You could not possibly make this up. Amidst a legal-constitutional battle over the NPD’s survival, the General Secretary (top executive manager) of Germany’s oldest right-wing extremist party NPD resigns over what is by now affectionately known as the Saarbrücken Penis Cake Affair. The story (as ridiculous as it gets) also involves Miss Nationalist Santa, and a lot of backstabbing hidden behind the moral outrage. Publikative has the full story and the original reporting (in German), whereas Spiegel Online (also in German and apparently a bit lax on the reporting part) has the pictures (if you absolutely have to see them).
Party system change, illustrated. Germany’s FDP was represented in the federal parliament from 1949 until 2013. During this time, they were part of various government coalitions for more than four decades. In 2009, they managed to attract more than 14 per cent of the vote, their best national result ever. Many voters did not like them, but they served a purpose.
Today, FGW’s monthly newsletter reported public opinion on Russia, broke down by party leaning of the respondents. They could not provide information on FDP supporters, because they did not have enough cases for that.
It’s been a boring three months without any offbeat news on the right-wing extremist NPD, but here is hope. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), still one of Germany’s most respected broadsheets runs the story of the porn-star-and-escort-turned-nationalist-activist Ina Groll (“Kitty Blair”), who apparently is not longer welcome in the NPD (of which she allegedly never was a member). Groll single-handedly (if in doubt: each and every pun on this page is intended) tried to give nationalism a more – shall we say racy ? – image by distributing leaflets wearing a Santa costume that was supposed to be sexy (down that road, madness lies). The party themselves have tried to play that game in the past, with debatable results.
By and large, the FAZ article is a pastiche of older stories from the blogosphere, the social media, and the left-wing press, but the framing is slightly different: FAZ explicitly links the backlash against Groll/Blair within the NPD and the wider right-wing extremist public to the fact that some of her co-stars were black men.
“Rassenschande” (bringing disgrace to the Aryan race by having sexual relationships with non-Aryans) was a crime in Nazi Germany and could carry the death penalty. But the quote in the article that mentions right-wingers crying “Rassenvermischung” (mixing races) is not referenced by a link. It is summarily ascribed to an obscure east German right-wing website. Googling that quote, you will find a dozen hits for the exact phrase. Chances are that FAZ copied it verbatim from a blog or an agency report. The right-wing website itself, on the other hand, does indeed brazenly refer to “Rassenschande” further down the page, which is presumably punishable under anti-hate-speech legislation.
I’m not sure what I find more stunning/revealing/whatever: The way the Extreme Right handles their public relations, or the quality of investigative journalism in one of our leading newspapers.
For people of a certain age, it is somewhat hard to believe that Alanis Morissette’s fourth single was released a mere 18 years ago. Moreover, it is a truth universally acknowledged that this single has single-handedly clouded the idea of irony. There is a point, and I will get to it eventually.
What’s the Matter with German Public Broadcasting?
After the war, the BBC provided the template for the re-organisation of broadcasting in Germany. Broadcasters became public bodies, funded by a licence system and not under the (direct) control of the government of the day. They were to be controlled by an elaborate system of boards on which stake holders such as the churches, the unions, and the political parties had representatives. Moreover, in a bid to create further checks and balances, they were set up at the state level. To the present day Germany’s first national TV channel is produced and aired by the federation of these broadcasters.
But back in the mist of time, the Adenauer government wanted a second national TV channel, preferably with a conservative bent. Following an epic political and legal struggle, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) was created in the early 1960s through a “Staatsvertrag”, a quasi-constitutional, legally binding and enforceable agreement between the (then) eleven federal states. Again, insulating the corporation from direct government control was supposed to be a guiding principle.
What Did the Court Say?
50 years on, the old battles were fought once more. In 2009, the Director General (with support from the SPD) wanted to extend the contract of the broadcaster’s chief political editor, Nikolaus Brender. The CDU opposed the appointment and organised a majority to vote against Brender by leaning on the nominally non-partisan members of the board. Kurt Beck (SPD), then minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, went to the Federal Constitutional Court in a bid to have the agreement declared unconstitutional.
Isn’t It Ironic? No.
Yesterday, the court ruled (entirely in line with everything the have said over the last five decades or so) that parts of the agreement are indeed unconstitutional, because there are too many representatives of the state on the boards: According to the court’s count, about 44 per cent of the members fall into that category. In an not uncommon display of judicial inspiration, they decided that 44 per cent was certainly too much, whereas one third would be ok, and that the federal states will have to modify the agreement accordingly. That leaves the tiny problem that almost anyone representing one of the societal groups (churches, unions, associations of employers) is at least close to a political party and at any rate part of Germany’s corporatist system of interest mediation.1
And moreover, there is the AM moment: Yesterday’s ruling was brought about by two state governments. Kurt Beck, the original plaintiff, was very happy yesterday. He may have retired as minister president, but he still hangs on as chair of the board. That is not ironic in the conventional sense of saying the opposite of what you mean, but … here is a gratuitous bonus video.
To be fair, one judge made the exact same observation in his dissenting opinion.
What Did the Court Say?
The German Constitutional Court ruled today that Germany’s three per cent electoral threshold for European elections is unconstitutional because it violates the principle of equality. The ruling was not exactly a surprise: In 2011, the court had already abolished a five per cent electoral threshold on account of the European Union not being a parliamentary system that would require large and coherent parliamentary groups and stable majorities. The three per cent threshold was enacted only last October in a constitutional gamble. Lawmakers wanted to keep smaller parties out of the EP, although they were perfectly aware that the logic of the first ruling would probably rule out a lower threshold, too.
What Are the Consequences?
The court has just made a bunch of smaller parties very happy. Germany has 99 seats in the EP, so without a legal threshold, the effective threshold is just over one per cent. The AfD is currently polling around six per cent, so unless something dramatic happens, the ruling virtually guarantees them representation in the next parliament. That would give the AfD a parliamentary foothold that they will use to establish themselves firmly in the German polity.
Things also haven’t looked so good for the Pirates and the NPD in a long time. The latter case is particularly interesting: If the Constitutional Court should ban the NPD further down the line, their MPs would lose their seats under German law. Will this also apply to MEPs?
This week, guest-blogging at the LSE’s very useful European Politics and Policy blog: Why I think that the AfD’s likely success in the 2014 European election will give them a foothold in the German system.
Germany’s Eurosceptic AfD is expected to do well in the European Elections, at least by German standards: They are projected to clear the three per cent threshold, which would above all give them access to public funds and more PR opportunities.
After I called them ‘anti-European’ on public radio, upset party members have been in touch (and all over facebook) to inform me that they are ‘anti-EU’ (or rather against the EU in its present shape), but not against ‘Europe’ per se. They even claimed that they are pro-European, in a fashion. Hm.
I duly decided to mend my ways and read their manifesto front to back, but as it turns out, there is neither a proper manifesto (again, by German standards) nor something specific to the EP2014. All they have on their website is the 14 pt/4 page document they had quickly drawn up just in time for the German general election that was held last September (a legal requirement for fielding lists).
So I extracted the text from this PDF and made a wordle from it (incidentally, wordle.net suggested typsetting the result in Fraktur, but I decided that would create a certain bias). As you can see, ‘fordern’ (demand) is the most frequent word, which results from the heavy use of litany in this short text. The second most important word is ‘Deutschland’. Euro and EU also feature, but they are on par with ‘Kinder’ (children) and ‘education’ (Bildung), issues over which ‘Europe’ has no jurisdiction.
This is not an artifact of the party’s name (which appears only twice in the text). ‘EU-/Eurosceptic’ they may be, but this rather goes to show that the party seems very much concerned with Germany and German politics. Right now, different factions within the party – conservatives, liberals, whatnot – try to define what the AfD stands for. It will be interesting to see what future party documents will tell us about this struggle.
Germany’s ultra right-wing NPD is the party that never fails to amaze. After leader Holger Apfel was forced to resign over the (alleged) harassment of ‘young comrades’ just before Christmas, his predecessor Udo Voigt made it clear that he wanted his old job back. But Udo Pastörs (what is it about this name?), who helped Apfel to topple Voigt two years ago emerged as a caretaker instead. Shortly afterwards, Pastörs was appointed leader, though only for a nine-month period.
This weekend, the NPD selected their candidates for the upcoming European election, with both Voigt and Pastörs vying for the top spot. Voigt won, and Pastörs subsequently withdrew from the selection process altogether. I’m sure there will be another leadership challenge in September, or even earlier if the party takes a beating in the May election.
This is all against the backdrop of bankruptcy, political irrelevance and a looming ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court that may (or may not) declare the party unconstitutional. I have said this before and I’m saying it again: This is more than a bit like a struggle over who is in charge on the bridge of the good ship Titanic.
NPD leader resigns in shock move
Holger Apfel, the leader of Germany’s right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), resigns, citing health reasons. He also steps down as head of the party’s caucus in the Saxonian state parliament.
Apfel’s move adds to the party’s many woes: The NPD is very nearly bankrupt as a result of financial irregularities. Moreover, the party’s constitutionality is currently being investigated by the Federal Constitutional Court. These proceedings could result in a ban of the NPD.
Following an acrimonious leadership contest, Apfel became party leader just over two years ago in November 2011. His main strategic aim was to slightly tone down the party’s radical ambitions in a bid to make it more acceptable to conservative voters. In this respect, he was not in any way successful.
Why, and why now?
Apparently, the party and its leadership were taken completely by surprise. Within minutes, it was leaked that Apfel suffers from ‘burn out’, which could boil down to ‘too much interaction with dear comrades’. [It is up to the reader to insert a silly pun on the NPD's obsession with "the Leader"/their leadership troubles at this point]
Apfel’s predecessor Udo Voigt, who was leader from 1996 until 2011 and then grudgingly became Apfel’s deputy, has certainly made life miserable for Apfel during the last two years. Also within minutes, Voigt has declared that he was ready to take the helm once more ‘under certain conditions’.
But citing health reasons and stepping down is not the way things are done in the NPD. And while infighting is common enough within the NPD’s national leadership, it seems odd that Apfel should also give up his position in Saxony, which is his power base, unless he is really seriously ill. Therefore, fellow anoraks and conspiracy theorists will contemplate another explanation: That Apfel could have been one of those informers (paid by the government’s many secret services) whose involvement with the leadership led to the collapse of the first bid to ban the NPD back in 2002.
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.
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.