Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany

German parliament Berlin
Debate in the plenary chamber of the German parliament in Berlin, July 1, 2020 (Pixabay)

When Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats — who frequently split up to 90 percent of the votes between them during the Cold War era — fell to a combined 50 percent support in the federal election in September, alarm bells went off on the other side of the Atlantic.

The New York Times saw “messier politics” and “weaker leadership” ahead. The Washington Post feared a period of “limbo” as a result of Germany’s “Dutchification”. Harold James, a professor at Princeton University, lamented that Germany had acquired “the most destructive features of politics in neighboring countries.” The consequences, he argued, would be “complexity,” “endless negotiations” and “inevitably complicated coalition agreements.” Damon Linker, a columnist for The Week, predicted forming a “stable” government would be “challenging” and “decisive action” more difficult.

Some people never learn. We saw the same reaction after the European elections in 2019, and again when Stefan Löfven lost his parliamentary majority in Sweden this summer. Yet Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and liberals were able to quickly form a working majority in the European Parliament and Löfven remains prime minister.

Germany’s liberals and Greens — who can help either the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats to a majority — have already done a deal between them, clearing the biggest hurdle to a three-party coalition. Negotiations are now underway. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party leader, could become chancellor in a few weeks. So much for the “limbo” we were told to expect. Read more “Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany”

Spain Tries to Solve Yesterday’s Housing Crisis

Barcelona Spain
Buildings in Barcelona, Spain, December 10, 2017 (Unsplash/Marco Da Silva)

Spain’s ruling left-wing parties have agreed various measures to make housing more affordable, including a rent cap and higher property taxes for landlords.

The proposals are unlikely to be effected in areas ruled by conservatives, and they are right to block them. The pandemic has already made housing more affordable in Spain. The country doesn’t need the government to step in. Read more “Spain Tries to Solve Yesterday’s Housing Crisis”

Don’t Blame Russia for High Gas Prices

Amur gas plant Svobodny Russia
Gazprom workers at the Amur natural gas plant outside Svobodny, Russia, June 9, 2021 (Gazprom)

The price of natural gas is skyrocketing. In the United States, it’s up 100 percent from a year ago. In parts of Europe, 500 percent. Japan and Korea are paying record prices for liquified natural gas imports.

Nick Ottens explained the reasons behind this surge here. I will focus on one: Russia’s role.

Russia has been accused of market manipulation by various countries: forcing the price of gas up in order to accelerate the completion of Nord Stream 2. This accusation is unsurprising, given the history of price and supply disputes between Europe and Russia.

But it is wrong. Read more “Don’t Blame Russia for High Gas Prices”

Opposition to Nuclear Power Is Irrational

Power plant China
Nuclear power plant in China (iStock)

In my latest column for the Dutch opinion blog Wynia’s Week, I argue opposition to nuclear power makes no sense.

Outlines of a Green-Liberal Pact for Germany

Germany’s Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) are taking the lead in forming the next coalition government.

The two parties won a combined 120 seats in the election on Sunday, more than either the Social Democrats (SPD), who placed first, or the Union of Christian Democrats, who came in second. They would still need one of the two bigger parties for a majority. The Greens would prefer to team up with the SPD. The liberal FDP would prefer a coalition with the Union.

The best way to avoid gridlock is for the smaller parties to do a deal first and then see whether the SPD or Union could support it.

Here’s what such a deal might look like. Read more “Outlines of a Green-Liberal Pact for Germany”

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”

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”

Who Wants to Live in Hungary?

Budapest Hungary
Skyline of Budapest, Hungary (Unsplash/Tom Bixler)

Hungary is having a moment on the American right. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson broadcasted from the country last week and interviewed Viktor Orbán. Rod Dreher blogged from Hungary for The American Conservative. John O’Sullivan, a former speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher, has defended Orbán’s power grabs in National Review. Sumantra Maitra defended Orbán in The Federalist. There is even an Hungarian Conservative magazine for English speakers.

Here in the Netherlands, far-right leaders Thierry Baudet and Geert Wilders admire Orbán. The right-wing De Dagelijkse Standaard calls him a “hero”.

Conservative columnist (and non-Orbán fan) David French sees Hungary as “the right’s Denmark”. Progressives want America to become Scandinavia; Trumpists want to become Hungary.

So why don’t they just move there? Read more “Who Wants to Live in Hungary?”