Tag Archives: schulz

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

Tusk, Mogherini appointed to top European offices. What next?

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The European Council appointed Polish prime minister Donald Tusk as Council president and nominated Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini as its new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.Italy Flag IconEuropean_UnionPoland_Flag_Icon

The appointments of both Mogherini and Tusk were widely expected in the days and hours leading up to today’s EU summit.

Tusk (pictured above, left, with his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy), age 57, was first elected prime minister in 2007 and reelected in 2011 as the leader of the center-right Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), each time defeating the more conservative, nationalist Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice). Essentially a moderate liberal and European federalist, Tusk has governed Poland for seven of the 10 years during which it’s been a member of the European Union. His elevation to the Council presidency marks the first time that a central or eastern European has held a top EU office, and it reflects Poland’s growing clout as one of the engines of the European Union.

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Mogherini (pictured above, right, with her predecessor, Baroness Catherine Ashton), age 41, only recently became Italy’s foreign minister in February, when prime minister Matteo Renzi maneuvered his way into the premiership. Though some Baltic and eastern European leaders doubted her level of experience and questioned whether she might be too sympathetic to Russia, she’s received strong marks in her six months as Italy’s foreign minister, marking her as a rising star in the new generation of leaders in Renzi’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).

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RELATED: Who is Federica Mogherini?

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Together with Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister, who was nominated by the Council in June as the president of the European Commission, the EU’s chief executive and regulatory body, Tusk and Mogherini will be responsible for setting EU policy through 2019.

The Council presidency was created by the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect only in 2009. Before Lisbon, the Council president was simply the leader of the country that held the six-month rotating Council presidency. Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister, served as the inaugural Council president. Upon the Council’s decision today, Tusk will begin his first term of 2.5 years in December, with the option for reappointment to a second term of 2.5 years.

The high representative role existed prior to the Lisbon Treaty, but it was greatly expanded when Ashton, a former Labour member of the House of Lords, was appointed to the role in 2009. Technically, Mogherini will serve as Italy’s representative on the European Commission and, accordingly, her term will run for five years and is  subject to the approval of the European parliament. 

Given their different backgrounds, Tusk and Mogherini were viewed as a complementary team. Eastern and central Europeans are delighted to see Tusk, a relatively hawkish voice on Russia, elevated to the Council presidency. Meanwhile, Mogherini brings gender diversity to the Commission, and she will join Martin Schulz, a German social democrat, as the chief voice of the center-left at the top of the EU policymaking apparatus.

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RELATED: Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1
Europe’s next high representative

RELATED: Forecasting the EU power summit, part 2
Europe’s next council president

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But what does it mean for the next five years of European policy? Continue reading Tusk, Mogherini appointed to top European offices. What next?

Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1: Europe’s next high representative

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With the European parliamentary elections finished on May 25, and the emergence of former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as the president of the European Council nearly a month later, the next two pieces of EU governance will be determined at a summit of all 28 leaders of the European Union on Saturday.European_Union

The EU leaders, who together comprise the membership of the European Council, will meet at a summit on August 30 that is expected to determine outgoing Council president Herman van Rompuy’s successor, an office created under the Treaty of Lisbon that went into effect in 2009. 

They are also expected to appoint a candidate to succeed Catherine Ashton as high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, as well as informally consider which European Commission will hold which portfolios, though those decisions are unlikely to be announced until later in the autumn. 

It’s easiest to think about the two offices sequentially — first high representative, then Council president. That’s because there are just two major candidates viewed as credible possibilities for the EU foreign policy role — Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini and Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski — with a third, dark-horse candidate in Kristalina Georgieva, an economist and Bulgaria’s current commissioner, responsible for humanitarian aid and international cooperation.

The choices for the European Council presidency will  follow from the choice of high representative, and from the decision to name Juncker, a center-right federalist from Western Europe, as Commission president. (More on the Council presidency will follow in part 2).

From the available public reports, Mogherini (pictured aboveappears to be the slight favorite for the role. Continue reading Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1: Europe’s next high representative

European Council proposes Juncker as Commission president

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Bowing to pressure from European parliamentary leaders, the European Council has proposed as its candidate for the presidency of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg and former head of the Eurogroup, the informal gathering of the eurozone finance ministers. European_Union

That makes it virtually certain that the European Parliament will elect Juncker (pictured above) as the next Commission president, likely with the full support of the two major pan-European parties in the Parliament, Juncker’s own center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES). It also likely means that the PES candidate for the Commission  presidency, Martin Schulz, will become the Commission vice president. 

It’s obviously a defeat for British prime minister David Cameron who, just last week, was still holding out hope that he could pull together a blocking minority to keep Juncker from receiving the Council’s endorsement. But by the time the Council gathered to vote, only Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán joined Cameron in opposing Juncker. Not only did Cameron fail to win over allies, he failed to keep both Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt, neither of whom are enthusiastic about the prospects of a Juncker candidacy.

Contacted by a reporter for the Moscow-based RIA Novosti earlier today, I had a chance to put together some quick thoughts on what the Juncker decision means. Here are my real-time responses, which will double as my real-time analysis on where things go from here.  

On how the choice reflects the European parliamentary elections on May 25:

The choice reflects the fact that Juncker was the candidate of the European People’s Party, the pan-European group of center-right, Christian democratic parties, and the EPP won the greatest number of seats in the European parliamentary elections on May 25. The EPP nominated Juncker as its candidate for the European Commission presidency prior to the May 25 parliamentary elections, just as several other European parliamentary parties nominated their own candidates. The candidates — the German term ‘Spitzenkandidaten‘ developed widespread use across Europe — campaigned throughout the spring, and they participated in a set of debates on the EU’s future.

Under the Lisbon treaty, the European Council is supposed to ‘propose’ a candidate for Commission president, which will be ‘elected’ by the European Parliament, with the Council ‘taking into account’ the results of the parliamentary election. No one knows exactly what that means, but Juncker and the other parliamentary leaders believe firmly that the Council must propose Juncker as its candidate. In so doing today, the Council has set an important precedent for future parliamentary elections, though national leaders will be loathe to admit it.

Proponents of the Spitzenkandidaten system argue that Juncker represents the will of the European electorate, because he’s the candidate of the party that won the most votes, but it’s not so simple as that. There’s no real indication that the majority of European voters were voting on the basis of this or that Commission presidential candidate. Voter turnout has dropped significantly since the first European elections in 1979, and voters often cast their ballots on the basis of national governments or other factors. To the extent there was a unifying theme to the elections, it was the rise of euroscepticism on both the far right and the far left, with the victories of groups like the United Kingdom Independence Party, France’s Front national (National Front) and Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti (People’s Party). Whatever ‘mandate’ you take away from the European elections, it’s hard to argue there’s a groundswell of genuine democratic support for Juncker. It was only last October that Juncker’s own center-right Christian Social People’s Party suffered so many losses in Luxembourg’s national elections that he was forced out as prime minister after 18 years.

Continue reading European Council proposes Juncker as Commission president

Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

If you believe the hype, the contest between Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured above, right) and Germany’s Martin Schulz (pictured above, left) is the European equivalent to the American election of 1800.European_Union

Fully 214 years ago, American voters (or, more accurately, white, male American property-holders) went to the polls in what was just the second contested presidential election in US history, pitting the incumbent, John Adams of Massachusetts, against Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

The aftermath of that election demonstrated flaws in the nascent American democracy’s constitution when Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, both received 73 votes in the US electoral college.  The clear intention was always that Burr was Jefferson’s running mate. Yet as a technical matter, the two candidates were tied in the only presidential vote that mattered in the electoral college. Jefferson ultimately prevailed, but only after 36 grueling ballots in the US House of Representatives. Four years later, the United States adopted the 12th amendment to its constitution, separating the electoral college vote for president and vice president.

Which is to say, new political systems often go through growing pains and their fair share of trial-and-error.

So it will be with the European Union. The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect in 2009, directs the European Council (the group of 28 European heads of state and/or government) to ‘propose’ a candidate for president of the European Commission (the European Union’s chief executive and regulatory body) to be ‘elected’ by the European Parliament.

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RELATEDIn Depth: European parliamentary elections

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Each of Europe’s major families of political parties took the new treaty language as a sign to field Commission presidential candidates in advance of this weekend’s European elections. Though five groups ultimately selected candidates, the greatest attention has focused upon those of the two largest blocs in the European Parliament, Juncker’s center-right, Christian democratic European People’s Party (EPP) and Schulz’s center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES).

As the Europe-wide candidates of their respective parliamentary groups, Juncker and Schulz have become the standard-bearers of the most pan-European election campaign in history. They’ve traveled the breadth of the European Union, and they’ve faced off in debate after debate. The challengers have become delightfully known as the Spitzenkandidaten in Germany, a neologism that’s caught on throughout the European Union.

But beyond the symbolism and the novelty, does anyone in Europe care? Continue reading Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

The European parliamentary elections are really four contests

Festival of Europe Open day 2012 in Strasbourg

It’s hard to know exactly how to place the European parliamentary elections in the constellation of world politics. European_Union

From one perspective, they’re relatively unimportant — a largely apathetic electorate is choosing a body of 751 MEPs in a parliament that has less power within the European Union than most parliamentary bodies have within national governments. The Council of the European Union gives member-states veto power over EU legislation and the European Commission, the regulatory executive of the European Union, has the power to introduce legislation. Voters, since the first direct elections in 1979, have turned out in ever lower proportions with each election cycle. To the extent you talk to European voters who actually care about the elections, they mostly view them as an opportunity for a protest vote.

From another perspective, they’re incredibly important. They represent the one point of genuine democratic participation within the European Union and, given the tumult of the past five years with respect to the eurozone, the European economy and the power of relatively wealthier states to dictate the monetary policy and, increasingly, the fiscal policy of weaker states, the current elections  represent a major conversation about the future of EU policy. That’s especially true in the context of the weighty matters that the next European Parliament will face, including a new data privacy directive and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a potentially game-changing free-trade agreement with the United States.

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RELATED: In Depth: European parliamentary elections

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So which is the right interpretation?

It can be both — and many things besides — depending on your view. That’s because the European parliamentary elections are really four separate political contests, wrapped up and presented as one set of elections. The relative importance or unimportance that a particular actor places on the ‘European elections’ depends upon which of the four ‘contests’ most resonates.

So what are the four contests simultaneously raging across Europe? Continue reading The European parliamentary elections are really four contests