Sixteen Years in Power: Merkel’s Successes and Failures

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters 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”

German Left Has Wrong Ideas for Housing Market

Berlin Germany
View of Berlin, Germany from Alexanderplatz, March 28, 2020 (Unsplash/Stefan Widua)

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”

Liberals Would Lend Urgency to Next German Government

Christian Lindner
German Free Democratic Party leader Christian Lindner makes a speech in parliament 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
Reichstag 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”

Scholz Should Stay the Course

Olaf Scholz
German finance minister 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”

Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down

Armin Laschet
Minister President Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia attends a meeting of the German Federal Council in Berlin, December 18, 2020 (Bundesrat/Sascha Radke)

It’s too soon to tell you I told you so. The German election is still a month away. But it is starting to look like the ruling Christian Democrats made a mistake nominating Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, for the chancellorship.

Laschet would succeed Angela Merkel, who is not seeking a fifth term after sixteen years in power.

I argued in December and April that Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, was the better candidate.

The Christian Democrats misread the national mood. They looked at Merkel’s high approval rating and thought Germans wanted more of the same. They don’t. Söder could have given the conservatives a fresh start. Read more “Laschet Is Dragging Germany’s Christian Democrats Down”

What’s at Stake in the German Election

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

Germans elect a new Bundestag on September 26. Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection after serving four terms. Her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is polling in first place, but the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens are not far behind.

Three more parties (counting the union of Merkel’s CDU and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union as one) are expected to win seats: the center-right Free Democrats (FDP), the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the far-left Die Linke.

The outgoing “grand coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats may not defend its majority. More importantly, neither wants to form another two-party government after sharing power for twelve of the last sixteen years.

All other parties rule out pacts with the AfD. The Greens, who are projected to be the biggest winners of the election, would be needed in all possible coalitions:

  • Union + Greens + FDP: Failed in 2017, when the liberals balked. Could be a modernizing, pro-EU government that seeks technological solutions to the climate crisis.
  • Union + SPD + Greens: Less attractive to the Christian Democrats on labor and tax policy, but the Union and SPD see eye to eye on protecting industries and jobs.
  • SPD + Greens + FDP: Makes less sense for the FDP, who would face opposition from the center- and far right.
  • SPD + Greens + Linke: Politically risky for SPD and Greens, who want to appear moderate, and difficult policy-wise on defense and foreign relations.

Here’s where the four mainstream parties stand on ten of the issues at stake in this election. Read more “What’s at Stake in the German Election”

Judges Need to Know Their Place

Supreme Court The Hague Netherlands
Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague, February 3, 2016 (Rijksvastgoedbedrijf/Bas Kijzers)

European judges have discovered they can compel politicians to take action against climate change.

France’s Council of State has given the government of Emmanuel Macron an April 2022 deadline (one month before the election) to ensure the country will meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

Germany’s Constitutional Court issued a similar ruling in April and gave the government an end-of-year deadline to update its policy.

A Dutch court has gone further, ordering Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, to reduce not just its own carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent but those of its customers and suppliers as well.

It’s like we’re living in a kritocracy. Read more “Judges Need to Know Their Place”

Germans Long for Change

Armin Laschet
Minister President Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia attends a meeting of the German Federal Council in Berlin, December 18, 2020 (Bundesrat/Sascha Radke)

Germans want change. 61.5 percent would like to see a different government after the election in September, according to an Allensbach Institute poll; the highest share in thirty years. 67 percent believe it is time for a course correction in policy.

The findings are sobering for the ruling Christian Democrats, who have nominated the more-of-the-same Armin Laschet for the chancellorship. The prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia proposes continuity from sixteen years of Angela Merkel. (I think the conservatives should have nominated the far more popular and semi-outsider Markus Söder of Bavaria.)

They are also the reason support for the Greens has been trending up. Recent surveys put the party — which has never been Germany’s largest — neck and neck with the center-right. Read more “Germans Long for Change”

Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise

Annalena Baerbock
German Green party leader Annalena Baerbock gives a speech in Berlin, February 17 (DPA/Kay Nietfeld)

Germany’s Greens have for the first time in two years overtaken the ruling Christian Democrats in the polls. Two surveys in the last week gave them 28 percent support for the election in September against 21 to 27 percent for the center-right.

Those polls are still outliers, but the gap between the parties has been narrowing across surveys for months.

I suspect two factors are at play: leadership and a desire for change. I’ll take those in turn before laying out the different ways in which the Greens could take power. Read more “Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise”