Merkel Wins Personal Victory But Loses Ally

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, June 28, 2012
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, June 28, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

German chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday won a resounding victory for her ruling Christian Democrat parties while her liberal allies failed to reenter parliament. The result might yet force the woman leading Europe’s largest economy into a government with one of her socialist rivals.

Partial election results shown on German television Sunday night put Merkel’s conservative parties at 42 percent — their strongest performance since 1990, the year of Germany’s reunification, but just a handful of seats short of an absolute majority in the Bundestag, the lower chamber of parliament.

Merkel’s liberal coalition partners were stuck at 4.7 percent in the polls, however, while a new Euroskeptic party, Alternative für Deutschland, similarly hovered just below the 5 percent election threshold.

“This is a super result,” Merkel told cheering supporters in Berlin. “Together, we will do all we can to make the next four years successful ones for Germany.”

Weekly Der Spiegel attributed Merkel’s success to her “presidential style of government” which has inspired trust among German voters. Even if they aren’t sure what the risk averse chancellor stands for, many Germans feel the country is in good hands.

The liberal Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung similarly argued that Merkel’s prestige gave her Christian Democrats such a big win. “The outcome is an endorsement of her policies as well as her political style.”

Which is simultaneously the “dark side” of Merkel’s success, wrote Heribert Prantl in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The conservative party now “consists of almost nothing but her.”

If the conservatives must soon start thinking about how to remain in power when Merkel steps down, the Social Democrats have a more immediate problem. They barely recovered from what was their worst postwar election performance four years ago when they got 23 percent support. With 26 percent of the votes this time, they would be able to give Merkel a governing majority — but the last such a “grand coalition” was precisely the reason so many leftist voters abandoned the party.

There are also risks for the conservatives in another left-right alliance, warned Ludwig Greven in Die Zeit newspaper. It would make their party even less distinct. Merkel might then be unable to accomplish tax relief at home while the Social Democrats would like to shift the emphasis in Europe from austerity to “growth,” or stimulatory, policies.

Greven suggested a coalition with the Greens instead who, defying optimistic forecasts, came in fourth with around 8 percent support. Merkel could then reach new voters: “young women, environmentally conscious and urban voters who otherwise share conservative values.” Many socially liberal voters sympathize with the Greens’ cosmopolitan outlook and ecologist platform but were spooked at the last moment when the party lurched to the left in an attempt to draw supporters from the far-left Die Linke and thus secure a majority for itself and the Social Democrats.

Die Linke‘s voters were unpersuaded. The party lost roughly a third of its support to the Social Democrats but with 8.4 percent, it will still be the third largest in parliament.

Combined, the three parties on the left will have a majority if neither the liberals nor Alternative für Deutschland get into parliament but the Greens and Social Democrats have ruled out forming an alliance with what is the successor to former East Germany’s ruling communist party.

If Merkel’s Christian Democrats eke out an absolute majority when all the votes are counted, it might still complicate matters for Merkel in Europe as a dozen or so of her own lawmakers have consistently voted against bailouts for highly indebted peripheral eurozone states as well as efforts to further centralize economic and fiscal policymaking in the currency area. Her last government relied on the opposition Social Democrats to enact European policy. They and the Greens are also still in the majority in the upper chamber of parliament, the Bundesrat. Some sort of alliance with one of those parties seems inevitable.

In German Election, Merkel Is the Safest Choice

German chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a debate in parliament in Berlin, June 27
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a debate in parliament in Berlin, June 27 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

Polls predict that German chancellor Angela Merkel will cruise to a comfortable victory in this week’s parliamentary elections. We would welcome her reelection.

Although the liberal Free Democrats, who emphasize economic freedom and individual responsibility, are more aligned with the Atlantic Sentinel‘s views, their leader, economy minister Philipp Rösler, looks unfit for the chancellorship. Merkel, by contrast, has proven herself to be a wise leader since she first assumed office in 2005 — sometimes pragmatic, otherwise steadfast. Read more “In German Election, Merkel Is the Safest Choice”

Bavarian Win at Liberals’ Expense Should Alarm Merkel

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative allies in Bavaria won back control of the regional legislature on Sunday but their liberal coalition party’s failure to reenter parliament doesn’t bode well for the right’s electoral chances nationwide.

The Christlich-Soziale Union, a sister party of Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats, won 49 percent support according to projections from ARD and ZDF television. Party leader and Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer hailed the outcome as “a great election success” in a speech to supporters in Munich. “With this, the year 2008 is history,” he said.

Five years ago, the Bavarian party scored its worst result in six decades with 43 percent. Seehofer was forced into a coalition with the liberal Free Democrats who are also Merkel’s partners at the national level. Read more “Bavarian Win at Liberals’ Expense Should Alarm Merkel”

Merkel Appeals to German Voters to Stay the Course

Angel Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a debate in parliament in Berlin, June 27 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel urged voters on Sunday night to stay the course. “We have had four good years for Germany and I believe the next four years will be good as well,” she said at the end of a televised debate with the Social Democratic Party leader Peer Steinbrück.

Steinbrück, who is trailing badly in opinion polls, confronted the incumbent over an imminent third bailout program for Greece, which would be deeply unpopular in Germany. Merkel refused to discuss specifics, saying “as chancellor” she had a responsibility to keep the pressure on Greece to enact necessary economic and fiscal reforms. The promise of another bailout might alleviate that pressure. Rather than discussing more financial aid for profligate member states or eurobonds — the pooling of sovereign debt in the eurozone; unacceptable to most Germans — “everyone must take his own responsibility,” she said. Read more “Merkel Appeals to German Voters to Stay the Course”

Merkel Takes Risk by Suggesting Role in Syria

Chancellor Angela Merkel visits German troops in Afghanistan, March 12, 2012
Chancellor Angela Merkel visits German troops in Afghanistan, March 12, 2012 (Bundesregierung/Steffen Kugler)

Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking a political risk when she hints at German support for a military intervention in Syria. German voters are notoriously pacifist and see little reason why they should be drawn into another country’s civil war.

While 60 percent of Germans polled by Stern magazine last year opposed foreign intervention in Syria altogether, Merkel’s government backed an international response to allegations of chemical weapons use there on Monday, saying, “The alleged widespread use of gas has broken a taboo. It requires consequences.”

Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister, joined the chancellery in demanding action after what he described as a “crime against civilization.” He predicted that “Germany will belong to those who support consequences.”

Germany’s NATO allies Britain, France, Turkey and the United States all called for action after Syrian opposition activists last week accused the regime of President Bashar Assad of gassing hundreds of civilians in a suburb of the capital Damascus. President Barack Obama told CNN on Friday that the use of chemical weapons “starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”

With some 60 percent of American voters also opposed to intervention in Syria, however, Western military action is likely to be limited to air- and missile strikes, possibly to pave the way for imposing a no-fly zone as NATO did over Libya two years ago which enabled the uprising there to topple longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Germany was critical of the effort in Libya, fearing that it would involve Western powers in a protracted civil war. It warned its allies at the time that they should not expect “quick results with few casualties.” It took more than seven months of bombing before Gaddafi was deposed.

Germany was Libya’s second biggest trading partner after Italy — which also resisted military action — before the war.

The Merkel government’s refusal to support, let alone participate in, the mainly American, British and French operation appalled German internationalists like former foreign minister Joschka Fischer who told the weekly Der Spiegel at the time that it was “perhaps the biggest foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany.” He believed his nation’s standing in the world had diminished as a result.

Felix F. Seidler, a German security blogger and member of Kiel University’s Institute for Security Policy, similarly laments a supposed lack of credibility on Germany’s part and even argues, “If Germany doesn’t want to completely abolish security policy, it cannot escape from an American intervention in Syria.”

Der Spiegel endorses military action for the same reason. It insists that the “moral credibility of the West” is at state.

While it deployed Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey’s border with Syria after a Turkish reconnaissance jet was shot down by Syria’s air defenses last year, Germany has repeatedly cautioned the West against involving itself in the conflict. It resisted British and French pressure to relax the conditions of a European Union arms embargo on Syria. Westerwelle warned in March that if outside powers provided the Syrian opposition with weapons, they would risk triggering an “arms race” and exacerbating “a proxy war that could push the whole region into a broader conflict.”

Western countries were reluctant to arm rebel fighters for fear of propping up a jihadist insurgency. Most of the communications equipment and weapons supplied by the United States and its allies in the region, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, ended up in the hands of religious extremists who now appear the most effective fighting force in the opposition. The Sunni powers in the region have sectarian and strategic interests in supporting the largely Sunni uprising against Assad, however, who is the only Arab ally of their nemesis Iran. Support from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a Shia group, has only deepened the sectarian nature of the conflict. The country’s minority Alawites and Christian tend to still support the regime.

With elections due in a month’s time, Germany’s opposition parties see Merkel’s newfound trigger happiness as an opportunity to draw voters from her Christian Democrat party which enjoy more than 40 percent support in most surveys.

“Given the confusion surrounding the situation in Syria, I would advise caution when it comes to the discussion over military intervention,” Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrats’ leader, told the Südwest Presse newspaper. His party trails Merkel’s in the polls by some 15 points.

Green party chairwoman Claudia Roth told Der Spiegel she had “extreme doubts that a military intervention will stop the conflict or deescalate it.”

The Greens are expected to become Germany’s third largest party after the election and favor a coalition with the Social Democrats. Having ruled out an alliance with the far-left Die Linke, the successor to former East Germany’s ruling socialist party, however, a “grand coalition” between the Christian and Social Democrats is more likely if Westerwelle’s liberals fail to cross the 5 percent election threshold.

German Social Democrats Shun Both Conservatives, Far Left

German opposition leader Peer Steinbrück said on Sunday that he would not enter into a “grand coalition” with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives as the junior party, raising the possibility of a right-wing victory in September’s election.

Steinbrück, who was Merkel’s finance minister in the last such grand coalition between 2005 and 2009, told ZDF television that a government of Christian and Social Democrats was unlikely. “We all know what happened last time around,” he said, referring to support for his party plunging to 23 percent in the 2009 election from 34 percent in 2005. Read more “German Social Democrats Shun Both Conservatives, Far Left”

Germany’s Merkel Warns Against Far-Left Coalition

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would like to continue her ruling coalition with the liberal party after elections in the fall and warned that the alternative might be an entirely left-wing government.

In an interview with ARD television, the conservative leader, who has been in power since 2005, said she was “convinced” her Free Democrat coalition partners would cross the 5-percent threshold in September’s election and stay in coalition with the Christian Democrats. Recent surveys put the liberals’ support at just 5 percent. Read more “Germany’s Merkel Warns Against Far-Left Coalition”

German Finance Minister Rules Out “Grand Coalition” After Election

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble ruled out a coalition between his conservative party and the Social Democrats after September’s election in an interview with Der Spiegel that will be published on Monday, expressing confidence that its alliance with the right-wing liberals will maintain a majority in the lower chamber of parliament.

Although most opinion polls suggest that the liberals will struggle to cross the 5 percent election threshold in the fall, Schäuble warned right-wing voters that his party “won’t form a coalition with anyone” else. “If the right doesn’t win a majority,” he added, the Social Democrats and Green party should “repeat what they did in North Rhine-Westphalia,” Germany’s most populous state where the two left-wing parties fell short of a legislative majority in a state election three years ago but were able to form a government with the backing of the far-left Die Linke. Read more “German Finance Minister Rules Out “Grand Coalition” After Election”

Seeking to Broaden Coalition, German Greens Lurch Left

Winfried Kretschmann, the state prime minister of Baden-Württemberg, speaks at a news conference in Stuttgart, Germany, May 4, 2011
Winfried Kretschmann, the state prime minister of Baden-Württemberg, speaks at a news conference in Stuttgart, Germany, May 4, 2011 (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Baden-Württemberg)

German Green party members on Sunday defied warnings from their more pragmatic leaders in backing two sharp tax increase proposals, a move that could alienate centrist voters but raise the prospect that a left-wing government can be formed after September’s federal election.

Some eight hundred party delegates gathered in Berlin defied their most successful leader, Baden-Württemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann, to support a top income tax raise from 42 to 49 percent as well as the introduction of a 1.5 percent wealth tax on assets over €1 million.

Kretschmann had argued in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung that was published on Friday that the combination of the proposed tax hikes would impose an “unreasonable burden” on especially middle income families. He also cautioned his party against ruling out a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives whom, he agued, “aren’t that far removed” from the Greens.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, once a far-left pacifist movement, has reinvented itself as a more cosmopolitan, socially liberal party in recent years, entering a coalition with the conservatives in Hamburg in 2008 and in Saarland the following year.

In May 2011, the party won its first state prime ministership in the traditional conservative stronghold of Baden-Württemberg where Kretschmann, who has also served as the German parliament’s upper chamber’s president since late last year, leads a coalition government with the Social Democrats, still the senior partner on the left nationwide.

Kretschmann, a former chemist, benefited from Germany’s rising anti-nuclear sentiment in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima power plant disaster. Merkel’s conservatives adopted the Greens’ position to shut all of Germany’s nuclear power plants and subsidize renewable electricity generation instead.

Many Green party members remain unconvinced. Former environment minister Jürgen Trittin said that in spite of her government’s environmental policies, “the failure of Merkel on climate change is reason enough to opt out of her coalition.” Referring to tax evasion and corruption scandals that have battered Merkel’s Bavarian sister party in recent weeks, he added, “We’re not going to form a coalition with a band of corrupt amigos like that.”

Opinion polls have consistently put the Greens at between 14 and 16 percent support since the start of this year, replacing Merkel’s liberal coalition party as the third largest in the country. The Social Democrats, however, are struggling to get more than a quarters of the votes while Merkel polls at over 40 percent, making a “grand coalition” between the two the likeliest outcome of September’s election.

The Greens may calculate that there is little for them to gain in the center whereas a more aggressively leftist program could lure voters away from Die Linke, a socialist party that is increasingly confined to former communist East Germany and polls at around 7 percent nationwide. For the strategy to be successful, moderate leftwingers should vote for the Social Democrats instead and give them a plurality big enough to form a majority government with the Greens.

German Conservatives Regard Euroskeptics Warily

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Germany’s ruling party takes “seriously” competition from an upstart Euroskeptic party, its parliamentary leader said on Thursday, but has seemingly little reason to, given German voters’ overwhelming support for incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel.

Volker Kauder, the chairman of the Christian Democrat delegation in the Bundestag, told Die Welt newspaper that he respects opposition from Alternative für Deutschland, a party founded by academics and economists who advocate a German withdrawal from the European single currency, but argued that it “must offer more than a return to the D-Mark.”

The euro, according to Kauder, “will help Europe stay together” while an exit from the eurozone would jeopardize German exports and “thousands of jobs.” Read more “German Conservatives Regard Euroskeptics Warily”