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Countdown Germany: Day -9

by Saturday Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 06:06:13 AM EST

Excellent commentary and discussions, from the diaries ~ whataboutbob

So, now we are in the single digits. And finally - I already ceased believing it could happen - this election becomes a real thrill. Questions are now popping up about the readyness of "designated" conservative ministers to participate in a grand coalition. Because that is where the signs are pointing to. While I'm still not convinced whether such a CDU/CSU-SPD-coalition would be a good idea, many of my fellow citizens think that way. (Moreover, I would lose a bottle of Champagne because I betted against a grand coalition about two months ago)

  • "The Professor from Heidelberg": How a possibly good idea turned into Angela Merkel's nightmare
  • Schröder's legacy for the German left
  • The polls

"The Professor from Heidelberg": How a possibly good idea turned into Angela Merkel's nightmare

Three weeks ago, conservative leader Angela Merkel was under high pressure to appoint someone for finance ministry, or at least to appoint a finance policy expert. As she pulled Paul Kirchhof out of a hat, everyone was amazed: A cutting-edge neo-liberal tax reformer with the necessary conservative "family values"-bent. Commentators admired Merkel's immense tactical skills. And I, too, thought that this would work: Game over, Gerhard. I was wrong. Look at the polls at the bottom of this diary: From that point on, support for CDU first stagnated, then fell. How come?

I still contend that the idea was a good one (tactically). But the problem was lacking adjustments with her own party and its Bavarian partner CSU. Kirchhof galopped away with his flat tax plans, meeting applause from the Free Democrats but becoming criticised by leading members of the party who appointed him. Merkel was not able to stop the tax discussions inside the party and took refuge to the wording that Kirchhof was "a visionary". - Read: "Don't take him too seriously." Own goal. In the following days, you could often hear former chancellor Helmut Schmidt's (SPD) old phrase: "If you have visions, go to the doctor."

After weeks of Social Democrats being clueless about how to attack, Kirchhof's appointment opened a flank. In an effort to stigmatize Kirchhof, Schröder refused calling him by his name, and only called him "That professor from Heidelberg" - and was able to frame public perception of Kirchhof towards the image of a strange scientist in an ivory tower. He accused Kirchhof of trying to turn the Germans into his own guinea pigs for economic experiments, sounding a bit like old Konrad Adenauer (CDU), first German chancellor in the 50s. Adenauer won his election in 1953 with the slogan "No experiments!" - by a landslide. Schröder was nearly able to distinguish himself as a compassionate social politician - a label that has never been attached to him. As a result, unions returned to a certain degree to the SPD.

Schröder's legacy for the German left

There are two probable outcomes: A conservative-(market-)liberal coalition or a grand coalition. Here at Eurokos, talk was about a possible red-red-green formation, a coalition of the left. As much as I personally would appreciate it, I have to say: It is about as probable as Bush combing Castro's beard. The Left Party performed a completely opposition-styled campaign, agitating more against Schröder than against the conservatives or the Free Democrats. And when Schröder and SPD chairman Müntefering spoke, agitation against the CDU was not remotely as sharp as against the Left Party (this political configuration has a long and painful history in Germany).

Traditionally, the mandate for forming a government coalition first goes to the biggest party in parliament - and that will be CDU/CSU. You can watch me eating my pants if I am wrong. If they do not have the necessary majority to govern with the FDP, they will offer a grand coalition (without Kirchhof!), and SPD will accept. Without Schröder, of course. It is not a big challenge one's imagination to assume that the perspective of being Merkel's deputy does not suit him. But what Germen left will he leave behind?

His most important legacy is the alienation of the Social Democratic left wing, resulting in the division in the SPD, and the division between SPD and organised labour. Well, Michael Sommer, leader of the association of unions (DGB), showed up with Schröder to a public meeting, openly appreciating the SPD's new course during the campaign. But his statement was a far cry from the endorsements of the past. Consequently, Schröder had to do the "endorsement" himself: "I have no doubt that the SPD is favoured by the unions."

Do not mistake me: I don't regret this development. The left within the SPD was marginalised in such a manner that the split finally became inevitable. A strong Left Party prevents the SPD to proceed a more and more market-liberal shaped economic policy, as we have seen in this campaign. And with its tendency towards pacifism, it will also help securing a German foreign policy with an antimilitaristic, diplomatic approach.

The polls

Forschungsgruppe Wahlen

.    9/09  9/02  8/26  8/19  8/12
SPD  34.0  32.0  30.0  29.0  29.0
CDU  41.0  43.0  43.0  43.0  42.0
GRE   7.0   7.0   8.0   9.0   9.0
FDP   7.0   7.0   8.0   8.0   8.0
LEP   8.0   8.0   8.0   8.0   9.0


.    9/07  9/03  8/29  8/22  8/13
SPD  34.0  31.0  30.0  29.0  29.0
CDU  42.0  43.0  43.0  43.0  43.0
GRE   7.0   7.0   7.0   7.0   7.0
FDP   6.0   7.0   8.0   8.0   7.0
LEP   8.0   9.0   8.0   9.0  10.0


.    9/08  9/01  8/25  8/17  8/11
SPD  34.0  32.0  31.0  30.0  29.0
CDU  41.0  43.0  42.0  42.0  42.0
GRE   7.0   7.0   8.0   8.0   9.0
FDP   6.5   6.0   7.0   7.0   6.0
LEP   8.5   9.0   9.0   9.0  10.0


.    9/02  8/26  8/23  8/16
SPD  29.6  28.1  27.9  27.9
CDU  41.7  43.5  41.8  41.9
GRE   7.7   8.1   8.1   8.0
FDP   7.8   8.0   8.7   8.4
LEP  10.1   9.7  10.3  10.5

If the left is hopelessly split, how can it be good that the LP pulls the SPD towards the left (or prevents it from going to the center/right) if it means that they will never win?

Do you expect a grand coalition to be anything but a long, painful waste of time and an encouragement to all the fringe parties, with the risk that it's the other side's extremists that will pick up the pieces?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 05:06:53 PM EST
If the left is hopelessly split, how can it be good that the LP pulls the SPD towards the left (or prevents it from going to the center/right) if it means that they will never win?

I'm answering in my own name here; I think on one hand it doesn't have to mean that the SPD means; on the other hand, if the rightward lurch continues, an SPD win is worth nothing.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 05:37:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
how can it be good that the LP pulls the SPD towards the left

I doubt the old rule the for the left that moving to the right, i.e.: the "center", helped winning elections.

Moving to the right did not really pay off for the SPD in the last two years. During these years, we had some sort of secret grand coalition: The conservatives used their majority in the Bundesrat (second chamber, consiting of the regional states' (Länder) governments) as a blocking majority in many law-making initiatives. Therefore, the SPD has been forced to cooperate, moving to the right. Which cost them badly.

But "left" and "right" are blurry terms.

The current boost for Schröder has, IMO, something to do with his stressing of traditional social democratic values, which is something people are used to - in contrast to concepts of the "conservatives", first of all the tax reform which is supposed to move the tax system to the direction of a flat tax system. A large part of the German constituency tends towards conservativism, and the "No experiments!" slogan frequently payed off in elections.

Do you expect a grand coalition to be anything but a long, painful waste of time and an encouragement to all the fringe parties, with the risk that it's the other side's extremists that will pick up the pieces?

As said above, de facto we already have a grand coalition. I'm not a big fan of it, among other things because of the fact you just mentioned: extremist fringes gaining ground. But a grand coalition seems to be exactly what the electorate wants. Forming a red-red-green coalition under circumvention of the - by far - strongest party (I'm thinking of a 4-6 points lead) would severely damage the legitimacy of any government resulting from such a coalition. I think, at the very moment, this is neither feasible nor wishful. Let's talk about that in four years.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 05:53:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What if... what if some swing voters now with the CDU don't want a hung parliament (and a Grand Coalition), and seeing the SPD up in the polls, decide they have to ensure their victory if the CDU can no longer be counted on?

That would be a wet dream: Red/Green continuing, with CDU reduced, and the Left Party pushing the government back towards the left.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 06:19:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that's really a nice dream of yours. But it would not solve the underlying problem (which is to a large part responsible for the early elections): The blockade situation between conservative dominated Bundesrat and the red/green Bundestag. Facing this blockade situation, many people seem to opt for a grand coalition - maybe (and strangely) because that is what we de facto already have.
by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 06:35:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good point, however: if the Red/Greens would get four more years rather than just one more, they'd get a chance to get back the Bundesrat majority from a seriously wounded Right. (Or not. I'm wildly speculating :-) )

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 05:12:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Two small things about Professor Kirchhof.

To realise, what societal role a Professor has in Germany a simple example can be used. You all know Fawlty Towers and its character the major? Yes, good. A Major in Britain, one that took part in the war, has undoubtedly the respect of everybody and is admired and is given the benefit of the doubt, someone with natural authority, it is a position to be admired one which almost draws defernce . Now you know the Major in Fawlty Tower was not quite like that. Why am I telling you this? A couple of years ago John Cleese was involved in a German version of the series (which never got past the Pilot) and the character of the Major was being replaced by a Professor.

and the second thing that made me laugh: You might know the alliteration of female duties of  Children, Kitchen, Church or the three K in German: Kinder, Kueche, Kirche. Now the SPD has listened to recent comments of Kirchhof, that can be interpreted as him wanting women to return home and become housewives again. The SPD subsequently coined the phrase - and you know what is coming: Kinder, Kueche, Kirchhof.

by PeWi on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 05:17:50 PM EST
As the election campaign began I was in two minds - one the one hand my favorite party was the Greens, on the other hand I wasn't a fan of Schroeder and thought a switch to Merkel wouldn't be a bad idea. But Kirchoff changed my mind. I like the idea of liberal reforms and would prefer more of them, but I don't like tax cuts for the rich (going by the name of a 'flat tax' or any other). On the contrary, I'd want tax hikes for the wealthy.
On the other hand if I were German and I believed that there was a chance of a red-red-green coalition I'd flip a coin and vote for the FDP or the CDU.
by MarekNYC on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 05:21:32 PM EST
Good analysis, thanks. The role you ascribe to the Left Party is one I wish them a high percentage for, too. (Tough myself, I think I would vote for the Greens.)

However, what do you think will be the effect of the Grand Coalition?

Personally, I feel it would be the less bad of two bad choices (the other being Union/FDP destroying every success of SPD/Greens and pushing Germany further down the market-liberal cliff), and while maiming even the rest what Schröder left behind of the SPD, it may lead to much higher numbers for the Greens (and maybe the Left Party, if they don't blow it with idiotic rhetoric once in parliament) in the next elections. But, it may also lead to higher numbers for a demagogic FDP, or even the resurgence of the far-right, I don't know.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 05:35:37 PM EST
"Merkel's biography does not embody the experience of most women," Schroeder-Koepf, a former journalist, told Die Zeit. "They are concerned with how they can have a family and a job, whether they should stay home for a few years after the birth, or how they can best raise their children."

Merkel has refused to be drawn into the issue, stating only that her lack of children was not a conscious decision. To counter these complaints, she points to Ursula von der Leyen, a 46-year-old doctor and mother of seven tapped to serve as her minister for women, families and health in a possible future government.

"Gender dominates Germany chancellor race"

If Leyen spents 12 hours at her job as a minister ( including other party and political events), sleeps 8 hours a day, and spends only 1 hour on her personal affairs (eating, taking a bath, combing hair), then she has 3 hours left for her husband and 7 kids.  

That comes down to 10 min with her husband and 24 minutes and 29 seconds for each child.  

by ilg37c on Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 11:36:08 AM EST
Gender plays role : Yes.
Gender dominates chancellor race : No.

The article from nola.com is a bit contradictive. In contradiction to the headline, it states:

Merkel's party still holds an 8 percentage point lead over the Social Democrats, and whether she becomes Germany's first female chancellor may lie more in the conservatives' focus of creating jobs for the nation's nearly 5 million unemployed than her gender.

Thematizing gender plays a role, but I think it's more at the campaign's periphery. But nevertheless, her candidature is an important breach in political traditions. Never before her, a woman was laeding one of Germany's big parties, and for the CDU it is also important that she comes from the east (CDU has its roots in the west) and that she is a protestant (CDU is the heir to political catholicism in Germany).

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 04:38:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
1. Scenario 1:  I will vote for Mrs. Merkel, because she is a woman.  Hmmm...sounds like a quota!

Scenario 2: I will vote for Mrs. Merkel, because she represents my interests/views/ideology.  Hmmm...sounds like a principled position!

2. A. How do you think a socialist/leftist feminist should vote?

B.  How do you think a socialist/leftist feminist will vote?

by ilg37c on Sun Sep 11th, 2005 at 12:03:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
1) You don't vote for chancellor in Germany - you vote for local representatives and party lists.

2 A) Left Party or Greens.

2 B) Left Party or Greens.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Sep 11th, 2005 at 06:39:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. Thanks for the info about voting for the local representatives and party lists.

  2. My point about 2 scenarios was that its an unprincipled position to vote for another ideology based on sex, race, religion, etc.  For example, a true feminist should not vote for a woman, but for her ideology/interest/etc.
by ilg37c on Sun Sep 11th, 2005 at 10:00:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About 2, that's something conservatives like to harp on about - and then vote out most women despite their ideology... they respect women only if they are three times as ruthless and reckless as the avorage male con leader.

Same for quotas.

I note Merkel was attacked rather strongly for her sex by party rivals playing macho a few years ago, but she out-maneuvered the rival power group (the self-styled "Andenpakt", a group that formed on a plane en route to Pinochet's Chile...).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Sep 11th, 2005 at 12:16:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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