Sunday, 22 September 2013

The curse of Merkel

Angela Merkel's CDU has had an amazing night. Current projections have the CDU/CSU just short of an absolute majority - unheard of in modern German national politics. She remains German chancellor and the 8%+ increase in the Union's vote is a clear vote of confidence.

That said, Merkel's current and favoured coalition partner crashed out of parliament - the FPD's worst ever performance. 

If Merkel's Union is unable to manage an absolute majority, the next week will be dominated by behind the scenes negotiations and dealmaking to form a functioning coalition government. Both the SPD and Greens, possible coalition partners, had a disappointing night and could serve as junior partners to Merkel over the next parliament. 

But after a 2009 election result that saw the then-junior coalition partner SPD score their worst post-war result followed by today's similar result for the FDP - no party can be blamed for having reservations to join a third Merkel government. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The German Elections: 5 Possible Outcomes

Not a great deal has changed in the run up to September's federal elections. Angela Merkel's personal popularity is holding strong, where as the SPD and FDP continue to languish. Almost all signs point towards a Merkel-led conservative victory. Let's look at a few possible outcomes:

Union + FDP - the status quo
If the free-market liberal FDP achieve a 5% vote share - the minimum necessary to be represented in the Bundestag - it's likely that the current coalition will continue to govern. Recent polling puts them just short of survival, but - as happened in Lower Saxony - CDU supporters are likely to vote tactically to push the FDP over the edge.

Union + SPD - the grand coalition
Should the FDP not make it, the most likely outcome is a repeat of the 2005 election: a grand coalition between social democrat SPD and CDU/CSU. Of course, the SPD suffered a substantial voter backlash the last time it entered a Merkel government as junior partner - there are plenty in the party who would argue against joining a Merkel cabinet. Peer Steinbrück, the SPD's candidate for chancellor stated he would not lead the SPD into such a coalition - but the party's poor performance makes his continuing leadership unlikely, whatever the outcome.

Union + Green - the outside chance
This one is likely only a mathematical possibility - but not without precedent (see Hamburg state elections, 2008). Merkel and the CDU seem open to the idea - but the leadership of the Greens have done (nearly) all they can to pour cold water on the idea. They openly campaign for a SPD-led government and a coalition with the CDU would be deeply unpopular with their core supporters. Of course, one should never underestimate the attraction to power, should the opportunity come...

SPD + Green + Left or FDP - the fantasies
Not only do the poll numbers make these combinations a mathematical long shot, but the SPD/Greens lack a good working relationship with the FDP or the former communist Left. If there were to be a concerted 'anyone but Merkel' campaign immediately after the election, one or the other could form an alliance - but her popularity makes this highly unlikely. 

SPD + Green - the opposition victory
The polls show this combination falling short by a wide margin. Of course, there is a while to go before the polls open on September 22nd - the Japanese Tsunami and Fukushima meltdown nearly doubled the Green's poll numbers overnight. But save for a political earthquake, this outcome is the least likely of the lot.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Steinbrück? He's no alternative for Germany.

At what might seem a glacial pace, the German federal elections slide ever closer. Once again, the Euro has become the focus with Cyprus' near collapse and the announcement of a new euroskeptic party closer to home.

The Alternative für Deutschland has sought for a great deal of attention around Europe. Is this a sign that Germany is losing faith in the grand European Project? 


While a great deal of hot air has been produced around this (not yet officially founded, that happens tomorrow) party - it's difficult to ignore the profile of its supporters: cantankerous old men with a whiff of the far-right. Despite their name, they haven't even begun to elucidate how they would extract Germany from the European quagmire*, let alone any details of a broader programme.

Looking at the polls, it's business as usual. Angela Merkel continues to be the most popular politician in Germany. Her challenger, Peer Steinbrück, is struggling to keep a majority of his own party behind him. The Social Democrats are still doing better that Steinbrück personally, but would not be able to form a government unless their support does not dramatically increase.

*It's an odd quagmire, this. A quagmire where you're stuck with a record-breaking economic output, some of the lowest unemployment rates in modern history,  and suffering the pain of arguably some of healthiest government finances in the world. Poor them.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Rainer Brüderle: Höpe

After the their unsettling - if surprisingly healthy - showing last night, the FDP have announced their election campaign head: Rainer Brüderle. 

A break from the younger generation of FDP politicians, a generation which drained the party of almost all its credibility, Brüderle is a member of the old guard. 

A break from the past by returning to it.

His greatest weakness could be his greatest asset: he talks with a comically strong accent. His willingness to confront this and take the barbs with humour will bring a much-needed injection of humanity to the FDP's leadership.

Let's face it - he's their only höpe.

It's a SPD/Green win in Lower Saxony

It's as close as you can get: with a single seat advantage, SPD/Green has emerged as the single largest coalition grouping in Lower Saxony. Stephan Weil (SPD) has confirmed that he will try to form a government with the Greens - and replace David McAllister as Prime Minister.

What does this mean nationally?
It's been an uncomfortable night for most of the main parties - especially with federal elections coming in September. The SPD will note that their victory - despite an early lead - was less than convincing. Peer Steinbrück (SPD candidate for Chancellor) and his repeated missteps have hardly helped.

The CDU will be particularly frustrated. They had strong support in the polls and a popular leader in David McAllister, relative to the SPD candidate. The collapse in their favoured coalition party's support meant this was not enough to translate into victory. A problem that Angela Merkel faces on a national level.

The FDP had a bittersweet night. With nearly 10% of the vote, it was a record for the party in Lower Saxony. However, polling shows that 80% of their voters this time around identified as CDU supporters. They'd voted FDP for fear that the CDU's favoured partner would crash out of parliament - and without this help, that's precisely what would have happened.

Only the Greens can be counted as a straightforward winner. They've improved substantially on their 2008 performance - if this is repeated on a national level, they'll be a serious coalition partner for either of the SPD or CDU.

Merkel and McAllister
This election result is a threat to Merkel's position within the CDU, albeit marginally. McAllister is now free to take his popularity to the national level and - while there is no suggestion that a challenge is coming - as and when things start going downhill for Frau Merkel, David McAllister will be one of several waiting in the wings.

A German Chancellor with a Scottish father - what would the UK papers would make of that...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

It’s Neck and Neck for Lower Saxony

The first exit polls for the Lower Saxony state parliament are too close to call. Despite the incumbent David McAllister's personal popularity, the CDU’s coalition partner FDP has been haemorrhaging support – even looking likely to drop out of the parliament entirely, depriving the CDU of a workable coalition partner and power.

Tactical Voting
However, in the last few days, the polls started to turn in the FDP’s favour. The ZDF (German TV) exit polls are are forecasting a record 9.5% for the FDP and a disappointing 37% for the CDU. The reason for this surprising turn of events seems to be tactical voting - according to the ZDF exit poll, 80% of FDP voters consider themselves CDU supporters.

Had the FDP not received support from CDU voters, they would have not achieved the 5% hurdle to enter the state parliament. Not encouraging for the upcoming national election.

Current estimates show the CDU/FDP and SPD/Green running neck and neck – 73 seats for each possible coalition. ‘Overhang’ seats could decide the election. (see my explanation here – a similar system to the Bundestag elections is used on state level)

Exit Polls, at 6PM German time, via ZDF
CDU 37.0%
SPD 33.0%
Green 13.5%
FDP 9.6%
Left 3.0%