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?

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About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

20 thoughts on “Random thoughts on the recent German election

  1. Except Müntefering was never Foreign Minister, that was the other one, Steinmeier (with the white Hair)

  2. For me the only revelation of this election was the rise of the pirate party. With 2% in just three months I think they will be the next greens. Eating off percentages from both the liberals and the left wing. We will see more of them in the future as their main voters are young people. Net natives so to speak. Yes, they didn’t have much of a program apart from Net issues. Mainly, because they havent had enough time to develop into a full movement and ideology. But, they have potential. Let’s wait and see for the elections of the next European country. What comes next France, Italy?

  3. yeah, but you should notice that the pirates are not as active (if at all) in other european countries. The dutch pirate partie’s website for example is non existen for months now, “undergoing reorganization”

  4. Flo: gaaaah. Corrected.

    I didn’t mention the CSU, but they deserve a moment’s thought. It looks like they’ll never be able to govern alone again. Of course, an eternal black-yellow state government in Munich isn’t really much better than an eternal black one.

    Doug M.

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  6. Doug, the previous conservative Chancellors were both from the CDU, not the CSU. I doubt that the beloved Bavarian sister party will ever provide a winning candidate for the top office.

    One of the most surprising things about Merkel’s genial lack of charisma is that the SPD managed to find someone with even less as their candidate for PM.

    I thought that Steinmeier landed some good points in the post-electoral TV discussion (and isn’t that an interesting German custom?), with a not-so-veiled offer to Merkel and a threat to Westerwelle. Particularly Steinmeier’s comments about how the FDP would have preferred to do nothing during the financial crisis, and any boost Germany got from its stimulus was over the vehement objections of the Free Democrats. (I’ll have to go check the archives to see whether I wrote at the time what I think I believed then: that the grand coalition would serve a full term.)

    Turnout was anemic, only by German standards: 70.8%.

    The SPD needs thorough renovation. Where are their forty-somethings, let alone their up and coming twenty-somethings? No wonder they got killed.

  7. There hasn’t been a turnout that low in a long time, though.

    CSU: again, gah. Teach me to post before coffee.

    Doug M.

  8. At the risk of repeating myself, I have to state that the SPD has not changed its trajectory which still results from a single action. The Schröder government broke an essential pillar the SPD stood on by cutting unemployment benefits.

    The SPD has come down so far that now survival is at stake.

    The performance of the CSU may be explained by local errors. Perhaps fundamental causes that are hard to overcome also exist but that is not clear at present.

    As for the performance of the old government it seems to me that it was boosted by the crisis which they handled very well. But chances are any government would have handled it similarly. Before that things didn’t work well, eg. they botched health care financing.

  9. I agree with Oliver at 11:37.

    As for the “up and coming twenty-somethings” – they might be more amenable for voting SPD if the Social-Democrats didn’t support such idiocy as the recent Internet censorship law.

    Last but not least, I wouldn’t call it “spinning” to explain the SPD’s losses with a lack of turnout. The SPD went from 16 million votes (Zweitstimmenin 2005 to around 10 million yesterday. Over 1,5 million people who voted SPD the last time simply stayed home this year and didn’t vote for another party. The SPD contributed almost two thirds of the total growth of the non-voting “pool”.

  10. it is clear that the SPD is simply an old-man’s party. they have no youthful elan, they are an utter bygone.
    the Link party is the dark secret in this election. they have risen from the dirt of their GDR history, for some. the success of the Links are the reason, primarily, that the SPD did so terrible. many also boycotted.

    what does this mean?

    the social parties, Links SPD, etc, have to reunite to win next time.

    In reality, this may be impossible, because the social parties have been destroying one another for the last 10 years, breaking apart, collapsing, radicalizing. radicalism on the left is the best example of the future of social parties. the CDU is taking the lead in dealing with these problems and will not be easily overcome because of their comprehensive vision. only if the FDP gets the CDU into trouble – very likely – , will the SPD climb from their hole.

    the game of social parties has been taken over by the CDU-CSU. if the FDP screws up this game, the SDP has a chance, in 4 years.
    Perhaps we’ll have an SPD – Links gov. in 4 years, this all depends on the success of the CDU-FDP.

  11. The SPD is not only a party of old members but of old voters. It peaks among pensioners:


    And that shows. I agree that they have to try to reunite with the Left. But it’ll cost them. Too many old voters are too wedded to anticommunism to swallow this. Thus they are very unlikely to win the first vote they are ready to cooperate with the Left. You can count them out for a decade if they survive at all.

  12. The weather: sure it kept people it away. It was so damn gorgeous that everyone in Bavaria was either at Oktoberfest or out on Starnberger See.

  13. You may find Mrs Merkel boring, but let me tell you, from where I stand (Spain), she is the epitome of common sense and good goverment.

  14. Doug Merrill: I think you just helped to make my point! 🙂

    And I’m not necessarily looking for charisma in a leader, henrydiez makes a good point. However, in the case of Harper, I do not think he is a good leader at all.

  15. “A friend and I recently went down the list of G20 leaders and concluded that she was the single most boring individual on it.”

    Was Stephen Harper the 2nd most boring?

  16. If you want a non-boring leader, go to Italy. There is no end of excitement under Silvio! Also no end of bad government and it’s a good idea to lock up your daughters when the PM is in town, but hey-it’s not boring!

  17. Here in Holland the Social-democrats are really imploding. At the moment they still have 33 seats in parliament (of 150), but the polls put them now at 20.

    I am not in favor of grand coalitions. It leaves for the voters who don’t like the government only the outsider parties to choose. I think it is better when the traditional parties form coalitions with the newcomers at their side of political spectrum.

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