Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011: An Important Year in German Politics

With seven out of Germany’s 16 states holding elections in 2011, next year could see some dramatic changes in the German government.

The opinion polls do not look good for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Polls suggest only 37 percent of Germans support her government.
Germany’s Spiegel Online reports that there “is a chance that her conservative Christian Democratic Union (cdu) could lose every one the votes, which would deal her authority within the party a stinging blow and could even scupper her chances of standing for a third term in 2013.”
“The March 27 election in Baden-Württemberg is the most important of the 2011 elections,” according to Spiegel Online. “It is a traditional cdu bastion, having been ruled continuously by the party since 1953.”
The article continues: “Opinion polls suggest that the center-left Social Democrats (spd) and the Greens have a realistic chance of ousting the cdu in Baden-Württemberg in what would be nothing less than a political earthquake. The Greens are so strong in the state that they could even end up as the senior partner in a coalition with the spd.”
“Defeat,” the Telegraph’s Bruno Waterfield writes, “will bring disaster.”
It looks even worse for the cdu’s coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (fdp). After winning 14.6 percent of the vote in the last elections, the fdp’s approval rating has shrunk to only 3 percent.
German election law requires a party to win at least 5 percent of the vote to be eligible for a seat in parliament. So if national elections were held right now, polls suggest that the fdp would be completely removed from the government. It could be removed from several state governments over the next few months.
If that happens, the fdp’s leader Guido Westerwelle could lose his post.
Regional elections are especially important in Germany, where the state parliaments determine which parties get seats in Germany’s Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament. Since a defeat in a state election last May, Germany’s ruling coalition has lacked a majority in the upper house.
If the next year brings more losses for Merkel, she will have to make major compromises to get any of her plans through parliament.
Germany’s first state election of 2011 is on February 20 and the last is on September 18, meaning Germany will spend most of the year in election mode, with cdu and fdp officials scared of saying or doing anything bold, for fear of hurting their party’s chances.
Just one member of the coalition—the cdu’s sister party the Christian Social Union (csu)—will be immune to the disease. The csu operates only in the state of Bavaria, which won’t have its next state election until 2013. This means that csu politicians such as csu chairman Horst Seehofer and—most importantly—Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg will be a lot freer to speak their minds and take decisive action.
A bold speaker is exactly what worries Merkel.
“Chancellor Merkel is deeply concerned that immigration, or more specifically Islam, is becoming a major issue in Germany,” writes Waterfield. “She fears that a German Geert Wilders could spring from within her Christian Democrat ranks to challenge her by emulating the popular and successful Dutch anti-Muslim politician.”
The idea of a right-wing, anti-immigration and anti-multicultural politician rising up in Germany should scare a lot more people that just Mrs. Merkel.
Waterfield makes a good point—there is a void in Germany that a charismatic anti-immigration politician could fill, rising to great popularity. Watch this void closely in 2011.