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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Angie 2.0 – March 26, 2006?

Update (2/11/05, 01:30 CET) – Maybe Angie 2.0 is actually a guy: two East German are now heading Germany’s biggest parties. The SPD crisis management team agreed late Tuesday evening to offer Brandenburg’s state premier Matthias Platzeck (German biography) the party’s chairmanship. Absent any surprises, this nomination will probably be confirmed by the upcoming party conference.

Update (1/11/05, 16:19) below the fold.

Does everybody really get a second chance? Or will it just be Angela Merkel? Not too surprisingly, Edmund Stoiber was the first to realise that the SPD’s power reshuffle after Franz Müntefering’s sort-of instant resignation, even in case a successor will be named quickly (currently, the only two candidates allegedly under consideration are the state premiers Kurt Beck and Mathias Platzeck), is leading to a situation in which the arithmetics of a grand coalition don’t really add up anymore, not simply because coalition talks with a SPD delegation headed by a combination of acting and designated leaders will suffer from a relative affluence in cooks dealing with the broth.
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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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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 website as a good primer on how it works. He also mentioned examples of some of the electoral weirdnesses explained by 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 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.

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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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German Election: Pollwatch

Today’s Handelsblatt reports that a poll carried out for N24 TV shows the CDU stabilising in the polls after last week’s Schröder Surge. The CDU was on 42%, up 1.5%, with the FDP on 6%, down 0.5%, putting the Festival of Sternness Coalition on 48.5%. The SPD sank back one percentage point to 33.5%, with the Greens unchanged on 7% and the Left on 8%, also unchanged – putting the two camps exactly level and the Ampelkoalition on 46.5%. (Regarding the “traffic light option”, it’s worth remembering that the Left and the CDU-CSU are not exactly the material of a stable opposition, and a minority government could theoretically survive by playing them off against each other.)

Interestingly, an opportunity to test the validity of electoral spread betting has come up – the betting market Wahlstreet (ouch) has the SPD on 34% and the CDU just under 40%, with Greens on 8.5%, Left on 7.5% and FDP on 7.5%. This would put the Red-Red-Green buggered imagination option in the box seat with exactly 50%, the CDU/FDP on 47.5%…and the Ampelkoalition over the finishing line with an impressive 50%. (Amusingly, given that the margin of error for the polls is 2.5%, Wahlstreet quotes to the nearest two decimal places.) Over time, it seems that votes are drifting very gradually from the smaller to the bigger parties.

You might think this is of limited interest, seeing as Guido “He’s Not Dull – He’s a Statesman” Westerwelle told the nation in last night’s TV debate that the FDP would be in opposition if the CDU/FDP ticket didn’t make it (Link to the Austrian newspaper whose website uses frames). But, not so fast!
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Swings Back For Schr�der/Fischer

It seems that in the aftermath of the debate, Gerhard Schröder’s possible coalition partners have unexpectedly regained some inner poise as the German election campaign goes pirouetting into its last ten days of not-quite-frenzied democracy. The CDU and FDP both lost one point in polls taken for Stern and RTL, with the SPD three points up, the Left one point down and the Greens unchanged. Even though the SPD is still six points down on the CDU, this may be a key moment – as the potential rightwing coalition is now no longer a majority.

It was a good day for the Chancellor, as he put on 4 percentage points of personal approval – which takes him to 17 points up on Angela Merkel, at 48 to 31. This may perhaps explain why, as Jörg Lau blogs here, Germany is being covered in SPD posters featuring little else than big pictures of yer man. As a further reminder never to write off lumbering and traditionalistic German institutions, the FAZ reports today that German industry beat everybody’s production forecasts for July. For the two-month period June-July, output in manufacturing, construction and energy was up as much as 2% over the preceding two months.

Mind you, though, the Schröder recovery story does contain one socking great if – the suggestion that, if the election was today, he could form a government relies entirely on forming a coalition between the SPD, Greens and the Linkspartei. The idea of a Schröder-Lafontaine reconciliation buggers the imagination, gentle reader – although desperation is always a great motivator. And, were the LP to go back into government, you can assume that much of the Schröder agenda would go out of the window.

Schr?der: early elections in Autumn.

I suppose German politics aren’t entirely predictable anymore. A few minutes ago, German Chancellor Schroeder confirmed earlier statements by Franz Muentefering, the SPD’s chairman, that the current red-green coalition will seek a – constitutionally problematic – vote of no-confidence to allow the early dissolution of the Bundestag and hold federal elections in autumn this year.
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