 10.4% in 2012 and Germany had an unemployment rate of 5.5%, Bavaria’s was just 3.2%.  To consider just how staggering that is, consider that United States last had an unemployment rate that low in October 1953. It’s an economy that, at around  €465 billion ($610 billion), is about as large as the economy of the US state of Pennsylvania and even larger than the entire economy of Saudi Arabia, and nearly 1.5 times the size of the economy of neighboring Austria.

If the CSU is successful on September 15, it will mark a rebound from the previous September 2008 election, the CSU’s worst performance since 1954.  Five years ago, Bavarian voters went to the polls in the middle of an uncertain future, with the collapse of US financial firm Lehman Brothers and a global financial panic topping world headlines.  It was also a period of uncertain leadership within the CSU, Bavarian minister-president Edmund Stoiber resigned after 14 years in office following the resignation of his chief of staff, Michael Höhenberger, which itself followed accusations that Höhenberger snooped on the private life of one of Stoiber’s critics.  Günther Beckstein, Stoiber’s longtime interior minister, succeeded Stoiber and led the CSU through the 2008 election, but stepped down following the CSU’s historic loss.

Even though the CSU won just 43.4% of the vote (a drop of over 17% from its prior performance) and lost its absolute majority in the Landtag, it remained the largest party in Bavaria by far, outpacing the second-place Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) by nearly 25% of the vote and Seehofer, a former health and food minister, easily won election as Bavaria’s minister-president in October 2008.

As the CSU and the SPD both suffered historic losses, two additional groups on the Bavarian right made extraordinary gains.  The first is the Freie Wähler (FW, Free Voters), a bloc of independent, unaffiliated center-right deputies, which won 10% of the vote, largely from disappointed CSU supporters, and entered the Bavarian Landtag for the first time.  The second is the FDP, which won 8% and 16 seats, returning to the Bavarian legislature for the first time in 14 years and providing the CSU with a stable coalition partner in Munich.  Even the socialist Die Linke (The Left) competed for the first time and won 4.3%, impressive in a state as conservative as Bavariabavaria Five years later, although polling data isn’t as ubiquitous for Bavaria’s state election as for the wider federal German elections, the CSU is polling higher than in 2008, and it may win over 50% of the vote, restoring the absolute majority that it enjoyed in the Landtag without interruption from 1962 to 2008. That’s good news for Seehofer, because the FDP is faring as poorly in Bavaria as it is in federal polling — the Free Democrats are in danger of missing the 5% threshold required to win seats in the Bavarian Landtag (and in the federal Bundestag as well).  Meanwhile, the Social Democrats are in danger of setting a new postwar low in Bavaria on September 15 and in federal elections a week later — it’s polling at around 18% in Bavaria, which is even worse than its 2008 result (18.6%).  Continue reading Bavarian elections provides Merkel, CSU a dress rehearsal for federal German vote

Assessing the potential coalitions that might emerge after Germany’s federal elections

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With now less than 40 days to go until Germany’s federal elections, polls show that chancellor Angela Merkel is by far the most popular candidate to return as chancellor and her party, the Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), will clearly be the largest bloc in Germany’s Bundestag after the election. Germany Flag Icon

Polls have been remarkably consistent throughout much of the year leading up to the September 22 vote.  The center-right CDU, together with its Bavarian sister party, the Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union), overwhelmingly leads Germany’s largest center-left party, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, the Social Democratic Party), and voters overwhelmingly prefer Merkel to the SPD’s candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück — by a nearly two-to-one margin.  Here’s the trendline from Infratest dimap, which released its latest poll this week:

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This week’s news that Germany leads GDP growth in the eurozone, which itself pulled out of recession in the second quarter of 2013, will only buoy Merkel’s chances.  Barring a huge shift in public opinion that has only calcified over the past year, Steinbrück, a bland technocrat who comes from the right wing of the SPD and who served as finance minister in the ‘grand coalition’ government of 2005 to 2009, will lead the SPD to a loss of nearly historic proportions.  But while that means Merkel is very likely to return as chancellor, the composition of Merkel’s third government is less certain.

That’s because support for Merkel’s current coalition partners, the free-market liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), has collapsed since the previous September 2009 election, when it won 14.6% of the vote and 93 seats in the Bundestag, a record-high electoral performance for the party.  But since 2009, the FDP has struggled to maintain a presence in local Germany elections, losing support in state after state.  Its decade-long leader Guido Westerwelle, the first openly gay party leader in German history, stepped down in April 2011 as party leader and vice chancellor (though he remains foreign minister) after the FDP won barely 5% in the state elections of Baden-Württemberg.  His successor as FDP leader is the Vietnamese-born Phillip Rösler (pictured above), who began his career in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and who had served previously as health minister in the CDU/FDP coalition government from 2009 to 2011.

Although Rösler has not lifted the FDP back up to its 2009-level heights, he has managed to staunch the party’s decline.  In the May 2012 elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, the FDP managed to win 8.6% of the vote, an increase of nearly 2% from the previous election, though that’s largely due to the popularity of Christian Lindner, who led the FDP’s 2012 campaign.  More recently, though, in Lower Saxony’s state election in January 2013, the FDP won 9.9% of the vote, a gain of 1.7%.

It’s also because Germany’s electoral system is notoriously complex.  Germans will actually cast two votes in September — the first is for a candidate to represent one of 299 electoral districts in Germany, the second is for a German political party.  The second ‘party vote’ is meant to determine the party’s ultimate total share of seats in the Bundestag, and so a party will receive additional seats on the basis of the party vote sufficient to provide that its percentage of seats in the Bundestag is roughly equal to the percentage of votes it received pursuant to the party vote (so long as the party receives at least 5% of party vote support).  That means that the number of seats in the Bundestag changes from election to election — although it must have a minimum of 598 seats, it has had as few as 603 and as many as 672 since German reunification.

The FDP has struggled all year long to achieve merely 5% support in opinion polls and, while it’s doing better in polls than it was at the beginning of the year, there’s no guarantee that it will meet that threshold:

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That means that, more than anything else, the composition of Germany’s next government turns on the FDP’s performance.  If it wins less than 5%, Merkel will not have the option of continuing a coalition with the FDP.  Moreover, even if the FDP wins more than 5%, it may still not win enough seats to cobble together a CDU/FDP majority in the 598-member Bundestag.

Furthermore, polls show that while German voters overwhelmingly prefer Merkel as chancellor, they actually favor a return to the CDU/SPD grand coalition, more than the current CDU-led government or a potential SPD-led government:

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Two additional coalitions — a CDU/Green government and a united left coalition among the SPD, Green and Die Linke (the Left Party) — also win significant support.

But what are the chances that any of these five coalitions will actually emerge after September 22?  Here’s a look at each potential coalition and the chances that it could form Germany’s next government.

CDUpreferredcoalitionThe current government: CDU/FDP.

Merkel prefers to continue her current coalition over any alternative because her political agenda matches well with the FDP’s political agenda.  Any negotiations between Merkel and the SPD or the Greens would entail huge concessions from Merkel that she would not otherwise have to make in coalition with the FDP.  But, as noted above (and as represented in the graph to the right, on the basis of current polls), it’s unclear if that coalition can win a majority.

Under Rösler’s leadership, the FDP is running on a campaign of lower taxes and liberalizing Germany’s economy, which is standard Free Democratic fare, and both the FDP and Merkel’s CDU oppose new tax increases.  Their largest policy difference might be same-sex marriage — the FDP supports it and the CDU (and especially the Catholic-influenced CSU) oppose it, although the FDP has taken a much stronger stand on privacy rights than Merkel’s CDU.

Even if they win enough seats to form a majority, no one expects the margin to be larger than the government’s current 21-seat margin.  So even a single-digit majority could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory if Merkel finds herself forced to look outside her own government to enact her legislative agenda on an ad hoc basis, especially with respect to European Union matters, given the sometimes eurosceptic nature of many CSU deputies.  That’s hardly a recipe for stable government.

Polls in August show that together, the current government will win between 44% and 47% of the vote if the election were held today.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t give us much of an idea about whether they’ll have enough support in the Bundestag to form a majority.  Since reunification, Germany has held only six federal elections — they’ve resulted in three CDU-led governments, two SPD-led governments and a single CDU-SPD grand coalition. Continue reading Assessing the potential coalitions that might emerge after Germany’s federal elections

As U.S. awaits DOMA decision, Germany’s constitutional court weighs in on gay rights

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By the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will render decisions in two of the most important legal cases to affect same-sex marriage in the United States: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which could result in the repeal of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure that overturned the state legislature’s enactment of same-sex marriage, and United States v. Windsor, which could strike down the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act.  DOMA, a 1996 law that prohibits same-sex couples from federal benefits of marriage, has been struck down by lower U.S. courts as a violation of the ‘equal protection’ clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution.  Others have argued that it violates the right of states to determine their own marriage laws and the ‘full faith and credit’ clause of the U.S. constitution that requires states to recognize the law, rights and judgments of the other U.S. states. Germany Flag Icon

Both decisions are among the most highly anticipated opinions of the Court’s summer rulings.

But Germany’s top constitutional court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, got out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court last week with a landmark decision of its own that in many ways mirrors what proponents of same-sex marriage hope will be a harbinger of the U.S. decision on DOMA.

In a decision that could place pressure on chancellor Angela Merkel in advance of Germany’s federal election in September, the constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples in registered civil partnerships are entitled to the same joint tax filing benefits as those in opposite-sex marriages, exactly the rights that DOMA was originally enacted to prohibit in the United States.  The decision put the fight for German same-sex marriage on the front page of European newspapers in a summer when the parliamentary battles to enact same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom and France have otherwise dominated headlines.

It’s surprisingly in many ways that France and the United Kingdom have been more progressive on same-sex marriage rather than Germany.  Although polls show nearly two-thirds of the British and the French support same-sex marriage, a February 2013 poll showed that three-fourths of Germans support same sex-marriage.  Moreover, UK prime minister David Cameron is the center-right leader of a Conservative Party that faces its most pressing political pressure today from the right, not from the center, and the virulent anti-marriage rallies in France and the widespread opposition to same-sex marriage on France’s center-right means that French president François Hollande’s push for marriage equality, a policy that he campaigned on in 2012, has met significant turbulence.

But Germany’s evolutionary approach to marriage equality has taken a more subdued path through the constitutional court in Karlsruhe as much as through the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.  Former chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his coalition partner Volker Beck successfully pushed for the enactment of the Life Partnership Act in 2001 when the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) controlled the government in coalition with Beck’s Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (the Greens).  Following the German constitutional court’s blessing of the law in 2002, the Bundestag followed up in 2004 with revisions to the law that increase the rights of registered life partners, including rights to adoption, alimony and divorce, though not parity with respect to federal tax benefits.

Since taking power in 2005, chancellor Angela Merkel has not pushed additional rights for same-sex couples, which puts her at awkward odds with her coalition partners, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), which supports marriage equality and whose former leader Guido Westerwelle (pictured above with Merkel), Germany’s foreign minister and its vice-chancellor from October 2009 to May 2011, is openly gay.

Both Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) and the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, the more socially conservative and Catholic-based Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria), have been traditionally opposed to gay marriage, and as recently as March, the CDU and the CSU reaffirmed their opposition to extending tax benefits to same-sex partners, even though the February 2013 poll showed that two-thirds of CDU-CSU supporters favored same-sex marriage outright.

Despite parliamentary inactivity in Berlin, last week’s decision by Germany’s constitution court, however, is just the latest decision from Karlsruhe that has edged same-sex registered partnerships ever closer to full marriage equality.  Continue reading As U.S. awaits DOMA decision, Germany’s constitutional court weighs in on gay rights