Superwahljahr Roundup

So, our previous instalment saw the Greens surging into first place as Annalena Baerbock was installed without fuss as the candidate and the CDU/CSU ripped itself apart. They’re still in the lead, but the Greens have since had some minor but characteristic setbacks lately.

For a start, there’s Boris Palmer, the mayor of Tübingen, who’s in the national press for being tiresomely controversial most weeks. Palmer specializes in being a Green but also doing a bit of populist; this might have been an interesting plan a few years ago but has turned out to be a bit of a blind alley. This time, he’s really screwed up badly, by wading into a truly asinine spat between two footballers and as a result posting the German equivalent of the n-word on his Facebook page. There’s probably an interesting question of translation as to whether it really is the German equivalent – both Nazis, and German rappers, use the English original when they want maximum rhetorical escalation – but an election campaign of all things isn’t the time or the place for it, and in any case Palmer didn’t do anything of the sort but went right for the shitpost, following up by some truly cringey efforts to defend himself or half-apologize.

So, Baerbock and Habeck decided to kill the story as rapidly as possible, to say nothing of getting rid of a competitor/troublemaker, and he now faces expulsion from the party. This being Germany – and this being a political party internal disciplinary process, something that brings back traumatic memories of the Labour Party in 2016-2019 – that will involve a succession of painful committees starting at the district level and working up.

Palmer attention-seeking was always on the cards. Something else also on the cards: that the party’s Berlin regional branch would try its best to really get inside its own stereotype. 300 of them signed a petition to remove the word “Germany” from the federal Green manifesto on the grounds that it could have negative associations and in general was kind of cringey (I summarise). As far as I can see, the party leadership has kind of patted them tolerantly on the head while cracking on with a draft climate program, including more solar panels through the planning process, changes to the tax regime for aviation, that kind of stuff.

Probably they’ll cause some drama at the party conference, but the Berlin Greens could probably spend their time more effectively reflecting on the epic fiasco with their name on it. The red/red/green coalition’s ban on rent increases was struck down by the supreme court. For some reason a lot of English-speaking left-wing people think this has do with Wilhelmine or even Nazi legislative survivals, but it doesn’t at all – the judgment is here and surprisingly simple as German constitutional court judgments go. The “Leitsätze” or governing principles at the top are really all you need. The division of powers between the states and the feds is defined by the 1949 constitution. Individual issues can be state (like education), federal (like foreign affairs), or mixed (like housing). In the mixed ones, the states have to defer to federal legislation where it already covers the issue in question. The feds legislated to set an upper limit to rent increases in 2015 (SPD minister Heiko Maas’s “Mietpreisbremse”), and therefore, the states can’t overrule it.

This is pretty elementary stuff – as one of the newspapers said, the judgment is a very basic lecture on the structure of the federal state – so you wonder what the hell the Berlin statehouse coalition thought it was doing, as it’s resulted in people being billed for tens of thousands of euros in back rent on pain of eviction (by Bild Zeitung editor Mathias Döpfner’s buy-to-let vehicle, no less!). Tell me they weren’t trying to heighten the contradictions by shoving their tenant base under the bus?

This column points out that the party has a tendency to try to be on both sides of important issues in order to hold its internal coalition together, but then, who doesn’t? Baerbock’s husband is going to look after the kids if she’s elected.

Jens Spahn finally published a list of politicians who tried to sell him masks. Friedrich Merz made a fool of himself by not knowing what a liquidity trap is, and further by setting the CSU a target of 40% when the CDU is likely on 17%. There might be quite a serious scandal at SAP. The FDP wants term limits for the chancellor but obviously not for its MPs, no sir.