German politics

  • What would Willy do?

    The cases for and against a new grand coalition in Germany

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    ON SUNDAY Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) gather in Bonn, by the River Rhine, to decide whether to proceed to formal negotiations with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Christian Social Union (CSU) allies. The choice will be made around mid-afternoon by 600 delegates comprising groups representing each of the 16 federal states according to population (the largest, North Rhine-Westphalia, sends 144).

    It happens that the venue of the conference, in a southern suburb of the old West German capital, is within walking distance of Bad Godesberg. It was here, in 1959, that the SPD abandoned its old Marxist theories and embraced reform capitalism.

  • The red and the black

    Germany moves one step closer to a new government

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    ANYONE hoping exploratory coalition talks between Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance partners and the Social Democrats (SPD) would produce an ambitious governing project was always likely to be disappointed. In the election on September 24th all three obtained their worst result since 1949. The preceding “grand coalition” had been virtually on autopilot before the election anyway and the SPD was desperate to return to opposition. It was only forced back to the negotiating table by the collapse in November of talks between the CDU/CSU, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens.

  • GroKo, fo sho?

    Don’t count on the success of Germany’s new coalition talks

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    “I BELIEVE the talks can succeed...I go into these talks with optimism”, Angela Merkel said yesterday as she arrived at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to begin exploratory discussions on a new “grand coalition” (GroKo) of the centre-right and centre-left. Not everyone in Berlin is so sure. Insiders in both parties are almost uniformly cautious, putting the chances of success at around 50% and warning that wrenching the two parties close enough together to form a government will test the manoeuvrability and persuasion skills of their (rather weak) leaders to their limits.

  • USE value

    Why did Martin Schulz call for a United States of Europe?

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    MARTIN SCHULZ baffled many, particularly outside Germany, with his call yesterday for a United States of Europe by 2025. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader was addressing his party’s conference from a position of weakness, following its worst election result (20.5%) in post-war history and ahead of a crucial vote of delegates on whether or not to talk to the centre-right CDU/CSU alliance about another grand coalition. Why this, now? What was he up to?

    It helps to revisit a scene from his doomed election campaign, documented by Markus Feldenkirchen of Der Spiegel. It was June.

  • Go for GroKo?

    A new “grand coalition” in Germany is no longer unthinkable

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    WHEN the pro-business Free Democrats walked out of coalition talks with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance and the Green Party on Sunday night, myriad certainties about Germany’s politics and its next government seemed to dissolve.

    One thing remained concrete, however: bruised by a record-low election result on September 24th, the Social Democrats (SPD) would be unavailable for another four years of “grand coalition” with the chancellor. Martin Schulz, its leader and chancellor candidate, had ruled it out shortly after polls closed and reiterated his opposition on Sunday afternoon. On Monday, in the aftermath of the talks’ collapse, he called for fresh elections.

  • Keine Panik

    Reports of the death of German stability are greatly exaggerated

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    DOES anything illustrate Germany’s opacity to Anglo-Saxons like the hysterical Anglophone coverage of the country’s political impasse? By the placid standards of German politics, the pro-business Free Democrats’ (FDP) unexpected withdrawal from coalition talks with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the environmentalist Greens on Sunday night is a substantial ruckus. Yet it really—really—is not Germany’s “biggest political crisis since 1945”. It is not “bigger even than the UK’s ongoing crisis”. Britons need not “take a look at Germany […] to see real political chaos”. The country is not at risk of retreating into a “nationalistic crouch”.

  • Jamaica farewell

    Germany’s preliminary coalition talks collapse

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    AS COALITION talks in Berlin dragged on through Sunday evening there were rumours of progress, of a nearing accord. After four weeks Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats CDU, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens had sailed past two self-imposed deadlines. Now, perhaps, a deal was close. But not long before midnight everything changed. With the rest of the FDP leadership at his side, Christian Lindner appeared without warning outside the negotiation venue and announced that he was breaking off talks. 

  • The road to Jamaica

    Germany’s coalition talks begin

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    YESTERDAY began the first ever four-party negotiation for a new federal German government. Representatives of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the environmentalist Greens met in Berlin to discuss a new “Jamaica” coalition (so called as the parties’ colours match those of the Jamaican flag). Germany’s election on September 24th made it just one of two possible coalitions capable of commanding a majority. The other would be a renewed “grand coalition” with the centre-left Social Democrats.

  • The parable of Lower Saxony

    How to keep populists small and marginal

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    OBSERVERS of European politics hold these truths to be self-evident. Social democracy is in inexorable decline. Angela Merkel is immune to defeat. Globalisation is in tension with mainstream politics. The rise of populism is a cultural phenomenon more than it is an economic one.

    It was not the most prominent election today—that trophy goes to Austria—but the election in Lower Saxony, the northwestern corner of Germany with a population of 8m, defied every one of them.

    When the election was called in August the script seemed already-written. The vote had been triggered by the defection of a Green MP to Mrs Merkel’s CDU, bringing down the Social Democratic (SPD)-Green government.

  • A young man’s progress

    Austria heads for a new, conservative-nationalist government

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    HE LEFT university six years ago. He became Austria’s foreign minister four years ago. Now Sebastian Kurz is on the verge of becoming the country’s chancellor, and at 31 the youngest leader of government in the world. Following today’s general election in the Alpine republic his centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) is on 31.7% in the latest projections, up 7.7 points. The Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which currently leads a “grand coalition” of the two parties, is flat on 26.9% and the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is up 5.5 points to 26.0%.

  • A new turning point

    To understand Germany today, compare it with 1968

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    IN GERMANY, as in France, America and elsewhere, 1968 is as much a shorthand as a reality. Yes, there were the crowd scenes: the sit-ins at the Free University in West Berlin and the mass protests in Bonn; the shooting of Rudi Dutschke, a student leader, and the first terror attacks of what would become the Baader-Meinhof gang. But there was also the wider, deeper social evolution associated with “1968”: a younger generation’s confrontation of its parents’ Nazi past, the emergence of a more relaxed society, the loosening of civic life from traditional institutions, the birth of the modern environmentalist, anti-racism and personal liberation movements. 

  • Germany from different angles

    Pessimism and optimism on Germany after its election

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    WONDERING what to make of the German election? Really, it is simple. You just need to decide if you are a pessimist or an optimist.

    Germany for pessimists

    The far-right Alternative for Germany, a party with real neo-Nazis in it, is on track for 93 seats. It might even come first in the state of Saxony, where its lead candidate is a man who rails against "mixed peoples" and Germany’s "cult of guilt" about the Holocaust. In the Bundestag the party will enjoy resources and prominence: hundreds of staff members, allocated speaking time under the glass dome of the Reichstag building and seats on prime-time political talk shows from where it can spread its messages and thus advance further.

  • The first results

    Germany’s exit polls point to big losses for the two main parties

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    AT THE headquarters of the free-market Free Democrat (FDP) party in Berlin the crowd gasped as the first exit poll results were read out at 18:00 this evening: Angela Merkel's alliance of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Bavarian CSU was on 32.5%, substantially lower than any recent poll had suggested it would be. Then, a few seconds later, came a gargantuan cheer. The FDP, which dropped out of the Bundestag on 4.8% of the vote in 2013, was projected to return with a solid 9%. “If you keep cheering after every sentence this will be a long night!”, a visibly delighted Christian Lindner (the FDP leader) told the crowd.

    That seems to sum up the story of the night.

  • Merkel goes fourth

    What to watch in Germany’s election

    by J.C. | BERLIN

    GERMANS are voting today in their country's federal election. They get two votes. With one they pick an MP for their constituency (of which there are 299). With the other they vote for a regional list from which 299 top-up MPs are drawn to make up the 598-seat Bundestag. As each constituency MP is guaranteed a place further “overhang” seats are sometimes awarded to make the overall parliament proportional. The rise of smaller parties—which win many votes but few constituencies—mean the next Bundestag could be the largest yet, possibly growing from its current size of 630 seats to as many as 680.

  • Germany’s Greens

    “I don’t want the last car made in Germany to end up in a museum”

    by J.C. | KARLSRUHE

    LAST week I caught up with Cem Özdemir, lead candidate of Germany's Green Party, to talk about his country’s future. The latest polls put his party at about 8%. Mr Özdemir’s perspective matters, for two reasons.

    First, the polls suggest that Angela Merkel may have to choose between another “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD)—who are fed up with governing with her—and a three-way coalition with the centre-left Greens and the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). In the latter scenario (called “Jamaica” as the colours of the parties match those of country’s flag) Mr Özdemir might well become Germany’s foreign minister.

About Kaffeeklatsch

Thoughts and opinions on the German-speaking world, in the coffee-house tradition



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