Merkel’s Answer to Populist Challenge: Shift to the Left

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Kiev, Ukraine, February 5, 2015 (Bundesregierung/Steffen Kugler)

Angela Merkel’s answer to the defection of right-wing voters is — counterintuitively — to shift further to the left.

Der Spiegel reports that the German chancellor recently told members of her Christian Democratic party (CDU) they need to do better on pay, pensions and housing.

They were expecting a harder line on immigration, which is the issue that galvanized the Alternative for Germany’s voters.

This new far-right party placed third in last month’s election with nearly 13 percent support.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats still won, but with only 33 percent support — their lowest vote share in over half a century. Read more “Merkel’s Answer to Populist Challenge: Shift to the Left”

German Election Shows Stabilizing Effect of Multiparty Democracy

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel waits for other leaders to arrive at the G7 summit in Bavaria, June 8, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

The headline-grabbing news from Germany this weekend was the return of the far right, which won seats in the national parliament for the first time since 1961.

But the bigger — and more reassuring — story of the election was the fragmentation of the German political landscape.

The Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, once faraway the two largest parties, won only 56 percent of the seats combined. A record seven parties (counting the Bavarian Christian Social Union separately) crossed the 5-percent election threshold. Four parties will probably be needed to form a coalition government — another first in postwar German history.

This might look like instability, but it actually underscores the resilience of multiparty democracy. Read more “German Election Shows Stabilizing Effect of Multiparty Democracy”

Democrats Should Campaign for Dutch-Style Health Reforms

Leiden Netherlands hospital
Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands (LUMC)

The other day, I explained the reason Americans can’t get a European-style health care is not opposition from health insurers but the fears of 155 million Americans who currently get insurance through their employers. They worry that a single-payer system, like Britain’s, would mean higher taxes and lower-quality care.

Such fears — largely unfounded, but not entirely inaccurate; Britain’s National Health Service has a lot of problems — would undoubtedly be amplified by drug companies, health providers and insurance companies if the Democrats campaigned on “Medicare for all”.

So instead of having an abstract, and possibly pointless, debate about the merits of single-payer, why not see if its objectives can be met without eliminating private insurance? Read more “Democrats Should Campaign for Dutch-Style Health Reforms”

Don’t Force Catalans to Choose Between Independence and the Status Quo

Plaça de Catalunya Barcelona Spain
Night falls on Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, September 11, 2017 (Sergio Marchi)

Last night I wrote that time is running out to avoid a constitutional crisis in Spain. The Catalans are determined to hold an independence referendum in October; the central government in Madrid is determined to prevent one.

This seems to be a case of an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object, but there may still be a way out. Read more “Don’t Force Catalans to Choose Between Independence and the Status Quo”

In Defense of Democratic Centrism

Hillary Clinton Andrew Cuomo
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton and New York governor Andrew Cuomo listen to a speech in New York City, April 4, 2016 (Hillary for America/Barbara Kinney)

In Current Affairs magazine, Nathan J. Robinson takes issue with the dominant centrism in America’s Democratic Party.

The idea that Democrats can win elections by reminding progressives they have nowhere else to go, and reassuring conservatives they won’t go after big business, is a dead end, argues Robinson:

For one thing, it doesn’t work. Unless you have Bill Clinton’s special charismatic magic, what actually happens is that progressive voters just stay home, disgusted at the failure of both parties to actually try to improve the country.

This is the left-wing version of the Ted Cruz philosophy: that you can win national elections by mobilizing your base instead of appealing to the center.

The evidence (PDF) is against it. (Also see Scott Alexander.)

A few fanatics might hold out if Democrats nominate too centrist a candidate, like Hillary Clinton, but the majority will make the rational decision and vote for the lesser of two evils, as many Bernie Sanders supporters did in November. Read more “In Defense of Democratic Centrism”

Dutch Liberal, Christian Parties Start Talks to Form Government

Parties in the Netherlands have asked former finance minister Gerrit Zalm to lead negotiations for forming a government, signaling their seriousness to do a deal before the start of the fiscal year in September.

Zalm succeeds Herman Tjeenk Willink, a retired Labor Party politician and seasoned negotiator who was appointed last month to break the gridlock that followed the election in March.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party placed first in the election but won only 33 out of 150 seats. No other party won more than twenty seats, as a result of which at least four parties are needed for a majority.

Tjeenk Willink could not persuade any parties from the left to join a government led by the right, forcing the liberals, liberal Democrats and Christian Democrats into a pact with the socially conservative Christian Union.

This is far from the liberal Democrats’ first choice. They campaigned on expanding euthanasia rights and legalizing soft drugs. The Christian Union could block both.

But on economic and fiscal policy, the four parties do see eye to eye. Read more “Dutch Liberal, Christian Parties Start Talks to Form Government”

After Landslide, Macron’s Challenge Lies in Forgotten France

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron arrives at the Elysée Palace in Paris for his inauguration as president of France, May 14 (Elysée/Nathalie Bauer)

French president Emmanuel Macron has won a comfortable majority for his centrist party, La République En Marche!, but low turnout points to the difficult task ahead: convincing the less prosperous half of France to give him a chance.

An estimated 43 percent of voters turned out in the second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday, an historic low.

Macron’s victory was in little doubt, which may be why so many left- and right-wing voters chose to stay home.

The once-mighty Socialist and Republican parties were decimated. They are projected to win 49 and 125 out of 577 seats, respectively, against 355 for Macron.

The far left and far right lack the mass appeal needed to prevail in France’s two-round voting system. Read more “After Landslide, Macron’s Challenge Lies in Forgotten France”

Both Conservatives and Labour Have Left the Center Wide Open

Before Labour started to catch up with her in the polls, it seemed Theresa May could have it both ways.

The Financial Times argued that her “Global Britain” vision, of free trade and friendship with the rest of the world, was at odds with cutting immigration to an arbitrary tens of thousands and pushing for a “hard” Brexit.

Yet voters seemed to like it. One poll had the Conservatives at nearly 50 percent support. Labour was down to 25 percent as recently as four weeks ago.

The Financial Times warned, though (as did I), that there were policy gaps “in what used to be known as the center ground.” Liberal cosmopolitanism did not have an active voice. Read more “Both Conservatives and Labour Have Left the Center Wide Open”

Emmanuel Macron Wins Election in France

  • Emmanuel Macron, France’s former economy minister, has defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen with 66 to 34 percent support.
  • Macron is slated to be inaugurated as the eighth president of the Fifth Republic next week. He will serve a five-year term.
  • His next test will come in June, when France holds parliamentary elections. Macron’s centrist En Marche! has no seats in the National Assembly. Read more “Emmanuel Macron Wins Election in France”