1989 Generation Initiative

This week, we discuss the break down of the German coalition talks. Our populist watch zooms in at the newest party in the German Bundestag: the ‘Alternative für Deutschland’.

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Mutti Merkel: Make it our Break it!

Last Sunday night (19 November) the coalition talks between Merkel’s Christen Democratic Union (CDU/CSU), the Green party and the Liberal Party (FDP) came to a sudden end. The FDP decided to walk away from the negotiating tables, leaving no hope for a so called ‘Jamaica coalition’. Migration proved the final deal breaker. The collapse of coalition talks might not seem a a big deal – but in Germany it is. In the last seven decades Germany only had 8 different chancellors. Coalition agreements are normally concluded within several weeks. Therefore German politics has now reached uncharted waters. Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier holds all the cards.

He decides what happens next: either coalition talks continue with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a minority government is installed or new elections are held. Throughout the week, it was suggested that only new elections would be a viable option. These could lead to the fall of Merkel, who has been leading Germany for a solid 12 years. For now, this scenario seems to have been averted. Last night, Martin Schulz’s SPD agreed to explore possibilities for a new ‘GroKo’ or grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU. The question remains, however, whether the Social Democrats and the Christen Democrats will reach an agreement. The SPD took a huge blow during the last elections, which explains why they initially were not willing to enter into talks at all.

The reactions around Europe were mixed. Many spoke about a big ‘crisis’ in German politics. The president of France, Emmanual Macron, was quick to raise his concerns about the collapse of the talks, stating “It is not in France’s interest for things to get blocked.” Macron is eager to start reforming the Eurozone, but needs a stable Germany by his side to get anything done at all. In Great Britain, the Brexiteers triumphantly urged May to exploit the turmoil in Germany to reduce the Brexit Bill, advising May to “sit tight”. Commentators were quick to point out that these voices vastly overestimate the importance of Brexit in German and European politics. In other words, no concessions should be expected.
All in all, one could say that talking about a ‘crisis’ in German politics is premature. Indeed, the country has entered unchartered waters. But let’s first wait to see where the ship steers next before jumping to any conclusions: for now, Mutti Merkel is still there.

Europe’s Week in Links

  • Brexit agencies relocated: the European Banking Authority and Medicine Agency have founds new homes in Paris and Amsterdam, as was decided this week after an eventful voting procedure. Amsterdam won at the toss of a coin, after votes ended in a tie. Slovakia did not participate, being dismayed as no geographical balance was found.
  • Britain is running out of time: May is pushing the EU to move to the second phase of negotiations as she wants to talk trade. Her attempts were quickly rebutted by Tusk who tweeted that the UK has another 10 days to make progress.
  • Ireland and the Irish Border: Although much talk has centered on the amount of UK’s outstanding obligations to the EU, it becomes evident that the Irish border is the real dealbreaker in the Brexit negotiations. The current crisis in Irish politics, which might lead to a snap election, is certainly not helping.

Populism Watch

As German politics is on the front page of every European newspaper, it is worthwhile to have a look at the revival of the German Populist Party ‘Alterative for Germany’ (AfD). These far-right populists have entered the German parliament for the first time, after becoming the third biggest party in the recent September elections. They stole votes from both Merkel’s Christen Democrats as well as Schulz’s Social Democrats. This partly explains the laborious process to form a government.

The AfD was founded in 2013 as an initially Eurosceptic party, opposing the German policies during the Eurozone crisis. They held the Euro to be unsustainable in the long run and opposed the bailouts of southern European countries. In the 2013 German federal elections, the AfD obtained 4.7% of the votes. This was not enough to enter the German parliament, because of the 5%-threshold. Nevertheless, in the following years the party managed to gain a foot in many regional parliaments. The party has especially obtained a strong position in the former East Germany.

The rise of the AfD is marked by a significant shift in their policies and campaign strategies. Their anti-euro stance quickly developed in an anti-migrant, anti-Islam and anti-EU message, which marks populist parties around the continent. They were extremely critical of Merkel’s “Wir Schaffen Das” in 2015 when she opened the German borders for Syrian refugees. The support for the AfD skyrocketed. Between August 2015 and June 2016, the party rose over 10% in national polls. As such, the AfD is the first far-right party to enter the German parliament. Given Germany’s past, many Germans feel uncomfortable about this situation. The German deputy chancellor even compared the AfD party to Nazis. However, given that every European country has his own populist party, one could also argue that Germany is finally becoming a ‘normal’ country again and is “only” catching up with the rest.


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