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March 31, 2017

Will the AfD implode?

We put the Schulz effect at about an extra 10pp for the SPD, which is now about level with the CDU/CSU. A large part of those votes comes from the AfD. The last two polls have that party at only 7%, just barely above the minimum needed to get into the Bundestag. Apart from Schulz, the other reason is the party’s internal division, which has broken out into the open. Divided parties don’t win elections. Divided protest parties die. This is what happened to the Pirate party, which in 2012 managed to get poll results of close to 10%, but collapsed shortly thereafter.

There is another important parallel. The AfD chairwoman, Frauke Petry, said an interview with Tagespiegel that she could envisage life outside politics. A few days earlier she broke down in tears during a regional party congress in Saxony, when she was viciously attacked by some of the party’s right-wingers. It is hard to imagine that there is a lot of space to the right, but apparently large sections of the party are in that camp - including an increasing number of officials on the far-right.

Frankfurter Allgemeine observes that the AfD’s leadership does not seem to care much about Petry’s threat. There are two interpretations. She is either pre-announcing her retirement, or she is trying to blackmail the party into giving her even more power. Gerhard Schröder ran the SPD on that basis. The difference is that the AfD is a rather different party.

The decline of the Pirates was already triggered by the departure of a popular politician, a young woman who decided she'd had enough and went to university instead. The same could happen to the AfD without Petry. These leaders are media phenomena. After the resignation of Bernd Lucke, Petry is the only other candidate with effective communication skills. This is a potentially important development. If the AfD implodes before the elections, Germany is back to a five-party Bundestag - CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP, Left Party, and the Greens. It would become a lot easier for Schulz to form a red-red-green coalition if the AfD were not represented.

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March 31, 2017

The parliament vs Dijsselbloem

The confrontation between the European parliament and Jeroen Dijsselbloem over his liquor-and-women remark continues to escalate, and it makes us wonder whether his position as eurogroup chair could not become untenable soon. The latest incident concerns Dijsselbloem decision to excuse himself from a debate on the Greek programme review next Tuesday at the Strasbourg plenary. Dijsselbloem's office use a full agenda as an excuse, as the Parliament gave him too little notice. Dijsselbloem responded to a letter from Antonio Tajani with a proposal to postpone his appearance before the plenary until after the Greek programme review is concluded - and who knows when that will be?

El País calls the situation a sort of ambush. According to Volkskrant the parliament has been trying to schedule a plenary session on the Greek review since the start of the year, while Dijsselbloem continued his regular appearances at the economic and monetary affairs committee. El Mundo describes how Tajani manoeuvered to expose Dijsselbloem by sending him an actual letter inviting him to next week's plenary. This forced Dijsselboem to excuse himself if he wanted to avoid a hostile reception, after more than 70 MEPs signed a letter demanding his resignation. These were mostly EPP members, including the group chair Manfred Weber. It is no secret that the Spanish PP has been particularly active on this, though Luis de Guindos has denied that he wants Dijsselbloem's job any longer. In any case, the conventional wisdom is that, due to the under-representation of the social democrats among top EU jobs, Dijsselbloem's replacement should be another social democrat, possibly the Slovak Peter Kazimir who has a suitably hawkish reputation.

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