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October 25, 2018

The Greens as the emerging new political force in Germany

The main political focus in Germany during the summer were the Bavarian elections. But this Sunday’s state election in Hesse are at least as important, as they constitute an important test in the political heartland for both CDU and SPD. Hesse used to be an SPD fiefdom until the 1990s, and has since been governed by the CDU in various coalitions, most recently with the Greens. Both CDU and SPD have popular local leaders, both rising stars in their national parties. And yet, the latest polls show that CDU and SPD can expect large losses. Their situation has taken another turn for the worse in the last few days. 


The Greens are clearly on a roll, not only in Bavaria and Hesse, but in the rest of the country too. In Hesse, the Greens are also the coalition kingmakers. No coalition is possible without them. If these figures are correct, no two-party coalition is viable. The only coalitions that would work are CDU/FDP/Greens, otherwise known as Jamaica, or even SPD/Greens/Left Party, known as red-red-green. If you are into flag symbols, the only flag we identified as describing that coalition would be that of Transnistria. Another possibility would be SPD/Greens/FDP. As we saw in Bavaria, sometimes the actual results to fall outside the error margin of these polls - usually around 3pp either side of the forecast value. Reasons include differential turnout for parties, and the self-reinforcing effect of the opinion polls (a reason they are banned in several countries).

These elections have important implications for the future of the national party leaders. If the CDU were to lose power in Hesse, we would expect a leadership debate to erupt in the CDU. Angela Merkel would remain chancellor for now, but may have to abandon the party leadership, a first sign of her loss of power. Another catastrophic defeat for the SPD would be utterly demoralising for the party, which is losing its position as the main party of the left to the Greens. It was hitherto thought impossible that the Greens would be able to overtake the SPD in Hesse in particular, but one of the polls quoted above shows the two parties neck-and-neck. As we keep pointing out, as long-term observers of German politics who are used to seeing fluctuations in both directions, these numbers are shocking. Interesting, the AfD is not as strong in Hesse as it is in other states. Its polling numbers have remained steady throughout the campaign. The big movements seem to be from the large parties to the Greens.  

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October 25, 2018

Will EU elections turn into an unholy mess?

Seven months from today, voters all across the EU will be streaming to the polls to elect a new European Parliament — but will they really? On the one hand, the stars seem aligned to drive the electorate to the polls in record numbers. The dull age of post-ideological politics is over, with the politics of the West re-defined by a clash of values akin in its intensity to the heyday of the cold war. For the first time, the European elections no longer look irrelevant as seen from abroad: no less an ideologue than Stephen Bannon thinks he has spotted his next opportunity and is working to help the nationalist right triumph in May 2019. His new outfit created to that effect, dubbed 'the movement', is planning its first conference in Brussels in mid-January, as EUObserver reported earlier this week,

But we see a paradox at work: the polarisation of politics drives a fragmentation of national political landscapes that is increasingly turning the pre-electoral dynamics into an impenetrable mess. Luigi Di Maio’s five star movement is still looking for a political home in the next EP after having been successively turned down by parliamentary group after group. As Politico notes, being allied to the far right hasn’t helped their search on the left and in the centre.

Emmanuel Macron’s much-touted plans to forge a grand new centrist-liberal alliance, replicating in Europe what he achieved in France, have turned out to be far more difficult to realise than some overoptimistic Macronistas in Paris and Brussels thought. We are still waiting for the grand launch.

The spitzenkandidat method to chose the Commission president looks moribund as of now. The deeply split EPP seem set on a course to nominate the uninspiring Manfred Weber as its spitzenkandidat, with his only competitor Alex Stubb sidelined by the apparatus and struggling to get his message across. And the social democrats, facing electoral near-annihilation in member states like France, won’t be saved at EU level by the candidacy of Frans Timmermans, their most likely nominee as of today.

With the makeup of any future majority in the EP utterly uncertain, we see a danger that many mainstream voters will think that under these conditions, their vote is guaranteed to sink without trace, so why bother? As usual, the beneficiaries of such apathy would be the extremes.

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