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Eat her cake and have it

  • September 2017
  • Ágnes Szűcs

Eat her cake and have it

Europe can’t wait for the German elections

By now, European politics have returned to the normal working schedule after the August holiday break. But only on paper, because whatever question comes to the agenda, the answer will be the same: let’s wait for the German elections. One might think that from Monday it will be an obsolete problem. But unfortunately not. Europe should brace itself for long coalition talks. Quite possibly Germany will not break Belgium’s record of 589 days without a government, given that the two countries have a completely different approach towards rules of a logical life. (Sorry, my Belgian friends.) But the Brussels-wide belief of getting business as usual by December might turn out to be wishful thinking. Some only expect to get things ready by February.

In a curious way, everyone takes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fourth term for granted. It’s true that all other parties would need a miracle to do better than the CDU. But even if we think last year’s election surprises are long behind us, we shouldn’t be so self-assured. Yes, the CDU will quite possibly win the elections. But the ugliest part of the work just starts next week.

 

The impatient FDP-leader, Christian Lindner.

Not to mention the fact that German politics hasn’t been as obsessed with Europe, as the rest of the continent is with them. While committed Europeans cheered the campaign where lead candidates’ pro-European commitment was not a question at all, the European affairs have played a slightly marginal role in the campaign agendas. Yes, Merkel and her social democrat challenger Martin Schulz a bit threatened Poland and Hungary of reducing EU funds if they can’t behave. The first has expressed a careful and moderate support for realizing French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan for further integration, while the latter tried to criticize Merkel’s refugee policy just to say something genuine. FDP leader Christian Lindner refused the idea of further financial integration and made officials in Athens nervous again by questioning Greece’s place in the Eurozone. But basically, that’s all. However, everyone knows that once in government, they will have to say something to Europe.

If we rule out the scenario that AfD achieves a landslide victory, and trust the polls instead, the CDU will have to prepare for compromise. Rumors say they don’t want to have another grand coalition with the SPD because they are eager for a more distinctive center-right policy. On the other side, many say that the SPD can only survive and regain its unique profile if it goes to opposition for the next four years. Nevertheless, this uncertainty might turn out to be just a negotiation tactic, and the two big parties will be happy again to reunite their forces, so that they could go hand in hand to Paris to realize the big European dream.

But if the CDU will end up to be in a coalition with smaller parties, President Macron and all the other pro-European souls will find themselves in a difficult situation. Of course, I should be a fortune-teller to predict what will happen. But if I were about to bet, I would say Merkel and Lindner will end up in coalition, even if they try to be distant for the moment.

 

Source of the photo: Der Spiegel

The chancellor has always been the best player of two-level games, putting her hands up in the Bundestag saying that a certain decision represents the will of European Council. Or doing the same in front her European counterparts referring to the German parliament. In a coalition with the liberals, she could save her face while negotiating with Macron and escape from introducing European reforms that she has always been vary of, by simply arguing she needs to respect the will of the FDP and have a stable government back at home. This way, she could have her cake and eat it too. As the Chancellor has always loved to do so.

Moskau, Moskau

  • September 2017
  • Edo Katanic

Moskau, Moskau
The Ostpolitik of AfD and Die Linke

Sahra Wagenknecht (Die Linke) & Alice Weidel (AfD) Photo: Merkur.de

What is there to say about the German elections that has not been said already? Media pundits from all around the world have been persistently feeding us with articles, opinions and information on the parliamentary elections in the most powerful European state. This festival of democracy is scheduled to take place on Sunday, opening the exciting political autumn in Germany, Europe and beyond.

Only half a year ago, what seemed to be an SPD revival under the new leader Martin Schulz, now seems to have completely faded away. Everyone is more than sure that Angela Merkel will stay in power, yet at the same time speculating whether there will be another grand coalition, a conservative-liberal one, or even a so-called “Jamaica” coalition that would include the liberals and greens.

However, my focus today will be on a party that was undergoing a crisis half a year ago, but could now end up 3rd, and in the case of a grand coalition, it could be the main opposition party. Easy to guess, it is the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The contender for the bronze in this German election marathon, though slightly trailing behind, is the leftist (as the name says) Die Linke. Opinion poll trends also give a proper chance to the pro-business liberals of FDP, who are aiming to return to Bundestag after a four-year hiatus.

Opinion poll average by Süddeutsche Zeitung

I often joke in my native language by commenting for some politically-extreme individuals that they are so far-right that they end up turning left. This play of words could be described in the case of AfD and Die Linke. Their staunch anti-establishment position is well-known to an average German, but their controversial views on issues like Crimea or lifting the sanctions on Russia remain to be stressed.

While for AfD a lot has been said during this campaign, and certainly the media are fascinated with them, Die Linke has somehow been outside the spotlight, though profiting from Schulz’s magic disappearance. However, back to similarities. So what is there in common for the right-wing AfD, which started as an anti-Euro movement but turned out into something else, and the left-wing Die Linke, a post-GDR communist successor party? It is their more or less visible policy alignment with Kremlin.

Although Die Linke MP and foreign policy enthusiast Stefan Liebich explicitly states that Putin is not their friend, reality defies him. The main charisma behind Die Linke, Sahra Wagenknecht has more than once called for a security union with Russia, strongly criticising what she sees as German militarization and calling for the dissolution of NATO. Unlike the majority of left-wing individuals in Europe, Wagenknecht was also severely critical of Angela Merkel’s migration policy. Wagenknecht also blamed Merkel for the cuts in the police force that led to terrorist attacks in Germany last year.

Speaking of Merkel, German weekly Der Spiegel this week came out with an interesting title by one of its columnists, accusing Merkel of being the mother of AfD, due to her policies. The fixation that AfD has against Merkel is pretty obvious, as their main campaign agenda basically stands against everything that Merkel is for. Another common enemy for these two parties is the US (NATO). Needless to say, this is to the applaud of Kremlin. In June 2016 the European Council on Foreign Relations published an excellent survey on “insurgent” parties in Europe, and emphasized how the narrative and policies of AfD and Die Linke are often complementary to Kremlin interests. Although Kremlin did not create these parties, it definitely welcomes them. Probably more than that.

This relentless combination of right-wing nationalists with archaic socialists therefore sees the Kremlin on the one side as a promotor of conservative and illiberal values, while on the other side, as an ally against NATO and the current capitalist world order. Additionally, politicians from AfD and Die Linke are frequent guests on Kremlin-controlled media, which does everything it can to promote them. The same media published a poll result a year ago, which states that every third AfD and Die Linke voter prefers Putin over Merkel. In the same poll, Putin is significantly more popular in Eastern Germany than in the West. However, it is definitely not only due to some East Germany nostalgia.

These are the parts of the country that the mainstream parties often forget about. Eastern Germany is still economically trailing behind, and it can be clearly visible. The popularity of AfD and Die Linke in these parts of the country is then much more understood. In Thuringia for instance, Die Linke has their only Federal Prime Minister. However, as these parties are looking to achieve strong gains on Sunday’s elections, it will be interesting to see how the establishment in Berlin will respond, especially in light of the potential tough coalition talks that could take some time. But first, let us wait and see how the results on Sunday will turn out. Last year’s US election taught us that we should not take opinion polls for granted.

Don’t waste a good crisis

  • September 2017
  • Andrea Lotesoriere

 

Don’t waste a good crisis

President Juncker pushes for heavy reforms

 

 

Wednesday Jean-Claude Juncker, Head of the European Commission, gave his much anticipated “State of the Union” speech. The topics touched varied from immigration to the Eurozone, from Brexit to the Parliament and much more, and in all this topics the fil rouge linking them together was the audacity of his proposal for an ever closer and more integrated Europe.

 

This avant garde position is already upsetting a few people around the continent. In particular, the critics believe the President is pushing the boundaries of his mandate and that a more democratic approach is needed. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny the fact that his proposals are rooted in the same principle: more EU. In particular he refused the idea of a multispeed Europe and envisioned a common path for all the member states and further harmonization in many key sectors, including defense, monetary policies and taxes. On the financial side, he rejected the French proposal of a Eurozone parliament and stated that in the future he sees all the member states adopting the common currency and thus leaving no space for a new and redundant institution. His reasoning was that

 

“If we want the euro to unite rather than divide our continent, then it should

be more than the currency of a select group of countries. The euro is meant

to be the single currency of the European Union as a whole.”

 

What he propose instead is an evolution of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a Monetary Fund, as wished by Berlin, and see the creation of a real EU finance and economy minister, which would have the task to coordinate reforms on a continental level and oversee financial troubles of the member states. To achieve this and more, Juncker calls for a revision of the unanimity rule which would allow for a quicker decision making process and to move away from the intergovernmental model and towards a centralized one.

 

The monetary future of the Union is not, though, the only target of this economical reform foresaw by the Commission. A common EU corporate tax rule, a stricter stance on foreign acquisition on strategic sectors, a push for more free trade agreement and other equally ambitious proposals find the national politics landscape fractured and wary of radical change. Divides between bigger and smaller economies, east and west, north and south emerges and every step could be a potential Pandora’s box for the countries most affected by this new plans.

 

But that’s what it means to be ambitious. It has become increasingly clear to the European governments, and to some extent to the general population, that changes in the Union are in order if it wishes to survive. These proposals, to be effective, must dare to venture into the unknown, like the founding fathers did. For what is worth, the European Parliament is supporting this push as the three major parties at least partially approved of the message from President Juncker.
The captain has set the course to seize the moment and not to let “a good crisis going to waste” and as he himself explained:

 

“The wind is back in Europe’s sails. But we will go nowhere unless we catch that wind.

Years from now we will be more disappointed by the things we did not do, than by the ones we did.”

Quite in a favor

  • September 2017
  • Ágnes Szűcs

Quite in a favor

Pan-European electoral list on the wishlist again

 

 

He is „quite in a favor” of a pan-European list for the European Parliament (EP) elections, said the European Commission’s President in his State of the Union speech. Given that he wanted to attempt the impossible and reconcile the whole continent in an hour, Jean-Claude Juncker really needed to say so. And the relatively safe topic of a transnational list was indeed a good idea for this purpose. However, it’s a bit ironic that just a day before his speech, the proposal was put on the waitlist by the EP itself.

 

The Parliament has been trying to set up a pan-European constituency for more than twenty years. The dream has always been modest, suggesting only an addition to the existing Member State-based system, with seats ranging from 25 places up to 10 percent of the total number of MEPs. But as it has always been the case with ideas labelled too federalist, the proposals were shortly turned down.

 

A ray of hope has started to emerge recently with the Brexit, given that 73 seats will soon be free, therefore the pan-European constituency would be created without hurting national interests. On the top of that, there came the self-proclaimed savior of Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron and called for a transnational list.

 

If we look away from the fact that Macron has a very strong motivation to interfere in the affairs of the EP because he needs legitimize his brand new political party LREM at the European scene as well, the proposal is a good one. A lot of us wish to have as many euros as many times we have heard complaints about the democratic deficit of the EU. Setting up a moderate-sized pan-European electoral list would be a meaningful step for strengthening the democratic legitimacy. Especially now, that Macron and Juncker have ambitious (and let’s admit, sometimes quite contradictory) plans for deepening the European integration.

 

So, it seemed for a while to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to launch the project. But what happened instead? Basically nothing. Old reflexes hinder the plan over and over again. One doesn’t even need to read the news to guess how the playbook goes. The ALDE and the Greens push hard for the concept, recalling that it has never happened before that Member States (France and to a lesser extent Italy) asked for transnational lists. But when it’s about to take a step further, there comes the good old political compromise. As long as the Brexit is done, there is too much legal and political uncertainty, so we should wait, concludes the recently debated report on the future composition of EP. Therefore, the seats could only be redistributed after the Brits are gone.

 

There exists an other magic word that we wish to change to euros: incrementalism. We say we are in a favor of the ever-closer union, but when it’s about to decide, we always temper our tone. So, one just shouldn’t really bother about Juncker’s nice ideas about merging presidencies and Eurozone for all. It was a decent speech. Yes, indeed, we are quite in favor of it. Maybe ten years later, we will take some of its elements into consideration. That’s all, folks.

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