September 20, 2016
The Berlin aftermath
These are important days in German politics because they will shape the next German government, and of course, of Angela Merkel's future as well. Her lukewarm mea culpa yesterday did not really cut it - she blamed herself for not communicating her policies better, which is the exact opposite of what her critics want to hear. Horst Seehofer, CSU chief, said it was not sufficient to tell the people that we have done everything right, we only have to explain it better. He said the CDU and the CSU have a few weeks to find an agreement. Otherwise he would not be in a position to support Merkel.
Merkel spoke at the CDU executive meeting, in which she also criticised herself for not preparing the country adequately for the stream of refugees. But she was also just as adamant that she is not going to change her policies. FAZ quotes one of the participants of the meeting as saying that her comments had cleared the air, but it is not clear to us how that is possible.
While Merkel was trying to extricate herself from her refugee policies Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD chief and her coalition partner, scored an important victory at a party congress which approved the Ceta trade deal with Canada by a majority of two thirds. This was a big personal victory for Gabriel, who is also economics minister and who sold his party a deal to approve a modified Ceta in exchange for blocking TTIP if it was ever proposed.
There are hopes among the left for a three-party coalition of the left at the federal level, following the Berlin elections which are likely to lead to a such a coalition at state level. At the moment the three parties - SPD, Left and Green - score between 42% and 44% in the polls, well short of a majority. The three parties would, however, have a theoretical majority in the current Bundestag. The most likely coalition constellations are currently either another CDU/CSU/SPD coalition, or a three-party coalition, always with the CDU/CSU. It is only if the CDU/CSU were to fall below 30% that an alternative option becomes more realistic. That would be the moment when Merkel would lose the support of her own party. That has not happened yet - and we don't think that it will.
In this context we noted two comments. Berthold Kohler notes that until recently Merkel used to benefit her party - she pulled the numbers up. She has now become an electoral liability. Her party has tolerated that for as long as she was able to take the SPD down with her. That has now changed. The more Gabriel distances himself from her, the more nervous the CDU becomes. Kohler notes that Merkel's self-criticism only relates to her over-reliance on the Dublin system. She does not really understand the political reaction in Germany against mass immigration. He notes that Merkel's promises to explain her policies better constitute the ultimate threat to her party. If she succeeds, the party would be in real trouble.
And finally, we have a comment by Heribert Prantl of Suddeutsche, one of the few German commentators who is not particularly worried about the AfD which he dismisses as a three-year phenomenon. The AfD is the anti-party, anti-everthing: EU, euro, Nato, refugees. One of the effects of the current political constellation is that the CDU will move to the right and the SPD will move to the left. This is not a bad thing for German democracy, he writes.