Germany’s Social Democrats Need to Pick Side in Culture War

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1 (Bayern SPD/Joerg Koch)

Social democrats across Europe are caught in the middle of a culture war: they have middle-class voters, many university-educated, whose economic and social views range from liberal to progressive, as well as working-class voters, whose views range from the conservative to the nativist.

Germany’s are trying to bridge this divide, but a report by the Financial Times from the heart of the Ruhr industrial area does not suggest they are succeeding.

Guido Reil, a coalminer from Essen and former town councilor for the Social Democrats who switched to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, says his old party has “lost its connection to real people.”

They don’t speak their language. They’re people who have never worked, they’re all careerists and professional politicians.

Blue-collar voters — a shrinking demographic — only make up 17 percent of the Social Democrats’ electorate anymore. Read more

Question in Germany Is: Who Will Govern with Merkel Next?

German chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 22
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 22 (EPP)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are so far ahead in the opinion polls that the only question seems to be who will govern with them after the election?

Support for Angela Merkel’s party has been just short of 40 percent since May. The Social Democrats, who briefly polled neck and neck with the conservatives earlier in the year, are down to 25 percent.

The Greens, liberal Free Democrats, far-left Die Linke and far-right Alternative für Deutschland would split the remainder of the vote.

Unless the numbers change dramatically between now and September, Merkel would have three ways to stay in power:

  1. A continuation of her “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats;
  2. A center-right coalition with the Free Democrats; or
  3. A center-left coalition with the Greens.

A right-wing pact with the Alternative can be ruled out. Read more

Merkel’s Plan Strong on Taxes and Spending, Disappointing on Migration

Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, September 28, 2015
Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, September 28, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s party promises long-overdue investments in its election manifesto, but a plan for attracting high-skilled migrants is unconvincing.

The Christian Democrats, who are projected to win the most votes in September’s election, pledge to sustain recent increases in spending on digitalization and infrastructure and raise spending on research and development from 3 to 3.5 percent of the economy.

German public investment has languished for years as the Christian Democrats prioritized deficit reduction. The Dutch and Swedes invest twice as much in everything from electricity grids to roads. Read more

Smart Policies, Wrong Vision from Germany’s Social Democrats

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, watches as Chancellor Angela Merkel signs a guestbook, November 7, 2012
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, watches as Chancellor Angela Merkel signs a guestbook, November 7, 2012 (European Parliament)

Germany’s Social Democrats have unveiled a platform of sensible policies that should appeal to the broad middle of the country’s electorate.

The trouble is the proposals lack a convincing theme and could easily be supported by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats as well. Read more

Schulz Not the Future of Social Democracy After All

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party's Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz and the French Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon deliver a news conference in Berlin, March 28 (Facebook)

Germany’s Martin Schulz looks less and less like the savior of European social democracy.

His party performed poorly in North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday, the third state election this year in which the Social Democrats were bested by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

I argued here earlier in the week that North Rhine-Westphalia’s election was a crucial test for Schulz. It is the heartland of German social democracy: the biggest industrial state with four of Germany’s ten largest cities and a long history of trade unionism. The state has been governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens since 2010 under a popular state prime minister, Hannelore Kraft.

If Schulz couldn’t win here, then where can he? Read more

Social Democrats Face Crucial Test in North Rhine-Westphalia

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz campaigns with Hannelore Kraft, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, in Mülheim, May 6
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz campaigns with Hannelore Kraft, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, in Mülheim, May 6 (NRWSPD)

After losing two state elections in as many months, Germany’s Social Democrats are desperate for a victory in North Rhine-Westphalia. A defeat there, in what is Germany’s industrial powerhouse and the heartland of social democracy, would be terrible for morale going into the federal elections in September. Read more

Coalition Politics Could Turn Moderate Germans Away from Schulz

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, makes a speech in Brussels, June 19, 2013
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, makes a speech in Brussels, June 19, 2013 (European Parliament)

Germany’s Social Democrats have shot up in the polls since they asked Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament chief, to lead them into September’s election. But they may yet lose some of their newfound popularity if voters start thinking through the consequences.

The Social Democrats are neck and neck with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the polls. Whereas the right enjoyed a comfortable 10- to 15-point lead through all of last year, it would now struggle to place first.

Schulz has drawn support from all sides: moderate Christian Democrats, Greens and even anti-establishment voters who were planning to support the Alternative für Deutschland before he joined the contest.

That first group is most likely to switch back once they realize the Social Democratic Party could govern without the right if it grows big enough. Read more