Sep 182016
 

A friendly chat with AFP became part of their story on the fallout from the Berlin election. Incidentally, the text was widely cross-published in Asia, and so I’m becoming a household name in Vietnam, China, and Pakistan 🙂

Sep 162016
 

Handelsblatt Global has a piece on the upcoming state election in Berlin. I try to evaluate the consequences of the likely result for federal politics.

Mar 112016
 
Ballot - Vote

Over at Handelsblatt Global, Siobhán Dowling has another excellent article on the state of German (state) politics, with a little input from yours truly.

Nov 082015
 

On Friday, a day after the great refugee compromise between CDU, CSU, SPD, and the minister presidents was announced, Home Affairs minister Thomas de Maiziere created a medium-sized stir by presenting plans that would reduce the level of protection granted to refugees from Syria. None such measure had been agreed the day before. By Saturday, the matter was apparently settled: The Kanzleramt declared that this was all some misunderstanding, and that the (non-)debate was over. Now, on Sunday evening, the FAZ newspaper is reporting support for de Maiziere’s non-plan frm the CSU and some leading lights in Merkel’s CDU including Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Merkel’s key ally. Cue crunch time in Berlin, time to settle some very old scores etc – or just another string of misunderstandings?

 

Oct 112015
 

In the last couple of weeks, much has been said and written about the turning tide in German public opinion on refugees, the growing rift between Merkel and the CSU, the potential of a back-bench rebellion against the chancellor and party leader etc. But one of the most interesting (in my book) details is buried in the nitty-gritty details of Friday’s Politbarometer report, which I turned into a little bar chart to illustrate my point.

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Source: Politbarometer poll in early October 2015

So 64 per cent of the Christian Democrats’ supporters still approve of Merkel’s policies (and that includes the allegedly outraged CSU voters). But support is significantly lower amongst supporters of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Socialists (Left). This could be written off as coloured by partisan sentiment. It might even be the case that some lefties are unhappy because they want more generous policies. But compare this with the approval rating amongst supporters of the left-liberal Greens. Unlike the SPD and the Left, the Greens gun chiefly for the upper-middleclass lefty vote. Cue my article on competition between traditional left-wing parties and working class parties 2.0, i.e. the radical right.

Sep 252013
 

What’s the Matter with Germany?

At least in Germany, people begin to realise that Merkel may have painted herself into a corner by winning so gloriously (told you so first thing on Monday). While her Christian Democrats are by far the largest party group in the new Bundestag, she needs a coalition partner, but nobody wants to play.

Kanzleramt in Berlin
Werner Kunz / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The Social Democrats are not exactly keen to form a coalition with Merkel. They came out of the last Grand Coalition (2005-2009) very badly damaged and have hardly recovered from that electoral blow. And a new CDU/SPD coalition would be not so ‘grand’ any more. In 2005, the SPD and the Christian Democrats were not so far apart in terms of votes won. This time, there is a 16 point gap between the two.

The important NRW state party, which represents roughly a quarter of the party’s total membership,  is positioning itself against a Not-So-Grand Coalition. The party’s left-wing opposes on principal grounds, and because they feel that this would further strengthen the Left party. The party leadership is officially stalling just a bit, saying the situation is open. Talks will be ‘ergebnisoffen’ – non-directive. And they are seriously telling the Greens that it’s a dirty job, so perhaps they should do it.

A CDU/Green coalition on the other hand, while not impossible, is unlikely. The idea was all the rage a couple of years ago, but it did not work well in the Länder. Moreover, the party has moved to the left during the campaign (something they are regretting now) and returned to a more polarised view of the political world. The party leadership has resigned over the slightly disappointing result. Some of them will return, but it is not yet clear what the balance of power within the party will look like, and any new leadership will find it extremely difficult to sell a coalition with Merkel to the rank-and-file, who have a de facto veto.

This may very well be a thinly disguised attempt to drive the price of a black-red (or black-green) coalition upwards. In 1998 and 2002, it took roughly a month to form a government. In 2005, SPD and CDU needed 55 days. In 2009, the FDP/CDU/CSU government was sworn in about 40 days after the election. But what will happen if both the Greens and the SPD refuse to play (it is still silly season, but nobody’s talking CDU/Left. Yet)?

Is a Minority Government Possible? Will There Be New Elections?

In Germany, there is always a procedure, and in this case, it is spelled out in the constitution, whose framers were obsessed with stability (for very good reasons). The new parliament will be convened on October 22, 30 days after the election. That is the constitutional maximum. With this first plenary meeting (parliamentary parties haven been holding business meetings since Monday), Merkel’s second term as Chancellor will end, and so will the tenure of her ministers. The Federal President will however ask her ‘to continue to manage Germany’s affairs’ until a successor is appointed, and she is obliged to heed that request. So are the ministers. There is no ‘gap’: We’ll always have someone who tells us what to do.

The president will then go to parliament and propose a successor. But ‘then’ is relative. Interestingly, the constitution which is usually very precise, does not stipulate a time-frame. Leading commentators say the time-frame must be ‘appropriate’. Four weeks are ok. Six weeks would be ok, too, I think. But how much longer?

In theory, the president could come up with any proposal, but in practice, his suggestion has always been based on a viable coalition agreement between the parties, since his proposal must be confirmed by more than one half of its members (as opposed to more than half the members happening to be in the chamber at that point). The constitution is extremely wary of unstable majorities, let alone minority government.

Should the president’s candidate not be elected (this has never happened in the past), parliament has 14 days to make up their minds. During this period, they can elect anyone who manages to get the votes of more than half of the members without the president having any say.

Failing this, parliament will have one last vote on the Chancellor. Under this rule, the person receiving the most votes wins. If, by some happy coincidence, the number of these votes exceeds the number of half the members of parliament, the new Chancellor is sworn in and appointed. If it is less, the president has a choice: Within seven days, he can either appoint the Chancellor to lead a minority government or trigger new elections. Again, the choice is his in theory, but in practice, he would consult with the parties.

So where does that leave us?

Should both the Greens and the SPD refuse to join a Merkel government, they could still form a coalition with the Left or negotiate a toleration arrangement. But that seems unlikely, since the political costs would be very high, and it is not clear that all leftist MPs would vote for him. A small group of SPD and/or Green MPs could vote for Merkel to get on with it, without the parties entering a formal coalition, or one of the two parties could officially decide to tolerate her. As long as that would give her a majority in the inaugural vote, the president would have to appoint her. Or the parties could agree on having another election, with unknown consequences (AfD and/or FDP entering parliament, losses for all but the Left?).

Given these prospects, a CDU/SPD coalition will probably look like the lesser evil once everybody has calmed down a bit. But that might take some time.

Sep 132013
 

Beyond Peer’s Finger

Ready for another instalment of our series on odd campaign posters? Peer SteinbrĂĽck’s finger has raised the stakes quite a bit, but since a magazine cover is technically not a campaign poster, I’m not going to dignify this abomination with a link. Last time around, I have pondered the question if those people posing for the pirate party are indeed members/candidates, and @senficon has kindly clarified matters a bit.

Together. Really?

This week, I’m focusing once more on the local candidate for the CDU. While the seat is open (the sitting MP is retiring), it has in fact never been won by the CDU, so a little endorsement from the boss can’t hurt, yes? Thinking along the same lines, our man has put up a large billboard picturing him and the Chancellor. But does it show him with the Chancellor?

 

How Much Time Does a Chancellor Have for Local Candidates?

Here is a simple calculation: A professional shooting would take at least 15 minutes per candidate. The CDU is contesting all seats outside Bavaria. That would be 244/4=61 hours. Even if the Chancellor would endorse only those 65 candidates who are running in non-Bavarian districts not won by the CDU in 2009, this would amount to two normal working days.

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On his own

That seems a bit excessive for a woman who – besides things such as popping over to meet the other G20 club members, messing up saving the Euro and running a national campaign – is busy ruling the country. Plus: He looks a lot less streamlined on his own posters: So I was wondering, just wondering if the very capable people at CDU headquarters have come up with a little Photoshop template that candidates may download from some internal server. By the way, “Gemeinsam” means “together”. Is that the CDU’s response to the SPD’s ingenious “It’s the ‘we’ that matters”, or a not-so-subtle  irony marker? Just asking.