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October 30, 2019

When conservatives try an insurrection - CDU edition

The economist Paul Samuelson once quipped that of the last five recessions nine had been correctly predicted by stock markets. There is a similar mechanism at work with CDU crises. Most of the insurrections peter out without any significance. But some succeed - like the coup against Wolfgang Schäuble in the year 2000. This week’s attempted insurrection by Friedrich Merz and Roland Koch, two of the CDU grandees, does not belong into that category. It will be one of those four stock market crashes that signify nothing. 

After the CDU’s disastrous performance at the state elections in Thuringia, Merz accused Angela Merkel of political inaction. A carpet of fog had descended on Germany under her leadership, he said. We completely agree with him on the substance. Markel will leave Germany unprepared for the technological shocks of the 21st century. The German government is still struggling with digitalisation. It was perhaps symbolic that Peter Altmaier yesterday had a fall at the launch of his ministry’s digitalisation campaign, and broke his nose. 

But the criticism of Merkel's government is as correct as it will be inconsequential. Merz and Koch did not explicitly attack Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, but that criticism was clearly implied. AKK hit back and said she is happy to meet a leadership challenge. That, of course, won’t happen. 

We don’t think that AKK is particularly suited for the job of German chancellor, but that will not stop her from taking on the role in case the CDU/CSU emerge as the largest party in the 2021 elections. We think that the opportunity for Merz came and went. Jens Spahn, who is a more plausible future CDU leader, is not joining the insurrection. He is pledging his support for the current leadership.

The real danger for AKK is not an imminent leadership challenge but a gradual decline of her party, similar to that of the SPD. The CDU and the SPD both have a disastrous voter age profile. Young people are drifting to smaller parties, like the Greens or the AfD. In Thuringia the AfD was the largest party among those under 30. With each election the support for the CDU will erode, not necessarily in a straight line. We think that AKK will be astute enough to remain leader for a while, but not astute enough to stem the party's declining trend. The fragmentation of German politics will continue.

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October 30, 2019

It could not happen here

"It could not happen here" is probably the single most ahistorical statement one can make. It's what the world thought about Germany in the first part of the last century. Germany was one of the most cultured and technically advanced countries on earth. When we asked the question whether a second referendum could degenerate into a civil war, we got the same answer: It could not happen here. The British do not take to the street. They are civilised. 

For starters, it already happened here. Oliver Cromwell's revolution was short-lived, but it was bloody. And a recent poll for the Guardian newspaper suggests that a majority of both Leave and Remain supporters were now in favour of violence against politicians. We take this poll, and any other poll, with a large grain of salt. But there is no question that the UK is becoming potentially more violent. Violence always starts with language.

The Turkish novelist Elif Shafak has an excellent comment in Politico, in which he warns of potential parallels between the deteriorating situations in Turkey and the UK. Like us, he too noted a change for the worse in the UK discourse. And he warns against the illusion that institutions are sufficient to uphold the system.

"Democracy is far more fragile than generally assumed. It is a delicate ecosystem of checks and balances. Referendums and elections, however vital, are not enough to maintain a democracy. Let us not forget that Russia has elections. Turkey has elections. They are not democracies. In addition to the ballot box, democracy is about the rule of law, separation of powers, media freedoms, academic independence, human rights, women’s rights and minority rights."

In Turkey, the descent into one-man rule began with Tayyip Recep Erdogan's own version of a people-versus-the-establishment campaign. This is how Viktor Orbán attained power and and clung to it in Hungary. The language of betrayal and surrender is a slippery slope.

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