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September 20, 2017

AfD on the rise

We noted this morning that Germany’s main TV-news website has effectively given up on the German elections. The first ten items were foreign news - admittedly on a busy day for non-European news. And the only election news was a relatively minor issue relating to the AfD. 

We would warn against widespread complacency that the German elections are uninteresting or irrelevant. It is true that no conceivable outcome would have a marked impact on the country’s readiness to compromise on eurozone governance reform, beyond the liquidationist measures proposed by Germany itself and which now appear to be accepted by the Macron administration. But this scepticism does not render the German election uninteresting as such. 

We will, for the first time since the second world war, have Nazis back in the Reichstag. Not all AfD members should be categorised in this way, but some clearly deserve that expression, including the future parliamentary leader Alexander Gauland who at one point effectively issued a death threat to a German minister with non-German roots.

Three of the six party groups in the next German Bundestag will be highly radicalised parties - the Left Party, AfD, and the FDP - the latter advocating an open breach of EU law by forcing Greece out of the eurozone. According to the polls, these three parties may account for some 30% of the votes. 

What is also not boring are the options for the next government. A CDU/CSU and FDP coalition seems to be beyond reach. The two groups plus the Greens would have a majority, but we fail to see how this can work politically. The Grand Coalition will always be an option, but the joint share of the vote of the two large parties could fall to below 60%. There is nothing grand about such a coalition. And it would totally destroy the SPD. Our assumption is that Martin Schulz and Sigmar Gabriel ultimately care more about their ministerial limousines than the future of their party, so this remains our most likely outcome.

And finally, there is also the possibility of a minority government, a construction Germans are not familiar with. As we have seen in Spain, and also in the UK, minority governments can be surprisingly stable.

The polls have not shifted much in recent days. Here is the latest snapshot:

Die Welt  has dug up a poll by YouGov, included in the list of established German pollsters, which uses a different methodology - essentially similar to its UK-type constituency-by-constituency analysis. Their results come to a somewhat different conclusion, especially for the small parties. Under their model the AfD comes third with 12%, followed by the Left Party with 10%, the FDP with 7%, and the Greens with only 6%. Their CDU/CSU result coincides with the mainstream number of 36%, while the SPD scores a little better with 25%. The YouGov method takes into account that the Germans have two votes - a direct mandate and a proportional part. Under new rules, the system is no longer 100% proportional as it used to be, so that there may be discrepancies between a party’s share of the vote and its share of MPs. These could be significant for small parties with regional strongholds, like the AfD and the Left Party.

We also noted a very good commentary in FAZ by the Allensbach polling institute, which goes much deeper into the numbers. Allensbach used to be the polling organisation most sceptical towards the AfD - even having predicted its possible demise as recently as a few months ago. It notes that both AfD and Left Party generate their support from protest voters, yet the rise in the AfD did not happen at the expense of the Left Party, but at the expense of the SPD. 

It also notes that there is very little public support for the continuation of the grand coalition. Only 25% of CDU voters want it, and a mere 14% of SPD voters.

And Allensbach is also warning that a very large number of voters have not yet made up their mind. And every fourth voter is ready to split their first and second votes. 

In other words, this election is not quite as boring as it may appear.

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September 20, 2017

Is this the end of the FN as we know it?

We are watching for some time now the internal feud at the Front National between Marine Le Pen and her vice-president Florian Philippot, but this time separation seems unavoidable according to l’Opinion. Philippot was the mastermind behind the strategy to turn the FN more into a mainstream party. Philippot was never a darling inside the party, but got the backing of Le Pen. After the presidential elections, though, the relationship changed and there were some harsh exchanges between the two. Le Pen wanted to renounce the euro-exit strategy, but Philippot would not have it as this was part of the whole package he designed as party programme. The latest spat is about an organisation he created within the party in May without informing her, called "the Patriots". Le Pen gave Philippot an ultimatum to give up his engagement with it, saying that otherwise a separation would become unavoidable. Philippot sees this as a pretext, and insists that a party that does not allow an association within is a dead party. Even Jean-Marie Le Pen entered the dispute, recommending that Philippot give up his vice-presidency but stay in the party. 

Cécile Cornudet writes that, for Marine Le Pen, breaking with Philippot will have heavier consequences than breaking with her father earlier. Le Pen relied too much on Philippot and his strategy in the past. Philippot’s supporters inside the party are also getting ready to leave with him, according to LeLab, expressing their fear that the FN will return to where it came from, with immigration and Islam as its main subjects. It seems certain that, without Philippot, the party would become much more conservative and national identity would play a stronger role in its programme.  

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September 20, 2017

Refugees overflowing Lesvos lead to call for action

The refugee crisis has continued to put pressure on the Greek islands and is now back in the national headlines. The mayor of Lesvos made a desperate appeal in a letter to the Greek government and the European Commission, warning that the island's capacity has been reached and that immediate action needs to be taken to reduce the number of refugees. The flows of refugees and immigrants crossing from Turkey to Greece’s eastern Aegean islands are steadily increasing again. At the same time, there have not been transfers of asylum seekers to the mainland. The mayor blames immigration minister Yiannis Mouzalas for making local municipalities such as Lesvos responsible for handling the overcrowding crisis, instead of taking initiatives at the national level, according to Greek Reporter.

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