Hessen State Election Confirms National Political Trends

Frankfurt Germany
Frankfurt, Germany at night (Unsplash/Jonas Tebbe)

Germany’s mainstream political parties both lost support in elections in Hessen on Sunday, a lightly populated state in the center of the country that contains the commercial capital of Frankfurt.

The Christian Democrats went down from 38 to 28 percent support, according to exit polls. The Greens, who have shared power with the right in Hessen since 2013, went up from 11 to 20 percent — a major victory, which will probably make it possible for the two parties to continue their coalition government.

The Social Democrats, who govern with the Christian Democrats nationally, suffered yet another historic defeat. Their support fell from 31 to 20 percent, their worst result in Hessen ever. Read more “Hessen State Election Confirms National Political Trends”

German Free Democrats, Greens Drop Red Lines

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Valletta, Malta, November 11, 2015
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Valletta, Malta, November 11, 2015 (European Council)

Germany’s Free Democrats and Greens have each dropped demands in order to make progress in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Merkel has set a ten-day deadline to finish preliminary discussions and start negotiations to form a government.

European Fears of “Jamaica” Coalition Are Overblown

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

A three-party “Jamaica” coalition in Germany may not be so bad for Europe as observers fear, writes Guntram Wolff of the Bruegel think tank in the Financial Times.

He recognizes that the liberal Free Democrats are more Euroskeptic than Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens. They have opposed Greek debt relief, are wary of a common eurozone budget and argue for strict enforcement the bloc’s fiscal rules.

But that also applies to Wolfgang Schäuble, the outgoing finance minister. His likely Free Democratic successor could hardly be more hawkish.

A Jamaica coalition (named for the colors of the three parties, which match the Caribbean nation’s flag) would be open to some of the other EU reform proposals French president Emmanuel Macron made this week, from enhancing defense cooperation to creating a single European asylum policy. Read more “European Fears of “Jamaica” Coalition Are Overblown”

“Jamaica” Coalition Looks Like Only Option in Germany

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

A three-party coalition of Christian Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens looks like the only possibility short of minority government in Germany.

Such a combination, unprecedented at the federal level, is nicknamed “Jamaica” because the parties’ colors are black, yellow and green. Read more ““Jamaica” Coalition Looks Like Only Option in Germany”

Center-Right Voters Eager to Govern in Germany, Center-Left Unsure

German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel enter a cabinet meeting in Berlin, January 14, 2015
German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel enter a cabinet meeting in Berlin, January 14, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

Center-right voters in Germany hope Angela Merkel’s next coalition government will unite her Christian Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats. But if the Greens are needed for a majority, they could live with that, the latest Deutschlandtrend poll shows.

Green party voters are less interested in a three-party coalition but surprisingly supportive of a deal with the right: 68 percent would join a Merkel-led administration.

The Christian Democrats are almost certain to remain the largest party, but it’s unclear from the polls if the Free Democrats will win enough seats to form a two-party government.

The Social Democrats, the second largest party, aren’t desperate for another “grand coalition”. Half their voters would prefer to go into opposition rather than share power with Merkel for another four years. Read more “Center-Right Voters Eager to Govern in Germany, Center-Left Unsure”

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”

Greens Leave Coalition Talks, Leaving Merkel With No Alternative

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

Germany’s Green party walked out on exploratory coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats on Tuesday, leaving her with little alternative to forming a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats.

Merkel won 41.5 percent of the votes in an election last month that left her party just five seats short of a majority in the lower chamber of parliament. The Greens lost support and finished fourth after Die Linke. Both the Christian and Social Democrats have ruled out forming a government with the latter which is the successor to former East Germany’s ruling communist party. Read more “Greens Leave Coalition Talks, Leaving Merkel With No Alternative”

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.

Germany’s Greens Consider Coalition with Conservatives

View of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, September 12, 2009
View of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, September 12, 2009 (Javan Makhmali)

Germany’s Green party, the most electorally successful of its kind in Europe, may enter a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives after next year’s parliamentary election.

Although the Greens would prefer an alliance with the Social Democrats, with whom they governed the country between 1998 and 2005 under Gerhard Schröder, opinion polls suggest that the two left-wing parties may not gather the necessary majority. The Social Democrats are languished at 30 percent in preelection surveys compared to 39 percent for Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Pollsters put support for the Greens at 13 percent, up from 11 in the last federal election. Read more “Germany’s Greens Consider Coalition with Conservatives”

Green Cosmopolitanism Fashionable in North Europe

Green and socially liberal parties are the rise across Northern Europe. From Britain to Berlin, their electorate is composed of students and young urban professionals who lean left on social issues but do not care for the welfarism and trade union socialism of traditional labor parties.

State elections in Berlin, Germany were closely watched this weekend for a Green election victory. Bündnis 90/Die Grünen won 17.6 percent of the vote, behind the major party Social Democrats and conservatives but ahead of the liberals and far left which both lost support.

Some of the new Green party voters come from the Social Democrats who retained their majority despite losing votes; some of them come from the pro-business Free Democrats who didn’t make the election threshold.

The Free Democratic Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner on the federal level, has performed poorly in recent state elections after it claimed an unprecedented 14.6 percent share of the vote nationwide in 2009. The liberals’ popularity has diminished since with college educated urban voters in particular defecting to the left.

Local elections in Saarland in 2009 may have been a harbinger of a new political constellation in Germany where the Greens refused to cooperate with the Social Democrats and the far left in favor of an alliance with liberals and conservatives. In 2008, they had previously entered a coalition with the Christian Democrats in Hamburg.

This year, the Greens tripled their share of the vote in Rheinland-Pfalz and won the prime ministership in Baden-Württemberg, once a conservative stronghold. Their candidate, a 62 year-old former chemist, belonged to the centrist wing of the Green party and profited from an anti-nuclear sentiment that swept Germany in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan in March.

In Denmark and the Netherlands, left of center parties similar to Germany’s Grünen also appeal to cosmopolitan young working people who reject the old left’s reinvigorated market criticism but are appalled by the right’s willingness to embrace populist anti-immigrant and security policies at the same time. They are united around themes of environmentalism, individualism and minority rights.

In Denmark, the Radikale Venstre represents social liberals who oppose the main liberal Venstre‘s alliance with the far-right Danish People’s Party. In the Netherlands, the intellectual D66 and progressive GroenLinks together accounted for 13.5 percent of the vote in last year’s parliamentary elections. Both oppose the hardline immigration policy of the liberal-conservative government but favor market driven entitlement and labor law reforms.

The Liberal Democrats in Britain aren’t willing to admit yet that they represent a similar kind of cosmopolitanism. The reason is that part of their leftist electorate doesn’t want to commit to such a direction. As The Economist put it, when they voted Liberal Democrat last year, “they assumed it was a social democratic party with civil libertarianism and Europhilia thrown in; a Labour Party for university towns and upmarket suburbs rather than the industrial heartlands.”

The Liberal Democrats’ alliance with the Conservatives proved their voters wrong. Party leader Nick Clegg, now deputy prime minister, led them toward centrist, classic liberalism, much to the dismay of rank and file liberals who “don’t really believe their party is either liberal in the classical sense or even ideologically neutral between right and left.”

This could be a problem for other Northwest European Green parties as well. Their members tend to be more leftist than their voters who are generally skeptical of “big government” welfare schemes. Moreover, part of their base has pacifist roots which could complicate their ability to govern responsibly.

The German Greens realized this in 1998 when they entered a coalition with the Social Democrats just before NATO intervened in Kosovo. Green party parliamentarians weren’t happy with the war and outright hostile to sending German troops to Afghanistan in 2001. GroenLinks in the Netherlands found itself in a similar predicament this year when it failed to enthuse party members for an Afghan police mission it endorsed.