Merkel’s Party Loses German Election, Left and Liberals Gain

  • Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats lost the election on Sunday.
  • The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) became the largest party for the first time since 2005.
  • The Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) made gains.
  • Three parties will probably be needed to form the next German government. Read more “Merkel’s Party Loses German Election, Left and Liberals Gain”

Sixteen Years in Power: Merkel’s Successes and Failures

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a news conference in Berlin, November 9, 2016 (Bundesregierung)

Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection on Sunday after ruling Germany for sixteen years. (She remains chancellor until a new government is formed.)

Here is an overview of the most important policies of her four governments — and her biggest failures. Read more “Sixteen Years in Power: Merkel’s Successes and Failures”

Europe’s High Energy Prices, Explained

Eemshaven Netherlands power plant
Power plant in the Eemshaven of the Netherlands, April 17, 2020 (Unsplash/Untitled Photo)

Electricity prices are hitting records across Europe. In Portugal and Spain, wholesale energy prices have tripled from half a year ago to €178 per megawatt-hour. Italy is not far behind at €176. Dutch households without a fixed-price contract could end up paying €500 more this year. In the UK, prices peaked at €247 per megawatt-hour earlier this week.

The main culprit is the high price of natural gas, up 440 percent from a year ago. But Europe is facing something of a perfect storm involving accidents, depleted reserves and a higher carbon price.

Here are all the reasons prices are up — and what governments are doing about it. Read more “Europe’s High Energy Prices, Explained”

German Left Has Wrong Ideas for Housing Market

Berlin Germany
Houses in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of Berlin, Germany, July 1, 2018 (Unsplash/Jonas Denil)

Housing is one of the top issues in the German election on Sunday. Proposals reveal a traditional left-right divide: the Social Democrats and Greens seek to rein in prices with rent controls; the Christian Democrats and liberal Free Democrats call for more construction, including by relaxing planning laws and other regulatory requirements.

Coinciding with the federal election, a referendum in Berlin will decide whether the city-state expropriates about 200,000 homes.

The proposal is for private landlords owning more than 3,000 properties to be “socialized”. Supporters argue this would lower prices, as the houses would no longer need to be profitable, but this betrays a simplistic understanding of the market. If the government makes it impossible for developers and landlords to turn a profit, they will develop and rent out fewer apartments and the housing shortage will grow, not shrink.

That’s exactly what happened when Berlin froze rents last year: the number of apartments on the market dropped 57 percent. Owners kept their flats empty while the Constitutional Court reviewed the new law. It ruled in April that the freeze was unlawful. Renters had to suddenly pay a year’s worth of missed rent increases.

Now left-wing parties want to try the same nationally. Read more “German Left Has Wrong Ideas for Housing Market”

European Defense: If Not Now, When?

Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier
French jets fly in formation over the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (Marine nationale)

Pre-Trump America is not coming back. If last week’s announcement of a trilateral defense pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (“AUKUS”) doesn’t convince the last Atlanticists that Europe needs to take matters into its own hands, I don’t know what will.

The new alliance excludes Europe. It snatches a deal to build nuclear submarines from France, the EU’s top military power. And it was negotiated in secret. The three English-speaking leaders didn’t even bother to give their European allies a head’s up!

The French, who would lose a €56 billion contract to build submarines for Australia, have called the snub “a breach of trust” and “a stab in the back.” French ambassadors have been recalled from Canberra and Washington DC for the first time ever.

Other Europeans are frustrated too, with officials calling the Australian about-face “unacceptable.”

Inevitably, it has been dubbed a “wake-up call” by everyone from Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign-policy coordinator, to Michael Roth, Germany’s European affairs ministers. But canceling an Australia-EU trade deal, which the European Commission had hoped to finalize this year, or postponing transatlantic talks about technology cooperation, which are scheduled for next week, won’t make Europe safer. What Europe needs to do is take its own defense seriously. Read more “European Defense: If Not Now, When?”

Liberals Would Lend Urgency to Next German Government

Christian Lindner
German Free Democratic Party leader Christian Lindner makes a speech in the Bundestag in Berlin (Kevin Schneider)

With Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats neck and neck in the polls, and the Greens not far behind, no single party or combination of two parties is projected to win a majority in the election on Sunday. Germans should vote for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and make them kingmakers in the next Bundestag.

The liberals balked at a pact with the Christian Democrats and Greens in 2017, fearing that concessions to the center and left would prevent them from prying away voters from the far-right Alternative for Germany. They have wisely abandoned that strategy. Center-right parties across Europe have tried and failed to win back voters from the nationalist right by mimicking their policies and rhetoric. It’s unconvincing. The parties that did find their way back, like the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, did so by being true by their convictions.

The Free Democrats, in their manifesto as well as their campaign, have been outspokenly liberal, calling for equal adoption rights for gay couples, protecting personal data, reducing publicly-funded media to news and documentaries, and restricting unemployment benefits. These aren’t priorities for other parties, which is why the FDP needs to get back into power. Read more “Liberals Would Lend Urgency to Next German Government”

German Election Guide

German parliament Berlin
The Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany (Unsplash/Fionn Große)

Germans elect a new Bundestag on Sunday, which will elect Angela Merkel’s successor. It is the first time in postwar German history that a sitting chancellor isn’t seeking reelection.

If the polls are right, Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats will lose power to the center-left Social Democrats for the first time since 2005.

Here is everything you need to know. Read more “German Election Guide”

Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal, Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, October 15, 2020 (PES)

The good news is that Catalan and Spanish politicians are talking again. Official dialogue between the regional and central governments was resumed this week after a year-and-a-half delay due to COVID-19.

But that’s the only good news. A meeting on Wednesday ended without agreement. A solution to the longrunning dispute between Spain and its wealthiest region is still out of reach. Read more “Catalan-Spanish Talks Accomplish Little”

Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez attends a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, December 10 (PES)

Spain’s ruling Socialist Party is walking back its promises to Catalans. It has delayed, for the second time, a reform of the sedition law under which Catalonia’s separatist leaders were imprisoned. And it has poured cold water on hopes that it might allow a Catalan referendum on independence.

Disappointing Catalans is not without risk. The Socialists need the support of Catalonia’s largest separatist party, the Republican Left, for their majority in Congress. Longer term, it makes Catalan secession more, not less, likely.

Catalans already know to expect little from the conservative People’s Party, which opposed Catalan home rule. If moderate Catalan nationalists become disillusioned in Spain’s other major party as well, some may decide their only recourse is to break away. Read more “Sánchez Walks Back Promises to Catalans”

Scholz Should Stay the Course

Olaf Scholz
German finance minister and Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz attends a debate in parliament in Berlin, July 8, 2018 (Bundestag/Inga Kjer)

Germany’s Christian Democrats are panicking. I wrote here last week that the unimpressive Armin Laschet is dragging Angela Merkel’s party down. All the opinion polls published since then have put the Social Democrats in the lead with 23 to 27 percent support, compared to 19-22 percent for the conservatives. The Greens and liberal Free Democrats are in third and fourth place.

Until a few months ago, the expectation in Berlin was that the Christian Democrats would swap the Social Democrats for the Greens in the next government. Now a two-party coalition is unlikely, and there is even a chance the Christian Democrats will lose power altogether. Read more “Scholz Should Stay the Course”