Nov 112016
 

I’m enormously flattered that the good people over at Nuffield College have invited me to their Political Science Seminar Series. I’m talking about a current project of mine that looks into the extent of the gap between citizens’ and legislators’ preferences on bioethical issues in general and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) in particular. Here is the abstract of my talk:

Given the country’s lack of a strong Catholic culture, extraordinarily high levels of medical expenditure, and the dominance of private-sector actors in the health market, the regulation of bioethical issues in Germany is surprisingly restrictive. Recent legislation on Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a case in point: Only under considerable external pressure and with a bare cross-partisan parliamentary majority did Germany move from a complete ban to a new set of rules that are still much more restrictive than those in Belgium or the UK.

An analysis of legislators’ preferences (Arzheimer 2015) suggests that comparatively high levels of religiosity as well as the existence of a ‘blue-green’ issue coalition is responsible for this restraint. Citizens, on the other hand, seemed to show higher levels of support for the new regime and perhaps even support for further liberalisation. Although PGD is currently a niche issue, the existence of such a representational gap demands scholarly and political attention, because the ethical issues associated with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and other advanced medical techniques will become more and more salient in Western societies in the coming years.

In my talk, I will present first findings from a large-scale survey experiments that looks into the preferences of the general public on PGD and a number of similar issues. More specifically, I investigate four inter-related questions:

1) Is there indeed a sizeable gap between MPs’ and citizens’ preferences on PGD?

2) Would citizens support a further liberalisation of the PGD regime?

3) Are citizens’ preferences shaped by the same determinants as those of their MPs?

4) Can the gap between citizens and MPs be narrowed by making citizens reflect on arguments from a parliamentary debate?

 

Slides to follow at some point are here.

Photo by janetmck

Dec 042015
 
Apr 252013
 

German political parties enjoy a special constitutional protection. Only the Federal Government, the Bundestag (parliament), and the Federal Council can apply for a ban, and only the Federal Constitutional Court can declare a party unconstitutional and subsequently dissolve it. Over more than six decades, the court has banned two parties: the neo-Nazi SRP in 1952 and (slightly more controversially) the communist KPD in 1956. In both instances, it was the government who initiated the process.

Back in 2001, the then Red-Green government sought to ban the NPD. The attempt failed spectacularly because a qualified minority of the judges raised procedural concerns about the very large number of informers within the party, and the unwillingness of the state to provide the names of these people. While the whole thing was ill-advised, it is best seen as part of a larger symbolic drive against right-wing extremism, which was rampant after unification and fuelled a whole host of violent hate crimes. Back then, the government cajoled the CDU/CSU and FDP into supporting the cause, and all three institutions jointly applied for a ban, thereby raising the stakes and putting a lot of pressure on the court.

This time round, the Federal Council (dominated by the SPD and Green, but with support from the centre right-led state governments) pushes for a ban, while the government has long dragged its feet and finally came up with a statement saying that they would not co-sponsor the bid but still provide assistance. While this sounds half-baked, it might actually be a sensible position, given what sort of evidence against the NPD has been collected.

The most bizarre performance, however, was delivered in today’s debate in the Bundestag. CDU/CSU and FDP tabled a motion not to support the ban and won with their majority, while the opposition voted against. Then the SPD table a motion in favour of a ban. The government parties voted against, the Left and some Greens supported the move, of course to no avail. Next came the Left with their own motion, which was supported by the SPD while the Greens abstained. Finally, the Greens argued that issue should not be rushed through parliament. Now the government and the SPD voted against, while the Left abstained. Throughout the day, everyone agreed that the NPD (which, although bankrupt and electorally battered beyond recognition held their party conference last weekend) was indeed a very nasty party. Five months to go until election day.

Feb 202013
 

Once more, German authorities are pondering what to do with the extreme right NPD (officially “Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands / Die Volksunion” after merging with its longstanding competitor DVU). While the Federal Council (which represents the 16 federal states) has already applied for a ban, government and parliament have not yet decided whether they support this move. Only the Federal Constitutional Court can ban a party, only these three institutions can act as plaintiffs, and the hurdles are high, as a qualified majority of the eight judges sitting on the case would have to vote in favour.The last ban was issued in 1956, and the government is duly afraid of another failure after the 2003 disaster.

Interestingly, both the Federal Council’s activism and the other institutions’ reluctance are based on a confidential report by a joint working party compromised of security people from both tiers of government and led by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, i.e. one of the federal secret service agencies. In a shock move, the NPD has posted what appears to be a 140-page executive summary of this report on its website today. Apparently, the party leadership is of the opinion that they appear as mostly harmless in the dossier.

The three-part PDF, apparently a scan of a paper copy, looks genuine enough. Its style, diction and classic Word 95 typography are all in line with what one would expect from such a document, and so is its content. The 2003 disaster was due to the excessive number of activists who moonlighted for Germany’s many secret service. This time, the authors have gone to great pains to collate material that is both public and not produced bye “source”, i.e. paid informers within the party. Interestingly, the statements in the document are classified into two categories: “A” for people who were not informers after January 1, 2003 (but possibly before that date), and “AD” for people who were not on the payroll at the time they made the relevant statement.

Consequently, most of this stuff is disgusting but phrased so that it is right at the boundary of what is legally acceptable.  Germany’s extreme right has decades of experience in crafting their statements in a way that remains just under the constitutional radar. Going through that material, one can see why the party published it on its website and gets the impression that it will be different to ban the party without relying on internal communications. NPD File

One of the most interesting points is the recommendation. The paper suggests in rather strong terms that a ban feasible and proportionate and yet, the government dithers. This indicates that either the federal people on the working party were outvoted (which seems unlikely from the phrasing), or that there is a rift between the political leadership and the services.

A final point concerns the way through which the party got hold of the document. Today, the internet is rife with speculation: Has the NPD, for decades targeted by agents, in turn infiltrated the services? Given that relations between the services and the party have been too close for comfort in the past, that would not be entirely implausible. There is, however, a simpler explanation. The document is stamped “VS – nur für den Dienstgebrauch”, which is the lowest classification level. Such files are normally accessible by a large number of people within an office. Given the rather enthusiastic recommendation issued in the report and the reluctance of the government to act on it, it’s easy to imagine someone in an agency or a ministry leaking the paper to the press, where anyone could have passed it on to the party.

Mar 182012
 

Events in North Rhine-Westphalia are quickly becoming the stuff of legends. The end of the red-green minority government on Wednesday has triggered a series of reshuffles that would make Machiavelli dizzy.

First, Christian Lindner is back. In December, he stepped down from his job as secretary-general of the FPD for no apparent reason, declaring that he would rather dabble in local and state politics. Using latest remote-sensing techniques, political witchdoctors of all persuasions agreed that the prospect of showing up daily at FDP HQ for the foreseeable future (4-6 months) had become too depressing. Now, in one feel swoop, he replaced state party chair Daniel Bahr (who has a daytime job as federal minister for health) and sidelined the listless chair of the state parliamentary group (who is widely held responsible for the political disaster) to become the party’s frontrunner in the upcoming election. And yes, the three men took great care to let the public see that they had bypassed federal party chair Philipp Rösler.

Second, Norbert Röttgen, the reasonably popular federal minister for the environment (CDU) – yes, I combined these last three attributes in a rather unusual way – who was elected chair of the state CDU in November 2010 after winning a ballot amongst party members by the barest of majorities, decided to lead his party’s campaign. He could not have done anything else, but this move puts him and the federal government in a bit of a pickle, as everyone wonders whether he will take up his seat in the state parliament if he cannot become minister president. Not making a credible commitment at the outset will hurt his campaign before it has begun in earnest, so most probably he will have to give up a job he seems to like, and Merkel will lose a minister who was instrumental in selling her U-turn on nuclear energy. Bummer.

Third, Hannelore Kraft has overnight become a possible contender for the chancellor job. That, of course, was floated by her opponents to weaken her campaign, but the idea has gained such momentum over the weekend that she had to explicitly deny any ambitions to stand for chancellorship “before 2017”. Cometh the hour, cometh the woman.

Meanwhile in a rare turn of events, a (very implicit) prediction of mine is coming true. The centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that some law professors who specialise in constitutional law have called into question the legal advice on which the budget plan was declared failed in the second reading. Now, if the FPD had deemed it possible to delay the proceedings for further negotiations, the minority government would most certainly still be in office. In politics, just as in criminology, the most relevant question is usually “cui bono”.

May 312009
 

Next week, the European Parliament will celebrate its 7th direct election. However, this will be the culmination of 27 national campaigns. Here is a post on the lack of truly European content in the European I wrote for Andrea Römmele’s and Thorsten Faas’ “Wahlen nach Zahlen” blog (in German).

May 282009
 

With the upcoming EP elections, I felt obliged to check out the profiler sites my colleagues have put on the internet. I started with Germany’s wahl-o-mat that has been around for a number of years. After evaluating 30 statements, the program decided that I should vote for the German Liberals, which was not such a big surprise. The Bavarian Christian Democrats and the New Left Party were the biggest distance away from my ideal point, not least because my preferences seem to be more pro-European than these parties.

Why I should vote for the LibDems (maybe)

Why I should vote for the LibDems (maybe)

Given that I’m going to vote in the UK, I next tried the EU Profiler, which is an international project that aims at providing the relevant information on party positions for all 27 member states. After evaluating a new set of another 30 items, I was presented with a fancy two-dimensional graph that shows that I should vote for the UK LibDems, although they look more like my least-bad option since the policy space around my ideal point is not exactly crowded. This is because I am luke-warm (but warm) when it comes to European Integration plus a bit of a lefty when it comes to the “socioeconomic” dimension. This dimension, however, looks a bit dodgy, because according to the map, the Tories would be ever so slightly to the left of Labour. Well, maybe they are. At least no one suggest that I should vote UKIP or BNP (who sent me a flyer the other week, suggesting that all those immigrants should leave the UK).

In a bold move I switched from British to German parties and was a little surprised to learn that I should vote New Left, which is reasonably close to my ideal point while the Liberals are rather far away. So it would seem that I suffer from a national-political personality split.

Should I vote for the Left party?!?

Should I vote for the Left party?!?

Still not content with the results, I returned to the wahl-o-mat and discovered that they too have teamed-up with researchers from other countries, meaning that we have apparently two competing pan-European profiler projects. So I answered a final UK-specific questionnaire and was reassured that I should indeed vote for the LibDems, though apparently for different reasons.

While their accuracy of the results might be debatable, these tools provide a lot of information and are great fun.