Mar 152016
 
Ballot - Vote

So once in a lifetime, I was interviewed by a Czech newspaper. I recognise the people in the photo. And my name.

Mar 132016
 

A mere three hours after the event, it’s obviously too early to write something coherent about the three state elections that were held in Germany today. So let’s try it anyway:Ballot - Vote

  1. For the time being, Germany has a viable Radical Right Populist Party. A result of ~24% in the Eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt is a bit of a shock, but no huge surprise. The real clincher are the (low) double digit figures in the Western states of Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg. In the latter, the AfD is stronger than the SPD.
  2. The AfD cannibalised all the smaller right-wing parties including the NPD.
  3. This was not (just) a referendum on Merkel and her policies. While the issue dominated the campaigns, personalities and state-level factors were important. And the two CDU leaders who toyed with a (very tame) rebellion against Merkel did not gain from it.
  4. The volatility is shocking. Period
  5. German states have parliamentary systems, but popular minister presidents exerted an almost presidential effect. The contrast could not be more striking: In Baden-Württemberg, Kretschmann’s Greens are the strongest party (in itself something that is hard to believe), whereas their junior partner, the SPD, is heading for single-digit territory. One key reason is Kretschmann’s enormous popularity. In neighbouring Rheinland-Pfalz, minister president Dreyer has always been more popular than both her opponent and her SPD. But the latter steadily recovered in the polls over the last couple of weeks pull ahead of the CDU to become the strongest party with a respectable result. The Greens, on the other hand, lost two thirds of their support and might still end up without parliamentary representation. Being the smaller party in a coalition run by a popular minister president is not an attractive proposition these days.
  6. Turnout is up, yet it’s the non-established AfD that benefits from it. As a rule of thumb, right-wing outfits in Germany have always performed best in low-turnout, second-order elections. But this time, exit polls suggest that at least in the East, former non-voters gave the AfD a huge boost.
  7. And the Liberals are back.
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.

Jan 192014
 

CDU-Greens Coalition: No Rush Please, We’re Hessian

A mere four months after the Hessian state election, the new CDU-Greens (aka black-green) coalition has duly confirmed Volker Bouffier as Minister President after one tiny glitch (more on that below). While the guys in Hesse took their time, everyone is now very excited, because a successful CDU-Greens coalition would open up a whole host of possibilities beyond the entrenched 2+(2+1) pattern of party competition in Germany.

Home of the CDU-Greens Coalition: Hessischer Landtag Wiesbaden
Home of the CDU-Greens Coalition: Hessischer Landtag Wiesbadenmuckster / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

It is not, however, exactly a first: From 2008 to 2010, the city state of Hamburg was governed by a black-green coalition, and from 2009, an even more unlikely ‘Jamaica’ (black-green-yellow, i.e. CDU/Green/FDP) coalition governed in the Saarland before it collapsed in 2011. The media’s official excuse for getting overexcited is that Hesse is the first ‘Flächenland’ (‘area state’, i.e. not a city state) where the new coalition format is tested. But the real reason is that Hesse is at the same time the most likely and the most unlikely place for such an experiment.

Why is Hesse Special?

Hesse holds a special place in the heart of every red-blooded German Politics anorak because it is unusual. Although it has a huge rural core and its traditional industries have been in decline for a very long time, it was dominated by the Social democrats for decades. Back in the 1980s, it became the test bed for red-green coalitions when a young Joschka Fischer was sworn in as the first green minister in Germany, wearing his trademark trainers (now kept in a museum).

Then, the tide turned. In 1999, Roland Koch won the election for the CDU and became Minister President, an office he held until he resigned in 2010 in a surprise move to take a job in the industry. Koch survived a major donation scandal as well as various minor scandals, a lost election (after which he hung on as head of a minority cabinet) and an endless string of controversies over his rather aggressive and often (right-wing) populist approach to politics. During his reign, Hesse’s party system became even more polarised and segmented than it had been in the past. And CDU-led government in Hesse seemed all but inevitable.

What’s in a Bunch of Names?

Back in 2008, Koch, proud bearer of a proper German name (which translates as ‘cook’), authorised a series of posters highlighting the fact that two of the opposition parties were indeed led by folks with very foreign-sounding names (Al-Wazir of the Greens and Ypsilanti of the SPD), while the third opposition party (led by someone with a less suspicious name) was labelled as “Communist”. His attitude left a lot of bad blood. Nonetheless, his successor (hint: French-sounding name), though a long-term ally of Koch and widely considered a law & order politician, was able to embark on a series of talks with all political parties after the election, which had given none of the usual proto-coalitions an outright majority.

More importantly, he convinced Al-Wazir, his old political enemy from the days when Bouffier was known (or admired) as the ‘Black Sheriff’ of Hessian Home Affairs, to become his deputy. During the talks, Bouffier emerged as an unexpectedly shrewd political operator who presented his party – in Hesse, the other Länder and perhaps even in Berlin – with a new option beyond the unloved Great Coalition and the outdated CDU/FDP formats. If a CDU-Greens coalition can work in Hesse, it might work just everywhere.

So what was the glitch? In the first ballot, some MPs were given ballot papers listing the candidate’s name as ‘Max Mustermann’ (Sam Specimen), a popular placeholder for document templates. Allegedly, at least one person voted for this familiar character. Consequently, a second ballot had to be held. The current rapprochement not withstanding, names still seem to be a bit of a problem in Hesse.

Mar 142011
 

As predicted yesterday, the nuclear disaster in Japan is having a profound impact on something as trivial as three state election campaigns in Germany, more than 9000 kilometres away. Roughly 70 per cent of the population believe that an incident on the scale of the Japanese catastrophe could happen in Germany, too. The Federal Government has declared a three-month “moratorium” on its controversial decision to extend the life-span of German nuclear plants, what ever that means. Meanwhile, they want to reconsider their position on the issue and to re-assess the status of the German plants. It makes you wonder if/why they have not assessed those plants in the first place.

At least the oldest and least secure plants could indeed have reached the end of their life-span. If and when they would be switched off, that would be a U-turn for the government. This looks like a liberal-conservative panic attack.

Mar 122011
 
The Fukushima 1 NPP

Image via Wikipedia

It’s amazing: Just 36 hours after the horrible earth quake in Japan, 60000 people are demonstrating in Swabia – against nuclear energy. While we do not know whether the Japanese plants are actually in meltdown, for the German liberal-conservative coalition, this is certainly the Most Credible Accident.

One of the governments most controversial decisions so far was to amend the red-green phase-out law so that the German nuclear plants can remain operative much longer than planned under the original law. This upset many people, as acceptance for nuclear energy in Germany is low. And so the issue was already salient for the ongoing state-election campaigns in Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and Sachsen-Anhalt long before yesterday’s tragedy, particularly in Baden-Württemberg, which has four operational nuclear power plants.

Now, the Greens and the SPD are having a field day. Or so it would seem: The governments semi-official line is that it would be inconsiderate to discuss domestic matters in the face of the Japanese tragedy, and the SPD is playing along for today. But it’s difficult to imagine that the left parties will not play the issue over the next two weeks – the scale of the nuclear threat is just too big.

And the media are certainly on the job. The main public broadcaster ARD – roughly equivalent to BBC One – just changed its schedule and dropped one of its insufferable shows for the over 60s in favour of a documentary on the Chernobyl disaster. Showing something that is actually relevant one a Saturday night is an almost unprecedented move for them. And even if no one was trying to set the agenda, having a power plant in or near meltdown will certainly prime voters.

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Mar 192009
 

Colleagues Andrea Römmele and Thorsten Faas have set up a new blog that will cover the many German elections of 2009 (seats in the federal parliament, several state parliaments, local councils as well as the presidency are all up for grabs) and asked me to contribute. How could I resist them? “Wahlen nach Zahlen” (voting by numbers) is not yet public, but since it is already indexed by Google et al., why not spill the beans? There are already four posts (in German), and the list of (potential) contributors looks pretty good. And here is my inaugural post on right-wing extremism amongst German youngsters.