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.

Mar 282017
 

Over at Diário de Notícias, Jose Fialho Gouveia has published another article on Germany, Schulz, and all that jazz, once more with a couple of my cents added. By the way, don’t you just love the imagery of beer jug hefting German politicians?

If you’re interested, here is the English transcript of our chat.

“We are six months away from the elections in Germany. Can Schulz really win?”

At the moment, the SPD and the CDU/CSU block are neck-on-neck. But six months away from the election, many voters are undecided or may change their mind further down the road. Historically, the SPD has only twice surpassed the Christian Democrats (in 1972 and 1998). So it is possible that SPD gets more votes than the CDU/CSU combined, but I would not bet on it. At the end of the day, the more relevant question is who will be able to form a winning coalition in parliament.

“Could it be possible a great coalition between the SPD and the CDU with the SPD as the bigger party”

If the SPD actually gets more votes than the Christian Democrats, that is entirely possible.

“The economy is doing fine, the SPD is pro-EU and also pro-refuges, so how can Schulz attack Merkel?”

In a sense, Schulz is attacking the previous (post 2002) reform policies of his own party. He also tries to benefit from the fact that Merkel has been in office for a long time, and that some voters are tired of her (not so much of her policies).

“Which one o you think will be the main issues during the campaign?”

Schulz and the SPD are focusing heavily on “justice”, in particular “social justice”. He is also attacking right-wing populism. Whether this will be enough to propel them through a six-month-long campaign is a different question.

May 242014
 

Those old enough to remember that Bill Murray had a career before Lost in Translation (or to remember Bill Murray) will instantly recognise this scene: Punxsutawney Phil is predicting six more electoral cycles of political misery for Germany’s Liberal Democrats. Granted that the animal is a bit on the small side, but first, This is not America, and second, the choice of rodent is rather apt: Aren’t we all guinea pigs when it comes to policy making?

Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more cycles of electoral Misery

Punxsutawney Phil predicting six more cycles of electoral Misery

The hopeful candidate molesting the furry bugger promises  that he will listen, not ignore (whom?). He might change his mind once the beast sinks its front teeth into that yummy finger.

May 222014
 

The Pirates are running a rather cheap electoral campaign: No faces (models or not) but only drawings in their trademark orange/blue tones. Their stinginess even extends to the meaning of their slogans. I was a bit thrown off by “Borders are so 80”, then discovered the small “er”, so borders are so 1980s, apparently. Well, yes, I get the implication for Europe. But why is there a “Herzschlag” (heartbeat? or heart attack???) between fear and courage, and why would that make me vote for the Pirates? I have a feeling that Literal Campaign Video Clips might become a thing very soon.

Pirates Posters: Say what?

Pirates Posters: Say what?

 

May 212014
 

The local Liberal Democrats never fail to amaze me. Just when I thought it could not get any better, I found another gem for my ever growing collection.

Local Campaigns: The Hour of Amateurs

Local Campaigns: The Hour of Amateurs

“Höhenflug” is the act of (figuratively) ascending to some higher plane (not an imminent danger here) but losing touch in the process. “Bodenhaftung” is literally grip (get one, please!) or traction, so best illustrated by sitting on a tractor. What better way to show that you are down to earth (pun intended) and in no way out of touch than riding this nifty little machine in your best dark suit, as any local farmer would? Bonus points for gratuitous use of “frischer Wind” (a breath of fresh air), quite possibly the most overused phrase in German politics and code for not being incumbent.

May 172014
 

There may be a European election on, but around here, the big one is the local elections. In the plural: On my last count, I will have to vote for town mayor, town council, municipal mayor, municipal council, district council and perhaps even leader of the district council, though I’m not 100 per cent sure re the last one.

Important as they may be, local elections are the domain of the amateurs, as the old saying goes amongst German Political Scientist.1 To make things slightly worse, councillors are elected under an open list system (with not threshold), so there are some incentives to cultivate a personal vote, and quite some margin for error. So far, I have spotted few real howlers but then the Liberal Democrats (FDP), wiped out in the last Bundestag election and poised to do badly in the EP2014, decided to go for this year’s Bad Pun Award.

Another Campaign Poster from Hell

Another Campaign Poster from Hell

So the guy on the poster is literally fishing (or at least holding a rod while wearing a suit) in clear water (im Klaren, which, if you push it, could be read as a pun-within-the-pun on alcohol), as opposed to fishing in murky waters (im Trüben fishen). The latter used to mean “cheating” but has also acquired connotations of being lost. Say what?

But there is more. The candidate is also “ortsnah” (local, in a technical sense that never, ever applies to persons), as opposed to “weltfremd” (unworldly, stuck inside an ivory tower). One might argue that, on some level loosely attached to logic “ortsnah” and “weltfremd” are not exactly opposites but rather awkwardly related concepts. But quite possibly someone sensed a tension between “ort” (the local place) and “welt” (world) and decided that nothing says “local guy” quite like a misguided rhetorical flourish. With PR guys like this, who needs political enemies?

Footnotes:

1

I’ve made that one up.

Aug 302013
 
fdp-punctuation

The Liberals Hired an Agency Famous For Their Ability To Split Waffle With Gratuitous Interpunctuation Marks

Responsibility. Performance. Freedom. Pointless. Full. Stops.

It is still silly campaign season in Germany, and the new exhibits just keep coming. Here is another one brought to you by the Party Formerly Known As The Guys Who Almost Stood Up Against The Bloody Spelling Reform Back In The 1990s.

Incidentally, the party also upset a lot of German teachers back in 1968 when they began styling their logo as F.D.P. (a violation of clause 102, subsection 2 of the German spelling code). They shed the dots back in 2001, when a youngish Guido Westerwelle took over and transformed the party. So possibly, just possibly, Regained. Full. Stops. Between. Buzzwords. Are. The. Message.