Hessen State Election Confirms National Political Trends

A sunny day in Frankfurt, Germany, January 17, 2011
A sunny day in Frankfurt, Germany, January 17, 2011 (Flickr/Aeror)

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

Social Democrats in Iberia and Scandinavia Try Opposite Strategies

Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2 (Governo da República Portuguesa/Clara Azevedo)

What is the future of European social democracy? Your answer to that question may depend on where you live.

If you’re in the Mediterranean, it’s cooperation with the far left. Social democrats in Portugal and Spain have come to power under deals with far-left parties. In both cases, unwieldy coalitions were greeted with skepticism, but now Prime Ministers António Costa and Pedro Sánchez are riding high in the polls.

In Greece, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party has even supplanted the center-left altogether.

In Scandinavia, by contrast, social democrats are trying to win back working-class voters by taking a harder line on borders, crime and defense.

Both strategies appear to be working. Read more

Germany’s Social Democrats Understand They Need to Pick Side

German Social Democratic Party leader Andrea Nahles makes a speech, September 24, 2014
German Social Democratic Party leader Andrea Nahles makes a speech, September 24, 2014 (SPD/Andreas Amann)

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) recognize they should have picked a side.

In a damning analysis of the party’s dismal 2017 election performance — support fell to a postwar low of 20.5 percent — outside experts argue that the campaign lacked “substantive profile”.

The SPD has failed for years to find answers to fundamental questions and to position itself clearly and unequivocally. Whether on the issue of refugees, globalization, internal security or the diesel scandal: the party leadership always tries to please everyone.

The trouble with trying to please everyone, as I’ve argued before, is that you likely end up pleasing no one. Read more

EU Defense Union Worries Americans, Social Democrats Rally the Troops

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14 (NATO)

Americans continue to worry that closer defense cooperation in Europe might compromise NATO.

Echoing Madeleine Albright’s “three Ds” — no duplication, no decoupling, no discrimination against non-EU NATO states — Kay Bailey Hutchison, the United States ambassador to NATO, warned on Wednesday that European efforts shouldn’t be “protectionist, duplicative of NATO work or distracting from their alliance responsibilities.”

“In Texas we say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” the former senator added.

But transatlantic solidarity goes two ways. On the same day Hutchison cautioned European allies against weakening NATO, Defense Secretary James Mattis hectored them for failing to meet their defense spending targets.

Their boss, Donald Trump, has in the past declared NATO “obsolete”. Little wonder Europe is making its own plans.

Many of which complement NATO, from improving mobility by creating a “military Schengen” to developing a European infantry fighting vehicle.

Also read Tobias Buck in the Financial Times, who reports that Germany still has a long way to go before it can lead a European army. Read more

Unconvinced Germans and Unconservative Republicans

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 19, 2012
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 19, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats are both fending off grassroots rebellions against their decision to form another grand coalition government.

On the right, there is dismay that Angela Merkel gave away the powerful Finance Ministry. Der Spiegel reports that the decision has stirred her erstwhile catatonic party into a potentially revolutionary fury. The liberal Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung can already see the “twilight” of the Merkel era.

On the left, there is disappointment that Martin Schulz broke his word not to team up with Merkel and fear that the party will be punished at the next election. Wolfgang Münchau — prone to exaggeration, but maybe not far off this time — writes that we may be in for a Brexit-style surprise on March 4, when Social Democratic Party members vote on the coalition deal. Read more

Germany’s Social Democrats Trade Credibility for Power

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 (SPD) punched above their weight and won. They have secured three key ministries in negotiations for another coalition government with the right: finance, foreign affairs and labor. For a party with only 20 percent support, that is an impressive result.

Yet they are in trouble. Read more

German Parties Finalize Centrist Coalition Agreement

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)
  • Christian Democrats and Social Democrats have finalized a deal for another “grand coalition” government in Germany.
  • The agreement would allow Angela Merkel to remain chancellor for four more years. Read more