Germany – The Bitter-Sweet Tears Of Angela von Merkel

German voters gave Chancellor Angela Merkel the green light for a second term on Sunday, along with a clear mandate to form a new government with the liberal Free Democrat Party (FDP). But just what exactly is the new government likely to do? Merlek has been quick to pour cold water on any idea of early tax cuts, “I expect we’ll agree very quickly on tax policy, especially when you look at the leeway we have with the budget,” she is quoted as saying.

Angela Merkel’s room for maneuver is limited by the fact that Germany has been steadily racking up debt to tackle the crisis. Only today the Federal Statistical Office have said that the deficit in the overall public budget increased to euro 57.2 billion in the first six months of this year from euro 6.9 billion a year earlier as spending rose sharply (8.1%) and revenue declined (1.7%). No figure was given as a proportion of gross domestic product, but it seems to be around 4.89% of the GDP registered in the first six months (unadjusted GDP was reported by the Federal Statistics Office as €1,168 billion over the same period).

So, while the mood in Merkel’s Berlin headquarters was naturally jubilant, the euphoria will not last too long, especially since things are not going to be anything like as simple as they may seem at first sight. The problem, of course, is an economic and not a political one. Simply put, Germany’s apparent recovery from recession may have come “just in time” to see Angela re- elected, but the good economic news may not last much longer than this week. Continue reading

Is Germany Dependent on Exports to Grow?

The analysis that follows should really be taken along with Edward’s recent thoughts on the Global Imbalances situation as well as his latest economic survey of the current state of play in the German economy.

Essentially, I am going to have a look at what is, arguably, one of the more salient features of the current debate over the German economy and the Global Financial Crisis, namely her dependence on exports for economic growth. What I would like to ask here then is whether the current and evident degree of German export dependency is simply a curious oddity, or whether it has some more interesting and fundamental economic dynamic, related to the fact that Germany is one of the oldest economies in the world measured on median age (currently running at approximately 44 years)[1]. Continue reading

Random thoughts on the recent German election

Heard repeatedly yesterday: “Steinmeier has been an excellent Foreign Minister, but I just can’t stand the Social Democrats any more.”

I wonder how many portfolios our Yellow friends will get. In theory, a Conservative/Liberal, CDU/FDP government is perfectly normal. But in practice, the usual Black/Yellow government has been something like “300 Black seats, 40 Yellow”. This is going to be more like “240 Black, 90 Yellow”. The Liberals will be able to claim some serious mojo this time.

And speaking of portfolios, everyone is saying Liberal leader Guido Westerwelle will be the next Foreign Minister. (“And what a shame, because Steinmeier was so good.”) Giving this portfolio to the junior partner is an odd German tradition that dates back to at least the 1970s; the last three foreign ministers have been a Social Democrat under a CDU Prime Minister, a Green under a Social Democrat, and a Liberal under a CDU. For at least one of those (Fischer under Schroeder) I wonder if the point wasn’t to keep a charismatic/energetic leader of the coalition partner out of the country and so unable to work mischief. There are a lot of people who still remember 1982′s “Constructive Vote of No Confidence” when the FDP stuck it into Helmut Schmidt’s back, rotated hard, and then snapped off the handle.

Isn’t Angela Merkel’s lack of charisma amazing? A friend and I recently went down the list of G20 leaders and concluded that she was the single most boring individual on it. It’s sort of awesome that someone so utterly dull can be elected the leader of a major liberal democracy in the 21st century. And not just once, but twice! Fantastic!

The weather was gorgeous here in Bavaria, and nice over most of the country. Nonetheless, turnout was anemic. The Social Democrats are already spinning this as an explanation for their crushing losses. It makes you wonder what the results would have been had it rained.

And speaking of which, whither the SPD? When was the last time a major European center-left party got hammered like this in the middle of a recession? If it’s like this when times are hard, how will people vote if the economy is booming?

In retrospect, didn’t the Grand Coalition work way better than anyone thought it would? A year from now, will we be missing it?

When you hear “Angie and Guido”, what comes to mind? (For me it sounds like the title of a half-forgotten Billy Joel song from the 1970s.)

Other thoughts?

The G20 and Why Export Dependency And Global Imbalances Matter

With the timing of the latest G20 meeting set to coincide with the run-in to the German elections acrimonious debate has not been absent, but even as the passions generated by the arrival of voting day subside, it is clear that just beneath the surface their lie some simmering problems which simply will not go away. Despite the fact that nothing is really on the table that will make that much difference in the short run, I think the structural transformation that they are carrying out at G20 level is going to be very important in the longer term in finding eventual solutions. Continue reading

The Fistful Option

So, the planned ballistic missile defence installations in Europe have been cancelled, and the US is looking instead at deploying ships with an upgraded version of the Aegis air-defence missile system in European waters, backed up with mobile and airborne radars. (There’s a lot of detail here.) This is sense. It’s sense for a number of reasons:

Firstly, the GMD system that was originally proposed has a famously poor track record, so the concrete advantages to be gained from it were dubious. The SM-3 missile and the Aegis radar/computer complex have done much better, and have the huge advantage of being useful in other tactical roles. And they have significant scope for further improvement.

Secondly, it’s much more likely that any threat to NATO with missiles would involve short- or intermediate-range missiles rather than ICBMs – they are easier to make, more available, and more usable in the context of “not triggering a nuclear strike from the Americans or Russians”. The Aegis system was designed in large measure to deal with precisely these threats; the GMD was designed to intercept intercontinental missiles on their way to the US, and would have been vulnerable to shorter-ranged rockets. However, Aegis does have the potential to engage longer-ranged missiles early in their flight as part of a boost phase defence.

Thirdly, it doesn’t involve stationing a very long range radar very close to the heartland of Russia.

Fourthly, it’s actually in production now, and therefore represents technology under active incremental development rather than an experimental job.

Taken together, you have to wonder who would have ever thought the GMD installation was a good idea. The answer was, roughly, “neocons”; to a large extent, the fact that it pissed off the Russians was a feature not a bug. The cattle-market between Poland and the US over the issue also demonstrates that even the Poles were a lot keener on the side benefits of the deal – i.e. US security guarantees and a great deal of modern equipment for their armed forces – than the actual rockets themselves.

After all, as the system didn’t really protect Poland, it was a pretty weird way to signal Atlantic solidarity and deterrent support. For all these reasons, we blogged back in June, 2007, it was an awful idea and the seaborne option was far better.

The European integration of extreme-right wing nonsense

Here’s a weird story. OK, so we’re into the last lap of the Irish re-referendum; Jean Quatremer has the latest polls, which put the yes camp well ahead. But what about that weird poll last week that put the noes ahead?

British blogging institution Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report seems to be about the only media outlet to have hit the nail on the head, denouncing it as a voodoo poll as far back as the 21st of September.

As far as I can tell, this poll is hokum. The company don’t seem to have a website so I can only go on what I’ve got, but the sampling of the poll seems to have been conducted at just ten sample points, suggesting a face-to-face survey with no attempt at a broad representative spread of sample. Compare this with a professional Ipsos MORI face-to-face poll, which uses in the region of 200 sampling points. Worse, a couple of sources indicate there is no attempt at weighting the poll…

Now, it turns out, not only is the poll indeed deeply flawed, but it’s the work of an ex-IRA terrorist who left the organisation because it wasn’t nationalistic or Catholic enough. It seems that his “Gael Poll” consisted of asking people he and his friends knew, thus constructing a sample they knew would provide the right answer.

The researchers were friends of the organisers who in turn interviewed people in their social groups, paying some attention to the spread of social class… It is, in effect a huge straw poll of the friends of Gael Poll, a derivative project of a pretty extreme ultramontane Catholic magazine, The Hibernian.

But the really interesting bit is how they got it into the news; they passed the fake poll to UKIP, who distributed it to bloggers, including Mick Fealty’s much respected Slugger O’Toole, and used the blogfroth this generated to reflect it back into the mainstream media. Even more interestingly, the no campaign turns out to have been receiving actual financial subsidies from UKIP; even their anti-Europeanism is European, it seems, and possibly paid for with European Parliament expenses.

Even more German election…

A quick rundown of German election news. Handelsblatt says the result is awaited with great tension, which perhaps tells you more about Handelsblatt than anything else. They also have a discussion of the coalition position.

In fact, in a sense, the coalition talks have already begun; the Ministry of the Interior has essentially made its opening bid, by issuing a list of demands for more surveillance and anti-terrorist powers. As the CDU is hoping to go into coalition with the FDP, this is probably best understood as setting a position from which they can bargain down. The FDP is predictably unimpressed.

There’s a row in Nordrhein-Westfalen, where the CDU prime minister is accused of spying on the SPD (he’s the one who was quoted as saying that Romanians couldn’t possibly assemble mobile phones). This is mostly important for his future career in the party; he’s standing for re-election in May and is a possible successor to Angela Merkel, if he doesn’t blow up.

Merkel, meanwhile, finished the election campaign by firing up the CDU activists with a speech about how Germany needs stability before anything else. Did anyone find this campaign a little dull? In fact, it’s not quite as bleak as that – she was referring to Adenauer’s 1957 campaign. The last polls, meanwhile, put the CDU/CSU on 33, the SPD on 25, the FDP on 14, the Left on 12 and the Greens on 10.

Both the “traffic light” and the Left/Left/Green option are level with or ahead of the CDU/FDP option; even if the FDP officially doesn’t want to talk, this may alter their calculations somewhat.

Der Standard has a look at the flashmobs that have been following the chancellor’s campaign, cheering at odd intervals and shouting out randomly selected words. (In the UK, it’s the other way around – the candidates shout nonsense at the public.)

In general, the conservative side is much less certain of success than it was a few weeks ago, rather as we predicted.

Al-Qa’ida’s opinion of the elections has been made known through a video; among other things, they threatened the terrors of the earth if a majority of Germans don’t vote for withdrawal from Afghanistan. A majority of Germans appears, going by the polls, to be unimpressed. Several foreign governments took him more seriously and issued warnings to travellers.

There’s a rundown of alternative options for your vote here; why not vote Violet for a spiritual politics?

Three Million Unsold Properties In Spain – Update

In my last post on this topic, I said the following:

My second observation is merely anecdotal, but the Acuña & Asociados report places a lot of emphasis on the coastal situation, which has, to some extent, already been “factored in” by most participants, however quite by chance I have talked with a number of people in recent days who have stressed with me just how serious the situation is in the satellite towns around Madrid, built as they have been for Ecuadorians who never arrived, or Romanians who have already left. I think this element is yet awaiting a proper accounting, and the cost is unlikely to be small.

Well, “Lo & Behold”, Spanish property portal idealista.com have done a bit of digging, and here is what they found. Going through the official Ministery of Housing data they were able to locate 22 “black spots” (towns or cities with over 25,000 inhabitants) where the price of housing has already reputedly fallen by more than 30% from the December 2007 peak. This compares with the official average price fall of only 8% for the whole of Spain. And incredibly (see the chart below) no less than nine of these “black spots” are in the Autonomous Community of Madrid – that’s roughly 40% of the most severely affected areas nationally are in only one community.

The areas affected are Alcalá de Henares (-37%), Alcobendes (- 47.6%), Alcorcón (-34%), Aranjuez (-35%), Colmenar Viejo (-33%), Leganés (-33%), Móstoles (-33%), Pinto (-37%) and Rozas de Madrid (-35.1%). By way of comparison, in Catalonia there are only two such areas, Castelldefels (-33%) and Sant Cugat del Vallés (-32%). Many of the worst affected areas in the Mardid area are in centres of high inward migration, but there are also some quite surprising names, like Alcobendas, one of the richest towns in the whole area, and home the famous neighourhood La Moraleja where so many of Spain’s publicity seeking but camera shy elite seem to find shelter.

Of course, it isn’t clear what level of reliability is to be placed on official government statistics, but on the other hand this data does put some flesh on the otherwise anecdotal evidence I have been hearing, or on those reports of trains which stop at stations where no one seems to get either on or off. We are talking about new building with large infrastructural projects to support it here, and of course, as I keep saying, if the immigrants simply walk, who is ever going to live in some of these places?