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June 24, 2019

Economic reform has torn up the SPD - climate policy does the same for the CDU/CSU

When the fortunes of large parties change, this has almost never to do with the quality of its leaders, and almost always with political shifts in society. It is easy to point fingers at Sigmar Gabriel, Martin Schulz or Andrea Nahles. All three have been above-average political operators. What has killed the SPD has been Schröder’s economic reforms combined with the readiness to enter successive grand coalitions.

The situation for the CDU and CSU is no less alarming. What the Schröder reforms did for the SPD in the last 15 years, climate policy is doing to the CDU right now. The party is torn between its traditional support for industry and the recognition that it needs to become greener. The Greens are now polling at the same level as the CDU/CSU, and even pulled ahead in some polls. CDU/CSU are no longer guaranteed to nominate the next chancellor. This new situation is beginning to have a big impact on the internal debate. The argument this time is not between the two parties, but within the CDU. Angela Merkel and CSU-chief Horst Söder are calling for an end to coal-fired power stations by 2030 - as opposed to the previously agreed target of 2038, also the official recommendation of the coal commission. The commission was a classic stitch-up job to protect the interests of industry, and widely greeted with dismay. This has contributed to the dramatic rise in support for the Greens since February when the results were announced.

The biggest opponents to a policy shift within the CDU are the state premiers of Saxony and North-Rhine Westphalia where production of lignite - or brown coal - is concentrated. They argue that an early exit from coal is not doable. But they premise their definition of realism on continued industrial expansion. It reminds us of the most common argument against electric cars in Germany: it cannot happen because German car makers are simply not ready to mass-produce them. What those who argue in this way have not yet woken up to is that their underlying assumptions about German industrial production are going to be challenged as part of the climate policy as well. What they have not realised yet is that the targets are very easy to achieve - through less production at home.

This issue is going to come to a head before the scheduled 2021 elections. We see no possibility of the grand coalition continuing beyond for reasons of pure arithmetic. The only viable coalition right now is between CDU/CSU and the Greens. Even CDU/CSU, SPD, and FDP would not have a majority between them. The CDU would have been prepared for a coalition with the Greens as junior partner - as Merkel was in 2017. With the Greens as equal, let alone senior partner, this is a completely different situation. Climate targets will be to Germany what Brexit is to the UK.

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June 24, 2019

Not intruding, not really

This morning we can continue playing our favourite news headline game of last week, and boldly state: something that was never going to bring down Boris Johnson is now not bringing down Boris Johnson. The apartment row affair is not the intruding event. 

The Tory party members have not changed their views on the two candidates. If you oppose Johnson, you oppose him more. But we have yet to hear someone say that they had supported Johnson, and now support Jeremy Hunt. Brexit is the bigger issue. Hunt voted Remain. Johnson voted Leave. People got that. It isn't as though the idea of a Remainer trying to deliver Brexit hasn’t been tried.

We are very much reminded of the "grab-them-by-the-pussy" tape  during the 2016 US presidential election campaign. That was exactly one month before the elections. Donald Trump ended up winning a majority among white women. Much of journalism on both sides of the Atlantic has not quite come to terms with the fast-moving 21st century. They are still trapped in the 1980s and 1990s, when incidents such as these would have finished off the respective candidates.

In the UK, Brexit has been such a dominant issue that Conservative voters would probably forgive their favourite candidate a lot more. Johnson needs to stay out of jail. Other than that, the weekend's intruding scandal is not such a big deal.

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