The Gay Chancellor?

In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the governing Social Democrat (SPD)s got whipped, to the tune of a 10 percent drop at the polls. In Berlin, by contrast, the SPD picked up 1.1 percent, received the most votes of any party, and now has the option of continuing its coalition with the Left (PDS) or forming a new one with the Greens. (Behind the SPD, the big winners in Berlin were the Greens — up to 13.1 percent from 9.1 percent — and “other” — parties that did not top the 5-percent hurdle collectively accounted for 13.8 percent of the vote.) Like its northern neighbor, Berlin has high unemployment. It also has a crushing debt that is slowly being worked out through budget consolidation and deals with the national government. It also still has lingering constraints from the old days (personnel appointed for life, pensions for former GDR bureaucrats, possibly some remaining double institutions). In short, economically Berlin is the kind of place that turfs out governments on a regular basis, particularly given voter volatility in postcommunist societies. Yet, the SPD-led government was not only re-elected, its share of votes even increased modestly. Why?
Continue reading

1..2..3..And They’re Off – The Left

On the other side of French politics, as I promised, the internal conflicts are if anything stronger. To start with the most important ones, the Socialist Party is about to do something quite rare in its history – have a contested primary election. The only other was that of 1995, when Lionel Jospin beat Henri Emmanuelli to succeed Francois Mitterand. Before that, the candidacy normally went to the party’s first secretary, who was usually Mitterand anyway. (Before 1971, when Mitterand set up the modern PS, the various splinter-groups from the old SFIO that made it up of course had their own arrangements.)

Since the disaster of 2002, though, this looks like it’s going to change, chiefly because there’s a strong external candidate. Ségoléne Royal, the head of the Poitou-Charentes regional government, has been campaigning vigorously all year with some success. The success can be measured, in fact, by the frequency with which she is being accused of “Blairism” by the rest of the possible candidates. This looks like being the content-free insult of the campaign, in fact, as could be seen with the PS official quoted by Libération who remarked that he didn’t want Royal to “come back from London and abolish the social security” – after all, everyone knows that the UK provides no social security whatsoever, right?

It would be more accurate to place Royal on the soft-left. (If anyone’s Blairite in this game, it’s Nicolas Sarkozy – this speech is a classic of early Blairite rhetoric circa 1997.) She is no more “neoliberal” than Lionel Jospin was in government, for example, or for that matter Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is closer to the Greens than some. She is given to vaguely conservative speaking, but it’s harder to discern where a concern for civisme, secularity and Republican values (in the French sense) stops and where a rather stern law-and-order politics begins in a French context.

However, it looks more and more as if the rest of the party is gearing up for an “anti-Blairism”, stop-Sego campaign. And policy doesn’t matter very much in this sense.
Continue reading

And then there’s Macedonia

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel has just said that Macedonia has “real chances” to become the next candidate for EU membership.

This would be no big deal — the Slovenes have long had a soft spot for the Macedonians — except that Rupel is wearing two hats right now; he’s also Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. And he’ll be hosting the OSCE Ministerial Council this December, in Ljublana. That means he speaks with a lot more gravitas than just another small-country foreign minister.

“I cannot say when Macedonia’s entry talks will be launched, but express hope that the country will soon acquire the candidate status,” Rupel said. “Slovenia will support Macedonia’s candidate status, which may happen in December.”
Continue reading

Catastrophic success?

In one of his many excellent pieces in the run-up to the German election, Alex mentioned the phenomenon of ‘overhang mandates’. These are extra parliamentary seats that a party gains by winning more seats via one of German’s two electoral methods than by the other. This might seem odd enough. What’s even odder is that a party could lose a seat if too many people vote for it.

German electoral law is complex. In a comment to one of Tobias’s posts, Florian recommended the wahlrecht.de website as a good primer on how it works. He also mentioned examples of some of the electoral weirdnesses explained by wahlrecht.de. For example, did you know (asks Florian) that, under certain circumstances, a vote can have ‘negative weight’ — can reduce the parliamentary representation of the party for which it is cast?

Well, it can. And this conundrum is worth looking at closely, because right now it is more than a mere electoral curiosity. There is one electoral district in Germany, Dresden I, that has not yet voted. (Those who’ve been paying a perhaps unhealthy level of attention to the German elections will know that the death of a neonazi candidate has forced the delay of the election.) And in Dresden I, there is a very real chance that a local triumph of the CDU could cause the party to lose a seat in the national parliament. The reason? It’s those overhang mandates that Alex kept mentioning.

Excellent as wahlrecht.de is, it’s in German. Below the fold, then, is a summary explanation of how the CDU could lose a seat by gaining votes. For those who read German and are interested in that sort of thing, there are links to the relevant passages of the BWahlG (German Federal Electoral Act).

In the mean time, we should note that the possible ‘negative weight’ of CDU votes in Dresden I, though perverse and undemocratic, would not affect the overall results in Germany. Even if the CDU are ‘catastrophically successful’ in Dresden I, the Union will still have more seats than the SPD, albeit with a lead of only 2 rather than 3 MPs. The really perverse thing that could come out of the Dresden special election is this: CDU and SPD wind up with an equal number of seats. As the Spiegel explains, however, this is mathematically a possibility, but in real-world terms exceedingly unlikely. To achieve this result, the SPD would need to poll 91% of voters in the district, and every single eligible voter would have to vote.

Continue reading

Schr?der Strikes Back

What better way to bury the news of your party’s ouster from power in a state it’s ruled for nearly 40 years than to up the ante?

Give this to Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, he still knows how to dominate the news cycle like no one else in Germany. Angela Merkel didn’t hear the news until she was walking into the TV studios. I just saw Edmund Stoiber hem and haw about who would actually be the opposition candidate for chancellor. Squirming on the end of the moderator’s pointed questions, he was. Could not bring himself to say, “Yes, I support Angela Merkel.” Just couldn’t do it.

And there’s this:
Continue reading

Doctors DO NOT confirm poisoning!

UPDATE: This is getting stranger by the hour. According to the AP,

“the director of the Austrian hospital said the cause of the illness that left Yushchenko’s face pockmarked is still not known, rejecting a report that doctors had come to a conclusion that the presidential candidate was poisoned.

Zimpfer rejected as “entirely untrue” a story in Wednesday editions of the London daily, The Times, which quoted Dr. Nikolai Korpan — the Rudolfinerhaus physician who oversaw Yushchenko’s treatment — as saying that the candidate had been poisoned and the intention was to kill the candidate. Korpan also was quoted as denying making the remarks. “The suspicion of poisoning has until now neither been confirmed or excluded,” Korpan said, according to the Austria Press Agency. He could not be reached for further comment.

EARLIER REPORT: The Times Online reports (via Instapundit) –

Medical experts have confirmed that Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s opposition leader, was poisoned in an attempt on his life during election campaigning, the doctor who supervised his treatment at an Austrian clinic said yesterday.

Continue reading

How Not To Pick The IMF’s Chief

Trying to get away from the emotionally traumatising, this article caught my eye. Clearly it relates to my earlier post, and does have a Spanish connection, if only a rather tangential one.

I thoroughly endorse what the Financial Times has to say. We need multilateralism now more than ever. We should not simply think ‘Europe First’, and:

The IMF needs considerable reform: its voting structure is out of date; its resources are too small; and its ability to lead the global debate on macroeconomic adjustment and exchange rates is too weak.

Here, here. Especially the point about leading the debate on macroeconomic adjustment and exchange rates. If you want to fight terrorism more effectively, perhaps here might be a good place to start.
Continue reading

Rodrigo Rato: Wagging The Finger, Or Wagging The Dog?

I have already posted on my own blog about what I see as the surreal consequences which might follow from this wish becoming a reality. If what I think happens next to the Spanish economy really does happen – and I have no doubt whatsoever that the housing bubble will crash one or other of these days – then the situation will be a bit like having Menem at the head of an IMFwhich is telling Argentina that they should have thought about the consequences before getting into all that trouble……..

My interest here today, however, is more the European dimension of this process. Firstly, if it is true, as the FT seems to contend, that the European candidature will carry the field, what does this tell us about the IMF? Secondly, maybe focussing on the IMF managing directorship is to miss the point. Maybe the real horse-trading is over future control at the ECB. In other words: will this be a case of wagging the finger, or wagging the dog?
Continue reading

Mr K?hler Comes Back from Washington

Germany’s center-right and liberal parties have finally agreed on a candidate for the country’s largely, but not completely, symbolic presidency. Because these parties have been winning elections at the state level over the last few years, they have a working majority in the body that elects the president, even though they are actually in opposition.

(The selection itself has been a bit of an opera bouffe. Bild‘s lead yesterday showed various Muppets and cartoon characters over the headline, “Even more candidates!” The serious press had similar, if less colorful, opinions.)
Continue reading

Getting Endorsed

In the US presidential elections the big news of the week must be the endorsement of Howard Dean by Al Gore. A somewhat smaller, but still interesting, development – although this isn’t exactly new, but simply new to my attention – is the fact that someone has created an Economists for Dean weblog. Finally, if you are really short on ‘breaking news’ and if you really want to go down to the fine print of the week, you might just notice that I seem to be included in the sidebar, in amongst a variety of other economists who undoubtedly have rather more public appeal than I do. I would like to say that as a European I consider it an honour to figure in such company: this does however present us with a number of questions worth thinking about, and it is to those that I would now like to turn.
Continue reading