Highlights and Takeaways from the Merkel-Schulz Debate

Angela Merkel Martin Schulz
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)

German chancellor Angela Merkel debated Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democrats, on television tonight. It was the party leaders’ only debate before the election later this month.

Here are my highlights and takeaways. Read more “Highlights and Takeaways from the Merkel-Schulz Debate”

Comparing German Party Platforms Reveals Two Divides

German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel deliver a news conference at Schloss Meseberg, north of Berlin, May 24, 2016
German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel deliver a news conference at Schloss Meseberg, north of Berlin, May 24, 2016 (Bundesregierung)

Comparing the platforms of the six parties competing in the German election reveals two divides:

  1. The first is between the traditional left and right on spending and taxes. The Social Democrats, Greens and far-left Die Linke want higher taxes on the wealthy to fund public investment. The Christian Democrats, liberal Free Democrats and nativist Alternative argue for tax cuts.
  2. The second divide is between the four mainstream parties and the extremes on defense and foreign policy. The Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats all support closer European integration and NATO. The Alternative wants out of the euro. Die Linke would swap NATO for a security pact with Russia.

Here is a closer look at where the parties stand on defense, Europe, immigration, spending and taxes. Read more “Comparing German Party Platforms Reveals Two Divides”

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 of them 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 “Germany’s Social Democrats Need to Pick Side in Culture War”

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

Sigmar Gabriel Angela Merkel
German party leaders Sigmar Gabriel and Angela Merkel walk to a news conference in Berlin, June 29, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

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

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

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a news conference in Brussels, March 15, 2016 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

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

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 “Smart Policies, Wrong Vision from Germany’s Social Democrats”

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 “Schulz Not the Future of Social Democracy After All”

Social Democrats Face Crucial Test in North Rhine-Westphalia

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

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.

Martin Schulz, the party leader, needs a win to shore up his leadership. The Social Democrats have gone up in the polls since he took over in January, but this newfound popularity has yet to turn into concrete victories.

Voters in Schleswig-Holstein this weekend switched from the left to the right. The ruling Social Democrats and Greens lost seats; the Christian Democrats and liberal Free Democrats gained. They can now form a state government.

The eulogies of Angela Merkel’s seventeen-year chancellorship were already written when Schulz entered the stage, yet she keeps winning elections.

In Saarland, her party expanded its plurality in March, winning almost an absolute majority in the state legislature. The Social Democrats underperformed. The two are likely to continue their grand coalition in the border province, but Schulz would have preferred the Social Democrats to be the senior partner for once. Read more “Social Democrats Face Crucial Test in North Rhine-Westphalia”

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 “Coalition Politics Could Turn Moderate Germans Away from Schulz”