Superwahljahr: K-Frage

Whatever else happens, there’s going to be a federal election in September, and there will be a CDU/CSU joint candidate for the chancellorship. The question, of course, is who – the K-Frage. Germany had a preview of this with the CDU’s leadership election earlier this year, where the party of consensus, compromise, and continuity achieved the first two by compromising between the continuity-Merkel candidate, Norbert Röttgen, and the tax-cut conservative Friedrich Merz, by picking the compromise candidate’s compromise candidate, Armin Laschet, the Nordrhein-Westfalen minister president. The key contradiction, really, was between the way Merkel transformed the CDU electorate – Christian Odendahl’s thread points out that not only did she mobilise women, she made the party the leading choice among immigrants – and the degree to which the party remained the same. Perhaps the most telling point is that the three candidates for the CDU leadership were not just all men, all native-born, all West Germans, and all Roman Catholics, they hailed from a fairly small geographic slice of NRW. There was no-one from east of Dortmund, north of the Ruhr, or much south of Bonn. All three are lawyers. Laschet’s offer was a compromise between the Merkel legacy and this rather dated party apparatus.

As the virus bounce receded, the contradiction began to bite again, and the CDU/CSU’s polls collapsed, there’s been a sort of phony war as CSU leader Markus Söder has repeatedly refused to say if he’s a candidate while sure acting like one. Enter Ralph Brinkhaus, the CDU/CSU parliamentary leader, who has very brusquely demanded that Laschet and Söder make their minds up, setting a two-week deadline. Brinkhaus’ influence should not be underestimated. In 2018, it was his surprise election to the job that precipitated Merkel’s announcement that she wouldn’t be a candidate again – see this AFOE post, including a profile of him. Brinkhaus was supported in this by fifty members who signed a statement demanding that they be consulted, plus some important state-level CDU politicians.

In the meantime, new, terrible polling dropped, showing Laschet’s state CDU sinking fast, within 2 points of the Greens hitting the lead. It’s hard to overestimate the significance of the Greens taking the lead in NRW, the richest and most populous state and the home of all things coal-fired and stereotypically masculine. This is of course hugely sapping for Laschet. Federal-level polls look marginally better for the CDU than a week ago although this is probably just noise.

Events are now moving fast. Handelsblatt reports that Söder is finally off the fence. In his own words, apparently he couldn’t bring himself to hide from the responsibility. What a guy! Laschet and Söder are both now officially candidates, having announced this to the parliamentary group and therefore implicitly conceded that it’s likely to choose between them. So many MPs have now signed Brinkhaus’ statement that they likely make up a blocking minority in the case Laschet wants to ignore them and Söder and just go for it.

Everyone is now taking sides. The former Merz supporters are rallying to Söder and so is Röttgen (did we say they like compromises?), although apparently some people think Brinkhaus himself should run or threaten to run, perhaps just as a way of forcing Laschet and Söder to come to an arrangement. The CDU and CSU top leaders are meeting tomorrow – Söder says he doesn’t expect a decision but Laschet says he expects a “recommendation”. Either way the question is going to be answered.

That of course leaves the other K-frage – which of the Greens’ co-leaders, or perhaps someone else, gets to be the candidate, as there can only be one.

Fin De Régne: An Outbreak of Small and Medium-Sized Scandals

In a previous Superwahljahr post I said that the Wechselstimmung – the sense that it’s time for a change – Markus Söder felt in Germany might just be an ambiance de fin de régne. The German, or indeed English, phrase has positive, springlike connotations even if you’re on the wrong end of it, a sense of revival and necessary housecleaning. The French, though, implies an atmosphere of sinister intrigue and suddenly unburied secrets. Even if you welcome the prospect of a new reign, the transition is likely to be sordid and dangerous.

This spring has seen the country of the small and medium-sized business’s small and medium-sized political parties hit by a wave of small and medium-sized scandals. Like a good small-town machine-tool manufacturer, this Mittelstand of scandal promises to punch above its weight and deliver more political impact than you’d expect. Scandals are interesting because they obey their own rules; the secrets disclosed are usually not all that secret or that surprising, the impact of the scandal is rarely proportional to its seriousness on any objective test, and there is a critically important distinction between the kind that burns out and the kind that snowballs and brings more skeletons clattering out of their cupboards.

There was the whole business with Azerbaijan, for example. This oil-rich autocracy seems to have celebrated its triumph over Armenia by taking a startlingly close interest in the politics of southern Thüringen, where it has been regularly buying advertising in a CDU MP’s self-published local newspaper. The sums are comically trivial, but an important feature of a good scandal is very often just that. If you think you’re hardened enough to expect that everyone has their price, after all, finding out that it’s €16,000 might be more disturbing rather than less. And as it turned out, Mark Hauptmann wasn’t the only one. Not only were there a whole gaggle of CDU politicians in the pay of Baku, there was a TV station in Berlin, run by none other than Peter Brinkmann, the journalist famous for cajoling the East German information minister Günter Schabowski into accidentally announcing the end of the Berlin Wall. Also, one of them, Karin Schenz, has unexpectedly died on an airliner heading from Cuba back to Germany while under investigation, the sort of thing that will always raise questions. Their Green coalition partners in Stuttgart seem to have noticed or suspected something, as they nicknamed them the Baku-Württemberg party.

(The same Azeri lobbying campaign, incidentally, seems to have recruited the disgraced Liam Fox MP, or “Foks” as his surname is spelled on the cover of the suspiciously large edition of his book they ordered.)

Then there was federal health minister Jens Spahn. Spahn didn’t help himself by going to bizarre legal lengths to conceal the price of the luxurious villa he and his husband the publisher of celebrity magazines bought. Such information is available in the land registry as a matter of routine, but Spahn both tried to lean on the local authority through administrative channels and then threatened Der Tagesspiegel with his lawyers. None of it worked; turns out the seller was later given an important job in the ministry’s gift. Spahn’s husband’s firm, meanwhile, turned out to have sold the ministry a large quantity of masks despite being, you know, a magazine holding company that probably hadn’t sewn them itself – or maybe it did, as most of them never turned up and they’re still arguing about it.

The mask thing just kept on going. A succession of CDU and CSU MPs all seem to have discovered they had masks to sell last spring, and proceeded to push them on the federal government, mostly via Spahn’s ministry. To begin with they were all individual cases and hadn’t made any profit out of it, no, sir. As the story developed there were more of them, the CSU was involved as well as the CDU, and the cases were evidently connected. Not only did they receive fees for their services as lawyers, they got a percentage commission, and the money was paid to a firm controlled by one guy’s children and its Luxembourg bank account. The transfer caused the sender’s bank to raise a suspicious-activity report, which turns out to have brought the whole thing down despite the usual last minute promises to let one’s offices ruhen or literally rest for a while and to give the money to a (suspiciously) local charity. This eventually reached Alfred Sauter, a hugely important CSU figure, who further turned out to have been paid to lobby for a brand of rapid lateral-flow tests with Markus Söder’s office.

Sauter resigned rather than become the first person to be expelled from the CSU parliamentary party, but there was more. His day job outside politics is a law firm he runs with fellow CSU MP Peter Gauweiler, for it is he. Gauweiler managed to trump the mask business by being exposed for accepting €11 million in fees from 91 year old billionaire ice-cream tycoon August von Finck. Von Finck’s grandfather was a co-founder of Allianz and Münchner Re, his dad acquired the German Rothschild bank during the Nazi era in the way you’d expect, and younger von Finck probably made more money from real estate, but I can’t help stressing that his family owns Mövenpick, because the whole idea that European history was bent out of shape by the sinister influence of Big Sundae is too grimly hilarious. At least it’s an improvement on Krupp and Thyssen – butter rather than guns, even if his politics are seriously weird.

What von Finck wanted from him was a constant stream of lawsuits against the European Central Bank, and, well, that’s what he got. If you read this blog through the Eurozone crisis you probably remember Gauweiler as the most intransigent opponent of anything like a transfer union or really any action at all. After all the complicated theorising about the Freiburg school, ordo-liberalism, the importance of returning to the final settlement of trade transactions, well, it was von Finck’s euros or more likely undeclared Swiss francs at work. The same goes for all the arguing about the inner workings of TARGET-2, as it further turns out Gauweiler paid Hans-Werner Sinn for his expert testimony out of the ice-cream money. Hey, and you could read this blog for nothing!

Well, that was fun. But scandal theory tells us something important. It’s all dropping now for a reason. That might be because nobody fears the people involved any more, or nobody expects to get anything from them in exchange for continued silence. It might be because a news story about important people isn’t news if they’re not important people any more. It might be because change is coming, and the question is now what and who that change will be. In that light, the scandal outbreak implies there’s going to be a new government, and plenty of people have it in for Söder. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the von Finck/Söder link described here, as another important question in any scandal is who’s protected and who isn’t.

Meanwhile, the chancellor and the provinces are at daggers drawn having managed – uniquely – to decide on an Easter lockdown and then realize the additional public holiday involved was illegal. Fin de régne, indeed.

Reset The Reset: Superwahljahr Blogging

Just before the pandemic I was mostly blogging here about the political crisis in Thüringen, a consequence of Angela Merkel’s exit, which was itself a consequence of the Green breakthrough across Germany. Then, other matters demanded our attention, such as masks and queuing for toilet paper.

That was roughly what happened in German politics, too – in the face of the crisis, Merkel’s authority shone through and the CDU surged forward in the polls, reversing the losses to the Greens, while the far-right cut itself down to size – from pushing 20% to a steady 10% – with a succession of increasingly ridiculous acts of street theatre, culminating with a faith-healing drummer in unlikely dreadlocks trying to storm the Bundestag. It was as if a reset button had been pressed. Outside Germany this was usually ascribed to Merkel herself, while inside Germany the boast was that “die CDU kann Krise”, obviously a more useful argument for her potential successors.

Today, with Germany having made a start on its Superwahljahr or mega-election year, the political scene looks remarkably like it did immediately pre-pandemic. Back in the winter of 2018, when the original Green surge was on, I estimated that the Greens were gaining votes at a rate of half a million a week. This was the phenomenon that reversed in the spring of 2020, but coming back to Merkel was clearly a very weakly held opinion – the very speed with which the reversal happened might have been a clue. Current polling puts the combined CDU/CSU between 25 and 27 per cent and the Greens between 21 and 23 per cent. In mid-January, the CDU/CSU was on 36 per cent.

It’s crucial to remember here that the structural CSU bonus in Bavaria means that the gap between the CDU as such and its rivals is much smaller in the rest of Germany – we are back at the kind of levels where the Greens can reasonably hope to overtake the CDU as such. With Bavaria accounting for 15% of the electorate and the CSU on 40%, a CDU/CSU score of 27% means the CDU is on 21% of the vote in the rest of Germany, 3 points ahead on the same basis. I’ve used the latest poll here, a YouGov survey; Kantar’s poll issued on the 27th March had the CDU/CSU on 25% and the Greens on 23%. At those levels, it’s happened – the Greens would be ahead.

Not surprisingly this has given risen to feverish political activity. Although the CDU has settled on a party leader it still needs to pick a candidate for chancellor, as in fact do the Greens. One of the most likely options, Bavarian minister-president and CSU leader Markus Söder, said about the Kantar poll that he fears a Wechselstimmung im Lande, an atmosphere of change.

So far, we’ve had two of the major elections planned for this year, in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz. The calendar is here; we’ve got Sachsen-Anhalt to come in June and some local council elections before the big bang on the 26th of September, when there are state elections in Berlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and Thüringen as well as the federal general election.

Ironically, neither election led to any change but both confirmed that change is indeed coming. In B-W, the Green minister-president Winfried Kretschmann was re-elected with 33 per cent of the vote, a record for any Green and something of a surprise in a country that has small and medium-sized political parties as well as small and medium-sized businesses, making his CDU coalition partners very much the junior partner in the coalition. In Rheinland-Pfalz, SPD minister-president Malu Dreyer’s so-called traffic light coalition of social democrats, liberals, and greens was re-elected fairly comfortably. Any good news is welcome for the SPD at the moment, but this is mostly interesting because the current state of the polls suggests that such a coalition could be a majority at the federal level. That would require the FDP to walk back its march towards populism for rich people, but it’s important to note that FDP principles are rarely particularly robust and also that they have been cooperating with the state-level SPD in R-P for years, both in Dreyer’s government and in Kurt Beck’s.

Very interestingly indeed, polling evidence suggests that both Kretschmann and Dreyer won big with the over-60s, breaking through an important generational firewall. As I’ve pointed out before, Kretschmann especially has succeeded by addressing the dense network of clubs and associations that is such a feature of German society, and this effect is likely a pay-off from this. Médiapart has a very good interview (in French) with Der Tagesspiegel‘s Ulrich Schultze on how Kretschmann did it. The key point, really, is that nothing really stands in the way of a Green-CDU coalition – except whether or not the CDU will have anything to offer.

The hope, from the CDU’s point of view, is that picking a candidate like Markus Söder who might inject some energy into the campaign and at least looks generally modern will keep them far enough ahead of the Greens to claim the leadership of such a coalition. But another way of saying Wechselstimmung is fin de régne, and there are plenty of things that might yet wreck this plan.

Thüringen: The Long Goodbye

So, what about that German politics? Back in September 2018 we rang the bell to say that this time it was serious and the end of the Merkel era really was at hand. In that post, we reviewed the runners and riders and predicted Annegret Krampf-Karrenbauer would emerge as the favoured successor, which she did. We also noted just how badly Merkel’s succession planning had gone so far, with a succession of favourite sons and daughters disgracing themselves (zu Guttenberg), failing to make the dysfunctional defence bureaucracy work (zu Guttenberg, von der Leyen, *and* AKK – a challenge Merkel seems to set everybody sooner or later), bungling provincial elections (Klöckner), or moving onto other challenges (von der Leyen).

Well, turns out that’s one prediction that lasted really well. The split between the party leadership, the chancellor, and the still-to-be-determined future candidacy was always a painfully awkward solution, and now AKK is out, having struggled to make any progress with the defence ministry or, more critically, develop any authority of her own while Merkel is still around.

How this happened, though, is far more interesting than the mere fact of another Merkel successor biting the dust. The challenge of developing a distinctive profile, policy agenda, or personal authority while the great chancellor is still dominating the stage may be impossible, but Germany is experiencing a complex political crisis which touches all the parties at once.

In October, the state of Thüringen held its elections, making the incumbent Left Party the biggest single force (results) but leaving it without enough seats to continue its coalition with the SPD. Tortuous negotiations between the parties followed, with the important constraint that the CDU refuses to be in a coalition with the Left on the grounds that it is the successor to the East German communists. Eventually, the state parliament convened with no agreement and proceeded to the vote.

An important detail: Thüringen’s state constitution provides for two rounds of open voting in which a simple majority is required to elect a minister-president, before a third round, where the candidate with the most votes is elected.

On the first two rounds, Left Party incumbent Bodo Ramelow got 44 votes and the CDU candidate 24, with the AfD members abstaining. On the third, the FDP (which only barely beat the 5% limit to get seats at all) unexpectedly fielded a candidate, the CDU backed their fellow member of the “bürgerliches Lager”, and then the AfD astonished everyone by voting for the liberal, making Thomas Kemmerich the first FDP minister-president since 1953, and ushering in a mammoth political crisis.

Taking the event literally, as it were, would mean that Thüringen would get a government 95 per cent of the electorate had voted against, without any parliamentary base, and permanently dependent on a party most Germans consider to be infested with Nazis. The decent course would be to refuse the honour, leading to the dissolution of the Landtag and new elections, but Kemmerich wouldn’t let go (not least because taking office for even one day was worth over €100,000 in various payouts to him) until the party leadership essentially bullied him into it. Actually implementing his exit, though, turned out to be rather complicated as the legal options all require either the election of somebody else, or new elections. The parties are finding the first difficult to agree on, and all of them except the Left Party and maybe the Greens want to put off the second as long as possible.

The upshot has been a political earthquake. The immediate impact is easier to list than describe in continuous prose.

  • CDU leader AKK couldn’t discipline the party boss in mighty Erfurt, and resigned
  • The FDP became a national laughing stock and will probably be brutally punished at the Hamburg state elections, as its departure from the centre is now blindingly obvious
  • Unlike AKK, its leader did manage to chastise their local boss, saving his own job at least until the election results hit
  • The SPD is likely to enjoy some blessed relief from its own problems by thrashing the Hamburg FDP and CDU
  • The AfD found a bug and did its best to crash the system, but polling suggests it has gained nothing
  • Bodo Ramelow and the Left party are ruthlessly using the crisis to force the CDU to abandon its doctrine that they are equivalent with the extreme-Right. They may well get it
  • Although Ramelow got a deal with the Thüringen CDU, the problem is now the opposite – the central CDU, itself leaderless, is making trouble
  • The Greens are likely to take another big chunk out of the core CDU vote
  • Having repented of their swing to the populist Right, the CSU has now become more Merkel than Merkel, with a new strategy focused on competing with the Greens

This is all very complicated, so I’m going to break it down into a series of posts spinning off good German content I’ve been collecting.

Bad neighbourhoods

From US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “The West is Winning” speech at the Munich Security Conference

The West is winning. We are collectively winning. We’re doing it together.

Let’s start with a simple fact: Free nations are simply more successful than any other model that’s been tried in the history of civilization. Our governments respect basic human rights, they foster economic prosperity, and they keep us all secure.

It’s why so many people risk a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Greece and Italy, but you don’t see the world’s vulnerable people risking their lives to skip illegally en masse to countries like Iran or to Cuba.

Iran has been absorbing refugees for decades from Afghanistan. There are around 1 million registered and more who were displaced. And then there are the generations of Iraqis who took refuge in Iran during the Saddam era. Or as Pompeo would say, they “skipped illegally en masse.”

Irish election resources

The exit poll is out. The widely reported 3 way tie — in first preference votes — between Fianna Fáil (main opposition), Fine Gael (minority government) and Sinn Féin (the ostensible surprise packet in the election).

The next indication of results will be the famous “tally” — an estimate of first preference votes, constituency by constituency, based on skilled observers of the ballots as they are sorted. These people are clearly needed in Iowa (or could have lucrative careers in Las Vegas). Check the website of national broadcaster RTE (and no, that’s not Erdogan’s twitter account) later on Sunday morning for these numbers.

But more than any recent election in Irish history, the action is going to be way down in the count — as lower preference votes are allocated, and the big 3 parties walk a tightrope between too many candidates per constituency and thus splitting votes, and too few to pick up vote reallocations.

At this stage it looks like a pattern seen in other countries — of a quiet late surge back to the governing party (e.g. Austria, Australia) is being replicated in Ireland. On the other hand, much hyped features of last year’s European Parliament election (such as the “green wave”) have gone into remission.

Finally for now, since the main interest overseas will be in the SF surge, here is their manifesto. It has some interesting points of emphasis, and omission.

Stand by for action

France, unusually among developed nations, maintains a mechanised infantry regiment among its internal security forces. Technically, they are not police as the gendarmerie jealously maintains its military status. In any case, they are there, based in a weird Paris suburb whose only inhabitants are various uniformed organisations and, once a year, the arms fair. The vehicles themselves are in the protected-mobility class familiar from Iraq, not that it will stop anyone calling them tanks. The mission is, well, to defend the republic against its citizens in the supreme moment. Really. And, well, here’s Johnny!

While we’re all waiting, here’s one of several things claiming to be a list of demands or a policy agenda from the gilets jaunes.

This may have been fed into the movement by failed Frexit presidential candidate François Asselineau but it bears comparison with previous statements from supposed spokespeople, and even the point that it’s something an ultra-fringe party came up with is interesting.

What it reminds me of, most of all, is one of UKIP’s manifestos from, say, 2010. These tended to contain pretty much everything, tout et rien, a bucket of individual resentments, pet projects, and want-wants. Obviously, leaving the EU would be in there, as were some recognisably reactionary proposals about immigration. But there would also be proposals for the construction of 20 new nuclear power stations and a third aircraft carrier, massive social spending, and a mandatory uniform for taxi drivers. This is just like that, including a whole string of enormous social spending commitments, an immediate default on the national debt, withdrawal from NATO, the EU, and French treaty commitments in Africa, the strict observation of all treaties, and the abolition of speed cameras.

Populism is the repoliticisation of the sovereign plus the rejection of method. And the wider culture is defined by the vulgar postmodernist doctrine that it’s all tropes and you can remix them as you wish and it’s all good. As Adam Elkus says:

Or as I say, it’s all about those cat blindfolds. But there is a unifying theme here, and as with the UKIP manifestos, it’s a kind of non-specific, generalized extremism. A politics of interchangeable tropes must end up here. If the tropes truly are interchangeable, the only way they can get selected is salience, and that’s going to be what you get. It probably wouldn’t matter if the available pool of the discontented hadn’t been filling up for years, but then there’s this.

The lesson from the UKIP experience is that the swirling pool of the resentful could cohere, around some selection pulled out of the bucket and some leader who addressed them. However, they would not necessarily do it in any way predictable in advance.

UKIP and Nigel Farage played a much lesser role in the referendum campaign than the newly established and purely Brexit-focused Vote Leave, centred around politicians with measurable name recognition. The money went to Vote Leave, too. On the other side, although the UKIP manifesto went up to massive Keynesian reflation and technocratic construction projects and down to cabbies’ dress standards, it all faded away.

The coherence doesn’t have to be on the Right. The very incoherence of the trope bucket means almost anything can be carved out of its contents. A little later, Britain’s pool of discontent spilled across into Labour. Which makes me wonder about Manu Saadia’s theory here:

There’s a while to go – plenty of time to drop embarrassing fantasies about ruling the Spanish Main in alliance with Cuba and Venezuela and make that stuff about Frexit not-happen. If you hold that 50% of the French won’t ever vote FN, your mission is to beat the best remaining political party candidate into the second round. And the evidence that this can be done today is, of course, none other than Emmanuel Macron.

In a weird way the best thing that could happen for a potential candidature coup de poing like Macron’s own would be for tomorrow to pass off only as badly as last week. Nothing would be resolved but the peak would clearly have passed. An even bigger eruption might bring about parliamentary elections, which would bring back the traditional parties in force and set up a Mitterrandian turn to the centre for the president.

Be careful with that VAB, though.

Germany: What if the coalition breaks?

One obvious question, now the CDU succession is open, is whether an already creaky coalition government can go on with both constituent parties suffering in the polls. Gerhard Schröder has already suggested that Merkel should call a vote of confidence in herself, while many SPD voices (notably its deputy leader Ralf Stegner) are calling for the party to walk out of the coalition.

This Der Tagesspiegel piece is therefore really useful. The Green co-leaders rule out the idea of using a confidence vote to replace the CDU/SPD coalition like the Liberals did in 1982. On the other hand, they leave open what might happen if the SPD walks out. The question would really be whether to try another attempt at the so-called Jamaican option, a CDU/Green/Liberal coalition, or to push for new elections.

It’s a good problem to have, being a choice between getting back into office or cashing in their surge in the polls into seats in the Bundestag. However, the surge makes it more complicated – the original Jamaica concept was one of rallying minor parties to put a CDU-dominated government over the top, but an election today would have the CDU and the Greens as near-equal partners. A major motivation for the Jamaica talks was also the fear that the AFD would win big if there was another election, but the Bavarian and Hessen elections have provided a well-defined estimate of the AFD threat. If they had made it over 20 per cent, nobody would dream of risking new elections, but instead it was the Greens who broke through. The whole thing also speaks to the tension between their pride in civic responsibility, the mayor’s chain in every activist’s Fjallraven rucksack, and the risk of looking like a bunch of unprincipled office-seekers.

A follow-up piece asks the co-leaders themselves. These say that they can’t imagine why Greens would want to involve themselves in this chaos. However, they have also been scenario-planning various possibilities. If Merkel was to call a confidence vote, they would vote against, being after all in opposition. Before going to new elections, though, they would be willing to consider joining the existing coalition or forming a new one with the CDU and SPD. Jamaica, however, is out. This reminds me that the Greens’ internal consensus rests on a realist leadership swinging to a more radical position on social and economic policy. The SPD is important to the legitimacy of any coalition, within the Greens. It’s a pretty sad role for the SPD, but it is a role.

At the same time, the whole thing interacts with the CDU leadership transition. Everyone is at pains to deny that individual names are important, but Spahn is harder for the Greens, who say they expect European policy and immigration to be the most difficult issues. Friedrich Merz has never had any ideas about the environment, and his idea of Leitkultur now seems a bit quaint. AKK would be the easiest.

Merkxit Rollup!

We repeatedly warned you about believing people who said Merkel was finished, but on the 30th of September, it was time to sound the alarm:

However, the interesting bit is precisely that the challenge came from the perfectly normal, EU-and-NATO Christian Democrats of northern and western Germany, Angela Merkel’s bedrock support. Had it come from ultra-conservatism, Saxony, or Bavaria, you would expect this classical CDU to rally round Merkel, just as it did unanimously against Horst Seehofer back in June. This time, the call is coming from inside the Ludwig-Erhard Haus. This is a bigger threat and one different in kind.

It was, and the point that the Hessen state elections might be more significant than the Bavarian ones also stands up rather well. On the other hand, my Twitter summary of Hessen’s election night was that the river came up to the top of the dyke, but no further. As in Bavaria, the Greens surged, the AFD hit their mark from the general, and both the SPD and CDU suffered. As in Bavaria, it wasn’t quite enough to flip the statehouse, and in fact it wasn’t even enough to change the coalition.

Unless, of course, it was. Incredibly, the state of Hessen didn’t manage to organise a proper election within its own capital. Not only are they having a recount, but urgent talks are going on between the parties in case it becomes possible to put together a traffic-light coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and Liberals.

You might wonder if the CDU had a good idea from canvassing data or exit polling that Hessen was going wrong, but on the other hand, this Der Spiegel story says that Angela Merkel consulted with her old political buddy Annette Schavan as far back as the summer about quitting after the Hessen elections.

At the end of the day, though, even if the river didn’t quite get over the dyke, the key issue is that the core CDU vote is eroding and it’s doing it across the centre. The polling data is clear – the most recent poll puts the Greens only three points behind the combined CDU/CSU. As we pointed out here, the effect is worse for the CDU as such ex the CSU. My rough estimate is that the Greens are gaining half a million votes a poll, which puts a potential crossover weeks away.

So it’s absolutely no surprise she pressed the button to initiate an orderly succession.

The bells are ringing in the CSU, too – here’s the federal minister responsible for international aid calling for Horst Seehofer to resign and specifically demanding a turn to the centre. Müller says that the CSU has become obsessed with refugees and law-and-order and needs to remember it has a broader mission, notably the protection of God’s creation, the fight against hunger, and the question of social justice in Germany and the world. (I told you the Greens manage to speak to the churches; here’s an example of the opposite.) Seehofer himself is unwisely congratulating himself on not being in Merkel’s cemetery of men; there’s plenty of time for that.

The party rules require a special congress to be held on the 7th of December in Hamburg. Before then, they have agreed to stage a succession of regional conferences, to which all members are invited. Big halls are suddenly in demand. Deutsche Welle has English-language profiles of the candidates here, but they have already sorted themselves into the following three:

Friedrich Merz. This is the guy Merkel beat to get the party leadership. That’s his best selling point but also his worst; he’s been out of politics for more than a decade. The audience he wants is the business world, and what he will offer them is a tax gimme. Back in the day he was famous for wanting to get the tax code on a beermat, but who now believes in that early 2ks/late 90s shiny stuff?

Also, his business career isn’t necessarily an asset. The Marxist blog Nachdenkseiten offers a profile of it that’s savagely hostile but not inaccurate; they share much of their critique with the German finance ministry, which sent policemen to search his employer BlackRock’s offices this week for evidence of tax evasion. It’s really not what you want in the middle of a campaign.

He’s widely seen as Wolfgang Schäuble’s candidate (see here) but Schäuble denies this, offering praise for all the candidates and saying very clearly that there’s no going back on the Merkel era’s changes.

Jens Spahn. The current federal health minister, he speaks to the desire to swing to the populist right and win back the AFD voters, in so far as they ever voted CDU. In case anyone wanted a new Pim Fortuyn, he’s gay and he really hates refugees and people who speak English, yes, really. His biggest problem is simple: nobody actually wants him to be party leader and still less chancellor, on 9 per cent in the polls.

Annegret Krampf-Karrenbauer. Would it astonish anyone that Angela Merkel planned carefully for the succession? Having been picked out herself by Helmut Kohl, she picked out a succession of successors. As in all the best successions, though, they failed to live up to her standards or indeed anyone else’s.

First there was Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the aristocratic defence minister disgraced as a plagiarist. Then she turned to a woman, education and research minister, personal friend, and CDU apparatchik Annette Schavan. She also turned out to be an academic fraud, despite a huge and deeply embarrassing effort by the chancellor and a range of academic establishment figures to make it not happen. Merkel lined up her new defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who is still there despite being yet another plagiarist. Tellingly, she isn’t a candidate.

At the fourth attempt, Merkel eventually picked out the Saarland minister-president, dipped her in a ministry, and sent her to be the CDU general secretary. AKK is the blindingly obvious candidate of continuity and that rare bird, a CDU leader from a working-class background. She is either slightly more popular than Merz or in a tie with him, and in any case much more popular than Spahn. And she is considerably more popular with Germans than the party. She also opened the door to Merz, either as a minister or to head a major project.

There is just the faintest crack of light for another candidate, as the Süddeutsche Zeitung points out. Anyone who wants to take part in the regional congresses has to be put forward by a local CDU branch or one of its national, vertical organizations. But this doesn’t hold for the final, decisive congress. Any delegate on the day in Hamburg can nominate any other delegate or indeed any party member, so the possibility of a coup de theatre exists up to the whistle.

Flip It And Reverse it: CDU vs Greens Beyond Bavaria

Here’s some more interesting Bavarian elections data. What if we looked at this the other way up?

The parties of the Left, broadly defined, have been on about 30% in Bavaria since the dawn or rather rebirth of democracy in 1946. The CSU hegemony is a thing! Even if the Right is down to only a two-thirds majority depending how you cut it.

If we hoist this in, though, it leads to another thought. Bavaria’s conservative majority has been both reduced and reshuffled. This switches the balance between concentrated strength in direct mandates and distributed strength in the proportional ones. The CDU can’t count on the CSU to deliver 50-odd direct mandates come what may any more, so how’s the CDU itself doing?

Current federal opinion polling puts the CDU/CSU – it is always polled as a unit – on between 26% and 28%, down 10 percentage points from election day. The Greens’ score has more than doubled, from 8% to 18%. How much of this is down to the CSU’s crisis in Bavaria? How much is a wider phenomenon between the Greens, the SPD, and the CDU on the wider federal level?

Well, we know that the Bundeswahlleiter counted in 30.2% of valid votes for the CDU and 7% for the CSU, total 37.2%. We know that the polling is ~27% for both combined. And we further know that the CSU won 36.7% of a Bavarian first-ballot electorate that represents 14.6% of the 2017 federal first-ballot electorate, hence the CSU is 5.4% ((0.367*0.146)*100) of the federal poll. If the total CDU/CSU is 27% of the national vote and the CSU is 5.4%, the CDU alone must be 21-22%.

What of the Greens? Well, their score in Bavaria represents 2.5% ((0.1753*0.146)*100) of the federal electorate, while the party is polling 17 to 19% federally. This can only mean that the Greens outside Bavaria are about 15.5% (18-2.5) federally, or only a startling six points behind the mainline CDU. This might well explain why Brinkhaus went for it. Further, nine points of their 10 point gain since election day 2017 are from outside Bavaria, which matches the CDU’s net loss precisely.