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?
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What did Schily know, and when did he know it?

This much is uncontroversial: in late 2003 the CIA kidnapped Khalid al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen, and carried him off to a prison in Afghanistan for interrogation. In the end they released him when they realised that his only crime was to have the same name as some other man they wanted to get their hands on. It took them five months to realise this, five months during which al-Masri says he was tortured. He must be lying about that part, though, because George Bush has said that his administration does not torture.

Now, however, it looks like an extra-large family-size jar of controversy is about to be opened. Otto Schily, who was at the time Germany’s Innenminister — in this context, an analogue to the British home secretary or American director of homeland security — knew about the matter in May 2004 because then-US ambassador Daniel Coats told him. That’s not the controversial part. This is: according to a report in this week’s Spiegel, Schily kept quiet about the Americans kidnapping and falsely imprisoning a German citizen because Coats, his good friend, asked him to.
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German media are now reporting that the SPD has agreed to let the largest parliamentary faction put forward the candidate for Chancellor. For three weeks, the Social Democrats had been arguing that as the largest party represented in the Bundestag, they had the right to name the candidate. (Germany’s Christian Democrats come from two parties, one from Bavaria and one from everywhere else, but they work together, mostly, as a single parliamentary faction.)

The SPD has given way on this point, clearing the path for Angela Merkel to become Germany’s first female Chancellor.

In return, the SPD will get eight of fourteen ministires, including finance and foreign affairs. The head of the CSU, who lost to Schroeder in 2002, will go to Berlin as minister for the economy. Since the SPD will head the ministry of finance, which is responsible for the budget, this will ensure that the traditional trench warfare between these two ministries will continue unabated.

None of the reports say anything about what Chancellor Schroeder will be doing next. The political folks I’ve talked with can’t imagine him being #2 behind Merkel, even as foreign minister, but they also have a hard time picturing him just walking away.

We’ll know much more at 2:30 this afternoon, when both parties have press conferences scheduled.

PS: The trial balloon for the weekend was the introduction of tolls on the Autobahn, roughly EUR 100 per year. Between that and a VAT hike, the grand coalition might bring Germany the worst of both worlds.

Merkel is in?

FT says a deal will be reached shortly, and Merkel will be chancellor. Schröder is out.

Ms Merkel’s expected victory in the battle for the chancellorship is likely to be announced on Monday, following a meeting on Sunday evening in Berlin between Mr Schröder and Ms Merkel, according to the SPD politicians, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The two leaders met on Thursday evening for four hours to agree the framework of a SPD-CDU grand coalition, but refused on Friday to disclose details. The talks also include SPD leader Franz Müntefering, and Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber.

Officials close to Mr Schröder said the chancellor would not become vice chancellor and foreign minister in the coalition, despite pressure from within the SPD for him do so.

The SPD may be given an equal number of cabinet posts as the CDU and be offered first choice of ministries to control, the MP said. SPD officials said these could include the foreign, economics and family ministries.

In addition, the CDU is almost certain to give the SPD assurances – even ahead of lengthy coalition talks expected to start next week – that it will drop key elements of its more radical economic reform agenda, such as changes to job protection and collective bargaining rules.

Problems. And Games.

Unfortunately, following our recent move to a different hosting provider, some Euros in the Fistful are still experiencing technical difficulties when trying to post. We’re trying to solve the problem as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, other people are experiencing problems as well. The “K-question”, the question who will become the next Chancellor, and presumably the amjor stumbling block on the way to true coalition negotiations between the CDU and the SPD, is still as close to a solution as it was when the polls closed on September 18. Both parties are still hoping the other one will blink first.
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The other half of Dresden has voted today. Early reports (based on 60 out of 190 precincts) by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen for ZDF television indicate that voters learnt a lot about the intricacies of the German personalised proportional representation electoral system, by giving the local CDU candidate, Andreas Lämmel, sufficient “first votes” to win a direct mandate but not using their “second vote” to increase the CDU’s share of vote in Saxony to the point where the party would lose a mandate in the state of Northrhine-Westfalia. Instead many seem to have voted for the Liberals – the party apparently received about 17% of the votes.

The current projection would lead to the following Bundestag: CDU/CSU – 226 mandates, SPD – 222, FDP – 61, Linkspartei.PDS – 54, The Greens – 51.

This result would likely weaken Chancellor Schroeder in his struggle to remain Chancellor even in a grand coalition of CDU and SPD. But as nothing fundamental has changed, it is too early to say what will happen after Germany’s national holiday tomorrow. Still, given that Schröder was able to interpret the a-little-better-than-expected result of his party and the much-worse-than-expected result of the CDU and their Chancellor candidate Angela Merkel as some kind of plebiscite in his favor, voters in Dresden have certainly weakened this argument.

Grand coalition under Schröder?

CDU advertising for Schröder
Being stuck in a traffic jam is probably not the best place to be to blog about the German election. On the other hand, it may well be an excellent metaphor for the result of today’s German elections, which Mrs T sketched below. Hearing the results on the radio, the first thing I that sprang to mind was Goethe – “Here now I stand, poor fool, and see I’m just as wise as formerly.” Well, maybe not quite.
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CDU: Screwing up on purpose?

Ok, now that Edward has already mentioned it, I might as well explain in a little more detail what I meant by saying that “on some level, the CDU might be afraid to win.”

Last Saturday evening, strolling through Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, Edward asked me about my gut feeling concerning the outcome of the German election next week. I told him that, while it was rather entertaining, this campaign has also been confusing – and confused – in many ways, particularly when looking at the CDU. And I believe the confused and confusing campaign the CDU is conducting is even more an expression of the way the German establishment is puzzled about the way ahead than the fact that Schröder “called” the elections a year too early, too early for any of his reforms to have any perceptible impact on the economy, not even in the West.
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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:
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