May 262019
 
Results of the EP 2019 in Germany (exit polls as of 7pm)

Results of the EP 2019 in Germany (exit polls as of 7pm)

It will take some time to get nearly-final results for Germany, let alone for the EU, but the picture emerging from the exit polls in Germany is reasonably clear. So, in time honoured tradition, here are my hot takes:

  1. News of a far-right takeover were exaggerated, to say the least. The only relevant Eurosceptic party, the radical right AfD, performed a the lower band of expectations. While their vote share increased by three percentage points compared to 2014, they remained two points below their result in the 2017 Bundestag election. Given the EP elections are supposed to be second-order contests in which Eurosceptics in general and righ-wingers in particular vent their anger, this is really a bit embarrassing. Journalists will pin it on Ibiza-Gate, but the declining salience of migration, their string of funding scandals and last not least the AfD’s veering to the right that puts off more moderate voters are better explanations.
  2. Left-libertarian, pro-European views can be a vote winner. The Greens, who dared to propose “more Europe” and who put two prominent sitting MEPs on top of their list that, for want of a better word, could be described as “critical left”, doubled their vote share, winning as many votes as the two more traditional parties on the left combined.
  3. Multi-partyism is doing well in Germany. The party system may look more fragmented than it would in a federal contest because there is no threshold in place, but the drop is massive: in 2009, the two historically big parties CDU/CSU and SPD had a combined vote share of nearly 59 per cent. In 2014, this number was even higher at 63 per cent. Now we are looking at something in the range of 44 per cent. There also seems to be a massive increase in votes for “other” parties, but I have no details on this yet.
  4. It sucks to be a Social Democrat. The Christian Democrats are not doing terribly well, but they managed to remain the strongest parties by quite a margin. The SPD on the other hand have dropped well below a result of 20 per cent that was rightfully seen as disappointing in 2009 (in 2014, they clearly benefited from Martin Schulz being the leading candidate for the S+D). I know I keep banging on about this, but the result neatly illustrates the argument that Kitschelt made 25 years ago: Social Democrats are fighting a losing battle against New Left parties on the one hand and New Right parties on the other. At least in the German case, they are also competing with the Christian Democrats. It will be interesting to see to what degree this pattern applies to other countries, too.
May 262019
 

Germany – no EP electoral threshold for the last time

There are currently 111 ‘political associations’ registered with Germany’s federal electoral commission. 41 of them (counting the CDU and the CSU separately) are fielding candidates in the upcoming European elections.Why are they doing it? Narcissism aside, this is a national election that is held without an explicit electoral threshold (this is going to change), so even fringe parties have a real chance of winning a seat. Plus (and this is a big plus), if they manage to win at least 0.5 per cent of the vote, they qualify for Germany’s very generous system of public party funding.An even bigger plus is that regular participation in elections turns a mere ‘association’ into a proper party that enjoys a special privilege: it can only be banned by a super-majority in the Constitutional Court.This latter point is particularly relevant for parties at the the far-right of the far-right end of the political spectrum.

Who is more right-wing than the AfD?

There are several parties to the right of the AfD. The most prominent of these parties is the NPD. The Constitutional Court has ruled that their ideology closely resembles that of the original Nazi party but still refused to ban them, essentially because they are electoral irrelevant (they still managed to win a seat in the EP in 2014). In 2014, they garnered 301.139 votes (1%), which was enough to secure them a seat – currently their last one outside of local councils. Their lone MEP is former party leader Udo Voigt, a convicted Holocaust denier and Nazi apologist. I’m not in favour of using terms like “neo-fascist” with abandon. It’s misleading and hence bad science. But the NPD is literally a neo-Nazi party.

And then there is “Der Dritte Weg” (“The Third Way” – sorry, Anthony Giddens) – a party for people who think that the NPD is too modern and wimpish. Many of its ~500 members used to belong to militias that could be dissolved much more easily by the authorities than an organisation recognised as a party. They are a bunch of hyper-traditional right-wing street-fighters.

In terms of electoral support, the Third Way is less than irrelevant. They don’t even exist as a party in the northern states. In the most recent state election down here, they scored a cool 0.1 per cent, and I don’t think they have any candidates in this year’s local elections. But they have managed to draw up a list for the EP 2019. And, more specifically, they managed to put up a number of posters around our commuter rail station.

Right-wing extremist campaign posters from hell

These posters make it wonderfully clear what the Third Way is all about, and so I’ll cap off this year’s election posters from hell series with them. They are truly hellish, but in a different way. Here is the first one:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - defend Europe's borders

Defend Europe’s borders. That’s a bit boring really

“Defend Europe – close the borders”. This one is a bit of disappointment. First, why defend “Europe”? Sure, there is the blackboard-style font which dropped out of favour in adverts ca 1955, urging as to “vote German”. There are also the oak leaves around the Roman numeral, but they are still in use by German authorities today. The silver-black thingy could be the muzzle of a gun or a surveillance camera or perhaps a modern take on the Volksempfänger radio. But all in all, the message is a bit too 21st century. So let’s move on.

third way EP 2019 campaign poster -national and socialist

What do you get when you add one part nationalism, one part socialism, and one part revolution?

This next first exhibit is much more exciting. We learn that the Third Way is both ‘national’ and ‘socialist’. So national-socialist. It does not get any clearer. And they are also ‘revolutionaries’ – all super obvious references to ‘leftist’ wing of the Nazi movement. Extra points for the hammer/sword combination, which represents the unity of workers and soldiers. It was used, inter alia, by left-leaning Nazis and the Hitler Jugend. Then, in the 1990s, it was adopted by the autonomous neo-Nazi groups (“freie Kameradschaften”) from which the Third Way emerged. Unlike other extreme right symbols, its use is also legal in Germany.

Next is this one:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - multiculturalism kills

Multi-culturalism makes for really bad design choices

So: multi-culturalism kills. How exactly? Presumably by diluting the pure blood of the in-group. Because apparently, it also leaves bloody hand-prints on freshly painted walls. A very similar poster by the NPD (“immigration kills”) was banned by the authorities for inciting hatred. Presumably, the Third Way got away (hah!) because they were overlooked.

Speaking of reasons for banning, there is this one:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - prison cell reserved for

“Traitors of the people” – heard that one before?

A picture of a prison cell that it reserved for “traitors of the people” – yet another term that was used by he Nazis to justify violence and murder. I was mildly shocked that they stopped at the German version of “lock her up” and refrained from depicting a gallows.

If you are equally shocked and also confused to who exactly the traitors might be, in a bid to clarify the situation they present a handy list of traitors that need to be stopped:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - stop the traitors of the people

Who is the enemy? Here is some clarification

The dots refer to the colours usually associated with German parties. And so the CDU/CSU are traitors b/c “asylum flood”, the SPD introduced the “Hartz IV” flexicurity legislation, the Greens are behind “gender madness”, and the Liberals want to unleash capitalism. So they want to put almost anybody in prison. Somewhat surprisingly, the Left and the AfD were not given any attention, perhaps because the colour-in thing became too confusing?

Two questions remain. First, how are these guys legal? The short answer is that banning a party is complicated and risky, and so for the time being, they are kept under observation and members will be prosecuted individually for stuff like breaking the peace. Second, where are your youthful neighbourhood anti-fascists when you need them? I have no answer to that.

May 202019
 

Our local party system may have collapsed, giving way too much room to the officers & gentlemen / wannabe parish priests. But just when I thought I had seen the worst, the regional CDU got it in their head to prove that even with the benefit of professionally designed templates and logos, things can go horribly, horribly wrong. Don your protective gear and have a cautious look at these spectacularly bad campaign posters:

May 152019
 

Local democracy is a good thing. It is also one of the good things that you can have too much of. After almost sixty years of territorial reforms, Rhineland-Palatinate, a state that harbours about 5% of Germany’s total population, is still home to about 2,500 of the nation’s ~11,000 municipalities.

There may be an EP election on May 26, but the real fight is over the various local offices that are up for grabs. We will not just choose the village mayor but also 24 members of the village council, 44 members of the town council, and 50 members of the district council, all by open-list PR. As a matter of course, there is also a directly elected town mayor and a directly elected head of the district, but they have longer terms (I think).

Think this is bonkers? You are right. And it gets better: while the mainstream parties (and some of the more fringe ones) dominate candidate recruitment in the cities, here in the suburbs we get unaffiliated lists.

Last week, yours truly reported on the retired general who stepped in as a caretaker mayor and now runs as an independent, because he wants to continue as our village mayor. His opponent is the local CDU’s ex-honcho who was also the former mayor’s (now disgraced) deputy. In the heated local political climate, that would have been the end of his career. And so he set up his own list.

Unaffiliated lists don’t benefit from professional templates for campaign material that party lists can rely on (although this can go horribly wrong, too). Also, all the good colours associated with politics are already taken.

And so our hero opted for local design talent and purple, the colour beloved by feminists, the artist formerly known as Prince, and (protestant) priests. The result is this.

On the left, behold the man blessing the vineyard, with a little help from his purple tie. In the middle, see his acolytes. The lady at the very centre of the composition is his loving wife, who believes so hard in his mission that she has donned a matching purple blouse. The merry folks are posing on a flight of stairs that leads down to the local protestant church. I rest my case.

Disclaimer

I have added the rays and the slogan. Everything else is (sadly) real.

May 062019
 

It’s that time again: EP and local elections are in conjunction, and politicians are wasting public space and money on election posters from hell.

In national campaigns, election posters are a remarkably inefficient way to burn through campaign funds. Their main function is to remind voters that their party still exist. Apart from that, they are unlikely to have relevant effects. And yet, parties spend time, money, and effort putting them up.

Why do parties use posters?

I think it is ritualistic. No-one dares to fight a campaign without them, lest they appear weak in the public space. They also provide a useful rallying point for the troops, like banners in a battle. Or so the story goes.

Many years ago, I was invited to the Netherlands to observe the campaign. One thing that struck me was that posters were of a modest size and confined to specific billboards where all the parties (and boy do the Dutch have a great number of parties) put them in neat rows so that the populace could ignore them collectively in a more focused manner.

In Germany, parties can either rent space on the large commercial billboards, or they may use public lampposts and signposts for smaller posters. For the latter, there is some regulation in place, but it must be pretty light-touch. More importantly, it is confined to the size of the posters and public safety. Unfortunately, matters of taste and intelligence go completely unregulated.

Election posters: local talent

Which brings us back to local politics. Here, election posters may serve a useful function. In most states, local elections are fought on some hideously complex and flexible variant of open-list PR. Especially in smaller municipalities, local lists that are unaffiliated with national parties and even independent candidates can be relevant actors.

Therefore, flyers and posters are still de rigeur, even if local politicians have recently discovered the internet and social media. Campaigns are personalised and literally run by amateurs. And more often than not, it shows.

Five years ago, there were some pretty horrible examples. The FDP’s “let’s illustrate random idioms” campaign provided a few of my all-time favourites. But this year’s crop is not bad either.

The general who would be mayor

The general who would be mayor

Local elections are the little league of politics

Exhibit A shows one of the two men who want to be village mayor. In 2018, their predecessor left under a massive cloud of (so far unproven) allegations, and both the local SPD and CDU, who had formed a coalition in the village council, basically collapsed. Into that void stepped Walter Jertz, a retired general, who stood uncontested as an independent and took over as a caretaker for the rest of the term.

The idea of a general in political office is generally scary. The idea of a general, whose last command before retirement was over some 30,000 soldiers in the Luftwaffe, becoming village mayor is odd. But Jertz seems to like the job. And so, at the tender age of 74, he is standing for a full term.

At one point in his career, he was spokesperson for the NATO forces in the Kosovo war. He has also written a book on military propaganda, published various articles on PR for the forces, and edited a handbook on security communication. So one must really wonder what has gotten into him lately.

This is awkward on many levels

First, there is the awkward “Jertz”/Herz rhyme: the name apparently qualifies the man to be a mayor with a heart. While this is reassuring from a Buffy-centric point of view (we most certainly don’t want a demon/vampire running the show), it is also straight from the advert-for-the-local-butcher-with-no-budget playbook.

Second, there is the “Pro-Oppenheim” pledge. In Germany, for the last twenty years or so, the “Pro-” suffix has been used exclusively by right-wing extremist parties and groups. PRO DM, Pro-Germany, Pro-Cologne, Pro-Chemnitz – you name it. It probably takes a somewhat nerdy complexion to spot this, so I assume this was not intentional but just unfortunate. Very much so.

And third, don’t use a cut-out. It is certainly eye-catching, yet for all the wrong reasons. This is not the 1980s. You are not Donald Trump. But if you think you absolutely have to, in this populist time and age, don’t ever hang a cut-out of a politician from a lamppost or tree, even if it is your own likeness. It looks bad enough as it is. And with a single determined twist, the friendly neighbourhood vandal can and will turn you into Mussolini. So: Please. Just. Don’t.

Apr 192019
 

Update April 19, 2019

The prosecutor for Berlin is investigating the AfD’s treasurer over support the party received from the association-for-whatnot (see #6 below). Printing and distributing newspapers that are essentially campaign material amounts to making a donation, the prosecutor thinks – a donation that the party failed to declare in two consecutive years. The services donated were worth a “low six-digit figure”.

Update April 16, 2019

The Bundestag’s central administration, which is charge of state funding for parties, has ordered the AfD to pay a fine of €402,900, i.e. three times the value of the services received by Meuthen (see point #3 below) and Reil (point #5). It is likely that the party will also be fined over the donations to Weidel. The AfD had set aside a million Euros to cover for fines.

What is the matter with Alternative for Germany’s finances?

Just in time for the upcoming European elections, new details on Alternative for Germany’s donation scandals emerge. Yes, scandals is in the plural, and the wailing sound in the background is the of “fake news!” from the party’s faithful. So what is the matter?

The AfD loves to talk about the “Altparteien” (the old parties, i.e. the establishment, the spent forces etc.). This is in itself a nice show of political mimicry: “Altparteien” is what the Greens used to call the trinity of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and Liberals, when they rose as a radical alternative to politics as usual in the 1990s.

Money and the AfD

Follow the money

In the 1980s and 1990s, the latter two parties executed bypassing rules on party financing to near-perfection. As a reaction to this, rules for transparency have been somewhat tightened, and more importantly, enforcement has become a bit stricter.

Now the “Alternative” has taken a whole bunch of leaves from the old parties’ playbook. For your edification and because I’m losing track, here is a list of the top-seven financial scandals in which the party is currently involved.

7 8 financial scandals in which Alternative for Germany is currently involved

  1. Alice Weidel, the co-leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag, is under investigation for receiving 150,000 Euros in 18 neat tranches from a company in Switzerland, which would be illegal under German law. Extraordinarily, the company claims that they merely provided a facade for illegal cash flows originating in Germany. As you do. Both Swiss and German authorities are on the case.
  2. Under a similar scheme, the AfD state party in North Rhine-Westphalia has received about 50,000 Euros from a dubious Dutch foundation. The party claims that they have returned the money later but failed to inform the authorities within the prescribed time-frame.
  3. There is another Swiss connection, involving co-leader and Spitzenkandidat for the EP election Jörg Meuthen. Back in 2016, “Goal”, a Swiss agency, has provided advertisements, flyers, design, and whatnot worth a cool 90,000 Euros. Meuthen claims that he only gave permission to use his likeness and was in no way part of the advertising campaign, which was paid for by 10 benefactors. In other words: no collusion.
  4. Last year, Meuthen finally presented a list of the alleged benefactors. This week, at least two of these have now come out claiming that they did not give any money but rather accepted a 1,000 Euro bribe for their name to appear on the official record.
  5. The AfD’s number two for the EP election, Guido Reil, also benefitted from services provided by “Goal” worth 50,000 Euros. The prosecution service has opened an investigation this week. Bummer.
  6. Then there is the long-running story of an obscure “association for the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties”, which has spent big time on advertising for the “Alternative” but claims to be independent of the party. If co-ordination between the organisation can be proven, the AfD would be fined heavily. It goes without saying that the association is also connected to “Goal”.
  7. Finally, it has emerged that Alexander Gauland is being investigated over his tax returns. While there is no Swiss connection and while this is primarily a private, not a party matter, it nicely caps of the list.
  8. Update: On March 28 2019, it emerged that Weidel seems to have received money from the same group of straw donors.

It is not easy running a law & order party. Especially the “law” part seems to be very tricky. Stay tuned.

Apr 182019
 

Weltweit steht die liberale Demokratie unter Druck. Die politische Extremismusforschung hat dadurch eine traurige Bedeutung erlangt. Die politikwissenschaftliche Einstellungsforschung leistet einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Extremismusforschung. Sie untersucht Attitüden, die offen antidemokratisch oder für demokratische Gemeinwesen zumindest problematisch sind.

Für das von Thorsten Faas, Oscar Gabriel und Jürgen Maier herausgegebene Handbuch zur Einstellungs- und Verhaltensforschung habe ich vor geraumer Zeit einen Überblicksartikel zu extremistischen und Einstellungen und verwandten Konzepten geschrieben. Wie bei solchen Großprojekten nicht unüblich, steht das Erscheinen des Buches seit knapp zwei Jahren unmittelbar bevor. Wer möchte, kann sich die Wartezeit mit dem Preprint verkürzen.

extremismus photo

Apr 142019
 

On the day of the umpteenth Not-So-Special Brexit Council, the stunning image of a super-massive black hole was revealed. In unrelated news, I live with two teenagers. So when idly trying to catch up on the less-than-stellar proceedings in Brussels, the headlines collided in my poor head. For posterity, here is some exclusive coverage of the incident.

A meme of Brexit as a black hole

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Mar 162019
 

Germany’s carnival is supposed to be funny and political. Usually it is neither. But sometimes, there is a glimpse.

Mocked at Mainz

This is a picture I took at the Rosenmontagszug in Mainz, a major parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of revellers. The front of the float shows a pretty realistic AfD election poster (I did not get my phone out in time to take a snap). This is the float’s backside. The sign reads “it’s difficult to conceal”.

Dissed at Düsseldorf

And here is another gem from Düsseldorf: AfD Hardliner Höcke as Göbbel’s baby.

Jan 252019
 

Last weekend, AfD leader Alexander Gauland gave a lecture at a “winter school” organised by the Institut für Staatspolitik (IfS). The IfS is a far-right think whose state aim it is to form the future elite of far-right leaders. If you think that leader of Germany’s biggest opposition party being part of such a thing is a big deal, you’re right. The story got little coverage in Germany and no coverage internationally, so I made a 90 second explainer video. If you like it, please share it.

Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the AfD, headlines a far-right "winter school"