Sep 232013
 
It’s been a bit of a nailbiter yesterday, and every single pundit in the country must be rubbing their bloodshot eyes. So it’s obviously not a brilliant idea to blog about it just now. But there seems to be a largish elephant in the room (not related to sleep deprivation) that nobody seems to have noticed so far.

A Historical Result

lonesome politician
FDP: Going Nowheremicagoto / Foter / CC BY-NC

Without doubt, this is a very exciting result that warrants a lot of superlatives or near-superlatives. Merkel’s Christian Democrats have bounced back from their second-worst result since 1949 to heights they have not seen since the highly unusual 1990 (re-unification) election. At 41.5 per cent, they came awfully close to an outright majority, something they have not achieved since 1957 (although then they had a much bigger share of the vote ).

The Social Democrats, on the other hand, have hardly recovered from their devastating 2009 result. 25.7 per cent is still the second-worst result since the war. But the combined vote share of the two major parties – often described as ‘former major parties’ by pundits – has gone up for the first time since 2002.

Both the Greens (at some stage projected to garner 15 per cent) and the Left have lost more than 20 per cent of their support compared to their 2009 results, and for the first time since 1990, the number of parties in parliament has gone down. And that is of course because the FDP has gone from 14.6 per cent (their best result ever) to 4.8 per cent (their worst result ever) and is not represented in parliament for the first time since 1949.

To put this in perspective, let me remind you that during the 64 years, the FDP was not holding government positions only from 1956 to 1961, from 1966 to 1969, and from 1998 to 2009. In other words, they were in government for roughly 70 per cent of the time, usually holding key positions (Foreign Affairs, Economy, Justice) and punching far above their electoral weight. For most German Politics aficionados, it will take some time to get used to the idea of them not having a national presence. Moreover, their result, combined with the relatively strong showing of the AfD means that the number of wasted votes must be near its all time high, with proportionality going out of the window.

But there is something else.

The Coalition Could Have Had a Viable Majority in Parliament

In the past, the FDP has survived (and some times thrived) on a diet of tactical considerations. Their loyal supporters are few and far between, but often, supporters of the CDU would give them with their list votes to bring about a centre-right majority. Most of the time, the CDU would not openly encourage this behaviour but would also refrain from discouraging it. Sometimes, the two parties even came up with joint position papers for future governments, signalling that they were not exactly a pre-electoral alliance but very much part of the same camp.

But this year (following the FDP’s defeat in Bavaria only a week before the General election), the CDU sent out a clear, high-profile “everyone for themselves” message to their voters. I can see three reasons for that. First, recent electoral reforms designed to make the system more proportional mean that the CDU would not benefit from a by-product of tactical CDU/FDP voting, the so-called ‘surplus seats’. Second, the ‘loan vote’ strategy has recently backfired in Lower Saxony, leaving a weakened CDU on the opposition benches. Third, the CDU may well have anticipated a Grand Coalition after Bavaria, and in that case, bolstering the FDP would not have made sense.

But this was probably a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though it looked very close yesterday night, Merkel did not win an outright majority. Christian Democrats and FDP together, on the other hand, are stronger than the three left parties combined: 46.3 vs 42.7 per cent. That would have been enough for Merkel to continue the centre-right coalition (her preference), with the added benefit of having a much more docile, dependent partner.

Negotiating a coalition with the Social Democrats will be tough. The party is licking its wounds and is highly reluctant to enter such an arrangement after the 2009 disaster that followed their last co-operation with the Christian Democrats. A CDU/Green coalition, while arithmetically feasible, seems highly unlikely at the moment, so the SPD will try to extract a large premium from the Christian Democrats for going into government with them. In the end, coalition talks could fail, and Germany could go to the polls again.

Without doubt, this result is a great triumph for Merkel. But I think the CDU leadership may have outwitted themselves, and the stern, slightly grumpy expression Merkel wore as she left the celebrations seems to confirm it.

Sep 132013
 

Beyond Peer’s Finger

Ready for another instalment of our series on odd campaign posters? Peer Steinbrück’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.

Endorsement by Photoshop? 1

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.

jm.jpg

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.

Sep 012013
 

The Polls

majorparties-week-35

Support for the Major German Parties, Estimates and Predictions (Week 35, 2013)

Exactly three weeks before the 18th Bundestag election, it’s time for another look at the polls. This weekend brings six new entries: One late result from week 33 that was only published a week ago, three polls from week 34, and two that were conducted this week, with fieldwork done from Monday/Tuesday to Wednesday. For all purposes and intents, that means that any possible fallout from the Western (non-)intervention in Syria will not be reflected in the polls.

Raw Figures, Estimates and Predictions

As always, there is a good deal of variation in the published figures. The range for Merkel’s Christian Democratcs, for example, is 41 to 46 per cent. But for what it is worth, the model is ever more confident about the outcome of the election: The estimated probability of victory for the governing coalition is now 85 per cent (up from 78 per cent) even if one ignores tactical voting by CDU supporters. If this “loan vote” is factored in, the probability of a coalition victory is 94 per cent (up from 90). Unsurprisingly, the probability of a Red-Green majority is still estimated as zero.

minorparties-week-33

Support for the Minor German Parties, Estimates and Predictions (Week 35, 2013)

The  one remarkable change is the modest slump in support for the Greens, which have lost about two points over the last four weeks and are now well below their peak support of about 15 per cent in March. The slow upward trend of the Liberals is unbroken, and the Left is safely above the electoral threshold. Support for the two major parties is perfectly stable.

Since my interest here is (mostly) academic, I also began comparing past predictions (from week 33) with current estimates. The differences are small, but there is one interesting exception: Support for the Greens is now estimated to be 0.8 points lower than it should have been, given the information that was available two weeks ago. So it would seem that their support is indeed suffering from some random shock.

The Outlook

Today is the day of the televised debate between Steinbrück and Merkel (in Germany, known as “the Duel”). While we are professionally obliged to watch it, I don’t think that it will make much of a difference. Both candidates are extremely well known knowns. I also don’t think that Syria will matter for this campaign.

Have I just shot myself in the foot? Probably. Come back next week for the latest batch of surveys.

Aug 242013
 

The State of Play, Four Weeks Before the Election

Last week’s post on Merkel’s very good chances to win a third term created a bit of a stir. This week, I’m back with nine new polls (conducted between August 6 and August 19 by six different companies), which all point into the same direction.

What the Pollster Saw

On average, polls are in the field for five days (with a standard deviation of three days), so I continue to anchor each poll to a specific week in the calendar. Along with the raw data, the graphs show estimates for the true support for each party over 32 weeks, starting from Monday, the 31st of December. Eight of the new polls cover week 31 and week 32, while one is a late addition to estimate for week 30.

majorparties-week-33

Estimated/predicted Support for Major German Parties (2013 election). Click for Larger Image.

 

Support for Merkel’s Christian Democrats is between 39 and 47 per cent. The model, which accounts for previous levels of party support and variation across pollsters, puts them at 41 per cent. Findings for the major opposition party, the Social Democrats, are less variable at 22 to 25 per cent. The model places them at the upper limit of these current polls.

Results for the Greens are even more unanimous (12-13.5 per cent). The model agrees, confirming that their support has come down a tick or two over the last weeks.

The same cannot be said for the Left, which is almost static at seven per cent (polls: 6-8.1). That is well below their 2009 result, but also well above the electoral threshold of five per cent.

Finally, for the Liberals, Merkel’s coalition partner, things have improved ever so slightly. While the polls vary from three to seven per cent, the Liberals’ true level of support is currently estimated at 5.2 per cent. More importantly, after months of continuous near-death experiences, there seems to be an upward trend.

minorparties-week-33

Estimated/predicted Support for Smaller German Parties (2013 election). Click for Larger Image.

 

What Does That Mean for September 22 and Beyond?

This is my first shot at pooling the pre-election polls, so all predictions should be taken with a very generous pinch of salt. The model is possibly misspecified and rests on an number of questionable assumptions. The most obviously problematic amongst these is that polls are, on average, unbiased over the whole January-September timeframe. But hey, this is a blog, so let’s ignore this (and all other) problems for a second and believe that the trend-lines and credible intervals for the next four weeks are indeed credible.

Once we make this leap of faith, the probability of a return to a Red-Green coalition is approximately zero. Amongst 10000 simulations of week 38/39 (the election is on a Sunday), there is not a single one that gives a parliamentary majority to this prospective coalition.

The FDP, on the other hand, makes it past the electoral threshold in 83 per cent of my simulations, and in 78 per cent, there is a parliamentary majority for the present coalition. The true probability will be higher, as some CDU supporters will vote strategically for the FDP to help them across the threshold. If we assume that this behaviour is virtually guaranteed to succeed (it would be enough if about one in 40 CDU would cast a “loan vote”), the probability of a majority for the present coalition goes up to 90 per cent.

Put differently, the probability of a Red-Red-Green coalition (SPD, Left, Greens) is between 22 per cent (no loan votes for FDP) and 10 per cent (loan vote strategy works perfectly). But even if there was a majority for the three opposition parties, a coalition (or rather a toleration arrangement with the Left) would be highly unlikely (say p=0.1), making a Grand Coalition led by the CDU the default option. That again means that the probability of any government not being headed by the present chancellor is between one and two per cent (down from four per cent last week).

What About the Smaller Parties (AfD, Pirates, etc.)

For several months, most pollsters did not publish separate results for smaller parties such as the eurosceptic AfD or the internet-centric Pirates. Some have resumed giving itemized counts for “other” parties, and it currently seems safe to assume that neither will enter parliament. If they did, the Pirates would probably take away votes from the left parties, whereas the AfD would most likely weaken the two major parties. In either case, a Grand Coalition would become more likely.

What Everyone Else Thinks

The July issue of PS has two short pieces on forecasting models for the September election. Both pick Merkel as winner. So do Bundewahltrend (average over the six most recent polls), pollytix (weighted average of 15 most recent polls), and wahlistik (a poll aggregator run for the Zeit weekly). Las weekend, politicians in both major parties began floating the idea of a Grand Coalition, but given the latest polls, four more years of centre-right government seems to be the most likely option by far.

Stay Tuned

This post comes with lots of health warnings attached. In the past, forecasts have failed, faces have turned red, majorities have collapsed well before election day. I’ll be back once I have collected the next batch of polls.

Aug 162013
 

The Polls Are Noisy

Just over five weeks before the Bundestag election, there is much merriment about the current state of play. Support for the Liberals has been consistently below the electoral threshold of  five per cent for months, which implies that Merkel’s coalition would not be able to continue after September. Consequently, everyone is very excited about a more recent series of polls, which put the party at exactly five per cent. But even with n=2000, an exact confidence interval would range from 4 to 6 per cent. Add multistage sampling, house effects, and the fact that people do not necessarily know how they will vote in September, and you end up with a lot of noise.

Support for Major German Parties (2013)

Support for the Two Major German Parties in 2013

How much noise exactly? The good folks at wahlrecht.de publish marginal distributions for six major companies that regularly conduct random polls. I wrote a little program to collects everything published since January (the exact election date was officially determined on February 8 but was negotiated between the parties in January). Here are the results (click to enlarge).

Most polls are in the field for two to seven days, so I anchored them at their midpoints. My current data set spans 31 weeks, with just under 4 polls conducted each week.

Polling the German Election Polls

It’s obvious that there is a lot of variation in these 120 data points, making claims that this party has declined while another one surges rather dubious (though they still make excellent headlines). Poll aggregation is one possible and increasingly way out of this conundrum, so I decided to get my hands dirty, install (r)jags and bite the Bayesian bullet (something I have meant to do for years).

Support for Smaller German Parties in 2013

Support for three of the Smaller German Parties (2013)

My model is rather simplistic (I’ll post the code once it has stabilised). I assume that reported voting intentions are distributed multinomial, and that they depend on a) latent party support and b) house effects. I further make the rather heroic assumption that house effects are random with a mean of zero. Latent party support, on the other hand, follows a random walk, possibly with a drift: This week’s support is last week’s support plus some random change due to political events, plus some constant that accounts for steady up- or downward trends.

The Bayesian framework seems particularly appropriate here as it is technically and conceptually easy to come up with predictions for September 22, but I refrain from incorporating any prior beliefs and put vague distributions on all parameters. As far as I can tell (and that does not mean a lot), the model seems to converge without problems.

Estimated Support for Major German Parties 2013

Estimated and Predicted Support for Major German Parties (2013)

Somewhat surprisingly,the 95 per cent credibility interval (the shaded area around the trend line) is rather narrow for both the CDU and the SPD, implying that we can learn a lot from pooling many noisy polls. Support for Merkel’s Christian democrats was largely stable over the last seven months at about 42 per cent. This would make them the strongest party by far, although they are far away from the lofty 50 per cent they reached in some polls in April and June. According to the model, support for the Socialdemocrats is similarly stable, though at a much lower level of 26 per cent.

The predictions (to the right of the vertical line that marks the beginning of the last week included in the model) are less precise than the estimates, and become more vague as they extend towards election day, but it seems almost certain that the CDU will be the strongest party in the new parliament by a fair margin.

Predicted Support for Smaller German Parties

Estimated and Predicted Support for Smaller Parties in Germany (2013)

The model is also very confident about levels of support for the smaller parties. Green support peaked in March, but current and predicted levels are still above 12 per cent, which would be an improvement on the 2009 result. But since the SPD is so weak, the probability of a “Red-Green” majority in the next Bundestag is estimated to be (much) less than one per cent.

Support for the Left is estimated at about seven per cent, well above the threshold (the dashed line), but also well below their very strong result in 2009.

Finally, the FDP has shown an upward trend over the last 10 weeks or so and is projected to cross the threshold just in time for the election. The model estimates the probability of the FDP returning to parliament at 67 per cent.

Predicting the Inevitable

In reality, a sufficient number of potentially CDU voters might support the FDP for tactical reasons, pushing up that number towards certainty. But the coalition could come to an end even if that manoeuvre succeeds: The odds that the coalition garners more votes than the three left parties together are only slightly better than even at 58 per cent.

A “Red-Red-Green” coalition (or rather a Red-Green government tolerated by the Left), however, seems politically infeasible, suggesting a return to a Great Coalition lead by Angela M. with a subjective probability of at least 90 per cent.

If (if!) I take these estimates seriously for just one moment, that means that probability of Ms Merkel retaining her office is roughly 96 per cent. Let’s see how the next batch of polls plays havoc with this figure, shall we?

Feb 092013
 
In case you hadn’t noticed, we are truly living in a world of 24/7 news, although days are a bit shorter over here in Germany, and we tend to shut the country down for the weekend (the unions, you know). Nonetheless, the Chancellor (just returned from Brussels) and the minister (just returned from South Africa) appeared in front of the press on this very Saturday afternoon to announce that the minister is resigning over allegations of plagiarism in her PhD thesis. The chancellor even presented a successor, Johanna Wanka (anglophones, no snickering please), who will take over next week.

Schavan is already the second minister that Merkel lost over scientific conduct, the first being former Defence Minister zu Guttenberg. But the differences with the zu Guttenberg case are instructive. Zu Guttenberg had risen to prominence within a very short time. He was ambitious, allegedly charismatic and very good at promoting himself.

More to the point, he needed a special permit to be accepted as a PhD student because of his low GPA, and his “thesis” was nothing but a collage of material that was in parts presumably taken straight off the internet. Unquoted sources included newspaper articles and legal opinions compiled by the Bundestag’s scientific services at zu Guttenberg’s request. GuttenbergPlag, a collaborative website dedicated to the former minister’s thesis, documented instances of plagiarism on more than 90% of its pages. He was even prosecuted (though not formally charged and sentenced, because he agreed to pay a hefty fine) for copyright infringement. Did I mention that zu Guttenberg’s family donated large sums of money to his alma mater?

Schavan’s thesis, on the other hand, seems to lack synthesis and originality, but from what you can see on schavanplag, her offences are clearly less outrageous than zu Guttenberg’s. Combine that with the fact that she did her political job quietly and mostly competently for many years, and with the fact that she wrote this thesis back in the 1970s, and you see why even many in the opposition feel sorry for her.

And yet there was no doubt that she had to go for reasons of representation and (lack of) trust: You don’t necessarily need a scientist as minister for science and education, but you cannot have person in that job who has been stripped of her academic merits by the system, even if that ruling might be out of proportion and could still be overturned by a court. Her intention to sue Düsseldorf U left German academia divided against itself during this week.  Schavan  said something to that effect  in her brief resignation statement, and I must applaud her for that.

More specifically,  it would have been more than awkward had the minister been forced to explain to university grandees that she had to withdraw  federal funds from this or that institution because it does not meet the highest scientific standards. Stepping down at the earliest occasion is a rare display of political judgement.

Much has been written about the political fallout for Merkel, who faces a difficult General Election (are there any others?) in seven months time, but I don’t think this whole affair will have much of an impact. Schavan may be a close friend and personal ally of the Chancellor, but the matter was quickly resolved. More depressingly, science and education are niche interests in Germany, and Schavan’s name recognition outside academia was low before the affair broke. Much the same will be true for her successor (again, please don’t snicker).

 

Jun 212012
 
Yesterday, the BBC’s man in Berlin discovered that there are constitutional limits to Merkel’s ability to somehow save the Euro. Following a constitutional amendment in the 1990s, article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that any further transfers of sovereignty to the EU require absolute two-thirds majorities in both the Bundestag and the Federal Council (which represents the Länder). That is a tough call. Her Majesty’s government may talk about red lines, Germany has them.

Just yesterday, the Federal Constitutional Court strengthened the role of parliament in a ruling on the decision through which the temporary bailout fund EFSF had been implemented last year. While this does not affect the EFSF’s status, it further increased the pressure on the government to liaise with parliament, the states, and the opposition parties.

Today, it briefly looked like the saga of saving the Euro could go ahead as far as Germany is concerned: Merkel’s coalition, the Social Democrats and the Greens declared that they had reached an agreement on the fiscal pact and the permanent ESF. That seemed to leave only the issue of securing a super-majority in the Federal Council, a formidable task in itself as the Länder are concerned about further restrictions on their already very limited spending powers.

Then, things got messy: the Left and a dissident MP declared that they would challenge the two treaties in the Federal Constitutional Court. The court in turn asked the Federal President not to sign the ratification bills into law for the time being so that they would have enough time to deliberate (once the treaties are ratified, a ruling by the FCC would be quite pointless). While this is not totally uncommon, the court held a press conference to make the public aware of the issue. It does not get much more uncommon in Germany. The president, who allegedly had been lobbied by the government to ratify the treaties before July was then forced to publicly declare that he would heed that request.

Like the content and the context of the bailout packages, all this is very unusual. Today’s events do not yet a constitute a constitutional crisis. But they do provide even more evidence  that we are living in very interesting times.

Germany and the European Crisis: Confusion and Delay 2
Jun 162012
 
Globalisation is a wonderful thing. I just had a full Brazilian. Interview, that is. A journalist for Exeme sent me a mail with a couple of questions, I sent back my answers a few hours later and lo, thanks to broken English and the internet, the job is done, time difference and the Atlantic not withstanding. So here is my rather nuanced view:

All over the world, the views about the Euro crisis are seemingly becoming more apocalyptic. Analysts say it is “five minutes to 12”; that Europe has only 3 months left to act. In Germany, the clocks seem to run in a different timing when taking measures to tackle the crisis is concerned. How come?

Even 3 months might be an optimistic assessment, but actually nobody seems to know just how to put an end to this crisis. Over the last year or so, the German government has time and again agreed to (and sometimes proposed) measures that it considered unthinkable only months and weeks ago. Many times, Greece/the Euro/Europe were “saved”, only to find themselves in mortal danger the next week, so the public is growing tired. Yet, I think if the government had a clear strategy for solving the problem, it would act decisively.

The pressures for Germany to act (specially for Merkel) are growing by the day. Do the expectations this time have a different nature?

For a long time, observers in Germany and abroad were focused on yet more guarantees or loans. Only now citizens and politicians begin to realise that there is a political problem at the core of this crisis (i.e. a lack of integrated fiscal and redistributive policies in the Eurozone), but there is obviously no quick fix for this problem.

To which extension Merkel’s position reflects her own personality?

Merkel’s approach to policy making is pragmatic and incremental. She tends to act only if she has a clear understanding of the problem and if she is sure that she has enough political support.

Are there internal political reasons for Merkel not to act like other countries expect her to?

You bet. Merkel heads a coalition of three parties that disagree on many domestic issues. At the moment, it seems not likely that the coalition will win another term in the 2013 election.
Saving Europe only adds to these woes. While her own CDU is staunchly pro-European, many of her MPs consider Germany’s responsibilities under the current bailout packages more than a little daunting. The CDU’s Christian-Democratic sister party CSU is a regional party whose main purpose is to protect Bavaria’s interest in Germany. They have a fair number of closet eurosceptics in their ranks. Finally, the liberal FDP has been teetering on the brink of self-destruction and electoral implosion for years now. They have faced a minor backbenchers’ rebellion over the bailout, and their leadership does not seem to believe that Greece can stay in the Eurozone.
As far as the public is concerned, saving the Euro is not exactly a vote-getter. Germans were very reluctant to join the Euro in the first place. In real terms, their wages have stagnated over the last decade, and they have reluctantly accepted massive cuts in welfare programs. Over the last 22 years, the West-German majority has transferred a net sum of about one trillion Euros in East-Germany, and yet the Eastern states are lagging behind economically.
A vast majority of the public is convinced that Greece cannot be kept within the Eurozone, and many believe that Greece is some sort of European welfare scrounger.  The government has framed all previous bailouts as exceptional emergency measures and has made no attempts to prepare the public for any fundamental changes to the EU’s treaty base.

Which political groups play an important role as on views to tackle the crisis in Europe? Does the struggle between Merkel and SPD to ratify the fiscal pact represent something unusual for the political scene in Germany? Where do their positions are different, fundamentally?

The SPD’s support for the fiscal pact is a constitutional and political necessity. Regarding European affairs, there is normally a very broad consensus amongst the major German parties. The SPD backs the consolidation measures in principle but wants to ease the burden for the southern economies somewhat. They also believe that the EU should launch a stimulus program, and that the banks should contribute to the reconstruction of the Eurozone through a transaction tax. I’m sure that the SPD and the coalition will come to an agreement eventually.

Germany's and Merkel's role in the euro-crisis 3
Apr 202012
 
It’s silly season all over again: On the eve of this year’s ‘German Islam Conference’, Volker Kauder, head of  the Christian Democrats in parliament and one of Merkel’s key alleys,  declared that ‘Islam is not part of our tradition and identity in Germany and so does not belong in Germany.’ As an aside, he added that Muslims do belong to Germany and enjoy their full rights as citizens. Phew! His original statement is here, and here is a translation of Kauder’s remarks.

The ‘German Islam Conference’ is a series of consultations between representatives of the federal government, regional governments and local councils on the one hand, and members of various Muslim organisations on the other. It was initiated in 2006 by Wolfgang Schäubele, then responsible for Home Affairs. While the conference has been called anything from a paper tiger to a farce, it is a high-profile affair, a symbol of Germany coming to terms with the realities of migration from Turkey and the Maghreb after a mere 50 years.

The timing of Kauder’s remarks is no coincidence, obviously. One year ago, Schäubele’s successor Friedrich made a very similar statement just before the conference. Apparently, the right wing of the Christian Democrats feels the urge to ascertain its position. After all, the CD parties have become a remarkably broad church, what with a divorced woman leading the party, a pension and works minister who supports gender quotas and introduced a large scale program to support state-run nurseries and a (now disgraced) president whose single political program was the integration of Muslim migrants into the larger German society.

There is much to be said about Kauder’s remarks, and most has been said already over the last 48 hours. Like Friedrich a  year ago, Kauder claims that he did not want to offend anyone and was only talking about historical realities, but he is clever enough to realise that there is a difference between an academic debate and a political argument. Even as a historical statement, his claim is dubious at best as a sizable Muslim population has been around for decades, the Christian churches are in decline and notions of identity are contested. And by the way, religious freedom is a universal human right that is not limited to those Muslims who hold German passports (half the Muslims in Germany do not as a result of the still rather restrictive laws on citizenship).

The real blunder is party political, however. As a secular and occasionally radical  republican, I may happily support the  idea of separating human beings from their cultural-religious identities. But for Christian Democrats, this is denouncing their own political business model. Moreover, the Christian Democrats have fared fairly well with their broad church approach. While their support is a far cry from the 40+ per cent they could rely on  in the 1970s and 1980s, they have been the strongest political party at the national level for the last five years.

Instead of alienating them, it would seem much wiser to embrace the migrant communities, whose religious and family values chime with the CDU/CSU’s conservatism. On the other hand, upsetting two million voters (and two more million Muslims who might be naturalised eventually) does not sound like a bright idea to me.