Dec 102015
 

So far, Germany’s mainstream parties have resisted the temptation to construct a link between the current mass migration of refugees from the middle east and the growing (?) risk of islamist terror attacks in Europe. In a piece I wrote for Policy Network, I take a long(ish) hard look at the respective positions of Merkel’s CDU and Seehofer’s CSU. Click here for the full story.

 

Oct 102015
 
seehofer photo

Photo by Metropolico.org

Yesterday, the AfD has filed legal complaints against the chancellor with the public prosecutor, arguing that suspending the Dublin agreement violates the section of the penal code which bans human trafficking. As political PR stunts go, this is not a bad one: It cost the party exactly nothing (anyone can have a friendly chat with the prosecutor, no lawyer required, no legal fees), made for a couple of incredulous headlines and so far gained them 13,646 likes and 4,616 share on their Facebook page alone. The prosecutor will at least have to have a look before dropping the non-existent case in silent despair.

Obviously, the CSU’s dervish-in-chief, Horst Seehofer, felt the need to up the ante and mumbled something about Bavaria challenging Merkel’s policies in the Federal Constitutional Court. His rationale (if this is the right word) is that the refugee situation is undermining Bavaria’s ability to exercise the (partial) sovereignty German states enjoy under the federal constitution. None of this holds any water (if you read German, here is a beautifully written article on the legal/political questions involved) but at least, Seehofer’s threat made the evening news, displacing the earlier headlines. Not a bad result if your aim is to out-AfD the AfD.

Apr 032015
 

For an hour or so, even the international press was mildly excited – “resignation of one of Merkel’s senior Christian Democrats from government over Greek bailout” or something along those lines. They got it wrong. Gauweiler is a member of the CSU (not Merkel’s party), and he held no government office. He had a long political career centred around right-wing policies and controversy. He has voted time and again the bailouts, and has made various attempts to stop them via the Federal Constitutional Court. In other words, he rebelled, and he sued his own government.

In return, he was not only tolerated but was made (one of four) deputy chairs of the CSU in 2013 by Horst Seehofer. That maneuver was part of the CSU’s rather transparent “have it both ways” strategy: The party supported Merkel and her policies but nonetheless tried to cover the right and Eurosceptic flank that had come under attack from the AfD. With the federal and European elections firmly behind us, Gauweiler and his (few) fellow rebels have served their purposed. His resignation signifies exactly that: there is no major uprising under way.

Predictably, the AfD have asked Gauweiler to jump ship, but he has already declined. At 65, he will probably focus on his (very lucrative) law practice. Without doubt, his resignation will contribute to the growing disaffection with Seehofer’s erratic style of leadership. But even that will matter only in the medium run, if at all.

Want to read more about this? Here is my interview with Handelsblatt Global on the Gauweiler resignation.

Photo by blu-news.org

Dec 112013
 

SPD votes on the coalition agreement

It’ another slow week for German politics, what with the Mandela Memorial, near-civil war in Thailand, the standoff in Ukraine and the South Korean/Japanese Chinese skirmishes. BUT: a small-scale CDU party conference of some 180 delegates has approved unanimously of the CDU/CSU/SPD agreement (a ‘Coalition Treaty’ in German parlance, though it can not be challenged in/enforced by the Constitutional Court). Delegates at a similar CSU conference have done their bit a month ago. Much more interesting is of course the case of the SPD, which put the agreement to a referendum by their 472,000 rank-and-file members.

The all-postal ballot will end tomorrow at midnight, and we will know the result on Saturday. So far, more than 300,000 people have voted. That alone is remarkable.

What if?

Last weekend, a conference of the party’s youth organisation passed a resolution that recommends members should vote against the agreement. The party leadership was less than delighted.

No one knows exactly what the rest of the members think. It’s entirely conceivable that a majority votes against, while it is inconceivable that the current leadership (broadly defined) that negotiated the agreement could survive such an embarrassment. The most likely outcome would be elections in February, though I’m sure that Merkel and the Greens would have another series of fireside chats if push came to shove. And if there were elections, the SPD would tank.

I’m sure the SPD members will bear this twin scenario in mind when they make their choice.

Jun 042012
 

German politics never fails to amaze: After the Left parties successful attempt to condemn itself to irrelevance without actually splitting the party, the ball is back in the ruling coalition’s court. Today was the day of the ‘coalition summit’, i.e. a formal meeting of the respective leaders of the three parties in the chancellery. The main purpose of these summits is not normally to have a frank exchange of ideas, or to draw up grand designs – it’s a bit late for that in the electoral cycle anyway. Rather, they are shows of unity and determination. As such, they would normally end with a joint press conference or some other public display of sympathy and dynamism. Today, the three leaders left the chancellery in their limousines, denying us any comments, which of course looks like a statement in its own right.

Apparently, however, they have agreed on two things: After months of quarrelling, the coalition will initiate legislation on the ‘Betreuungsgeld’, a pet project of the Bavarian CSU. Over the last years, the government has invested heavily (by West German standards) in the development of state-run and state-sponsored day nurseries, and will have to invest a lot more to meet its targets. This is not exactly a Christian-conservative priority, and so the CSU wants an extra subsidy for parents who do not use these subsidised facilities. Large parts of the CDU are lukewarm at best, and the FDP says it’s nonsensical, but they will go ahead with it nonetheless because they accepted the idea in principle in the 2009 coalition talks. As a reward for them, the government will also initiate legislation on an FDP project: a subsidy/tax credit for private long-term care insurance contracts that complement the state-run long-term care insurance program. Experts disagree how much extra money will be needed for care, and it seems a little roundabout and not very liberal to tax people so that the government can then hand that money back in the form of subsidies to private companies that provide a service which the state cannot provide, but I trust that some people in the industry are very happy tonight. And yes, this is the very same government that insists on austerity and balanced budgets.

Back in 1951, Lasswell and Lerner defined policy as ‘a systematic attempt to shape the future’. But that was before the discipline invented symbolic politics, and I’m sure the coalition summit is exactly what they had in mind.

Jun 012012
 

You may or may not be aware that the EU commission has announced yesterday that it will take Germany to court over the country’s failure to transpose the data retention directive into national law. The commission also proposed that the ECJ should impose a fine of € 315 036.54 per day on Germany. And no, I have no idea where the 54 cent come from, in case you wanted to ask that question.

While this sounds serious, infringement procedures are rather common. The commission’s press release specifically mentions Austria and Sweden, who also failed to implement the directive. Moreover, the commission alone initiated several hundred infringement cases in every single of the last fifteen years, on top of thousands of complaints by third parties.

What makes the recent case unusual is its domestic background: First, Germany agreed to the original directive, which regulates the retention of traffic and location data, in 2006. In 2010, however, Germany’s powerful Federal Constitutional Court declared the German law that implemented the directive unconstitutional and therefore null and void, which chimes with last week’s seminar session on the perpetual conflict between European law and the German idea of constitutional review. The commission is used to this kind of trouble with the Germans and was prepared to wait a year or two for the Germans to draw up and vote on a constitutional implementation of the directive.

But, to use the rather indignant phrase from the commission’s statement the “German authorities have not indicated how and when they will adopt new legislation that fully complies with the Directive”. More specifically, the government cannot make up its mind. The home office, led by the centre-right CSU, complains that Germany must fulfil its obligations and urgently needs a law that implements the directive. The ministry of justice, which is controlled by the liberal FDP, blankly refuses to draw up such a bill, claiming that data retention is ineffective, and that the EU will soften up the current directive anyway. Yesterday’s sole comment from the ministry was that they “were not surprised” by the commission’s move. And so, Germany remains on its collision course because of a deadlock within the coalition.

 

May 112012
 

A mere 2.75 years after the fact, the Definitive Volume (TM) on the German Federal Election of 2009 is almost (almost!) ready to go to the printers’. And so is our chapter on East-West differences in German voting behaviour, which is vintage before it is even out (Pirate party, anyone?). Obviously, the details are becoming more and more blurry, so going through the proofs actually made for a pleasant read.

Political Science is the magpie amongst the social sciences, which borrows heavily from other disciplines. These days, many political scientists are actually failed economists (even more failed economists are actually economists, however). I used to think of myself as a failed sociologist, but reading the proofs it dawned on me that I might actually aspire to become a failed geographer.

Local deviations from regional voting patterns

On particular nice map that should have been discussed more thoroughly in the paper shows the local deviation from regional voting patterns. Yes, you read that right: I calculate an index (basically Pedersen’s) that summarises local (i.e. district level) deviations from the regional (East vs West) result and roll that into a choropleth.  This way, it is easy to see how heterogeneous the two regions really are. Most striking (in my view) is the difference between Bavaria and the other Western Länder, which is of course a result of the CSU’s still relatively strong position. The PDS/Left party’s stronghold over the eastern districts of Berlin is clearly visible, too.