Who is my neighbour?

Who was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany? Diagramme his family tree (paternal and maternal) back to the 14th century.

Germans have been shocked lately to discover that a lot of their schools suck.

The schools in question are typically Hauptschulen, the lowest in the tripartite German division of secondary schools (the others are the Realschulen and the Gymnasien.) Traditionally, the Hauptschule was designed to ensure a basic education while providing vocational training and facilitating its pupils’ entry into an apprenticeship. Not all that long ago, people in other countries looked upon Germany’s programme of vocational education with considerable envy.

Things fall apart, alas, and the centre cannot hold. These days many German firms can select their apprentices from out of the ‘higher-class’ Realschulen, and many inner-city Hauptschulen have become mere dumping-grounds. Worse, they are all (or are all perceived at this moment by the populace to be) festering hotbeds of nigh-American levels of intra-schoolchild violence, though there might be rather fewer firearms in the schoolrooms.

But what has really grabbed the Germans by the collar about this issue is that it is not really about schools. Rather, it is about the very serious question of what it means to be a German. Or, as all too many Germans see it, it is about the strangers among us.

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Enlargement Fatigue

Heard the news from Salzburg?

If so, you must have been listening very carefully, for the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers held there this weekend was very quiet, and not just because of the extra dumping of snow the region received, in what has been a very snowy winter.
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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 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.

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Apparently 粗大塵 does not mean what I, judging by the context, had thought it means

I’ve been harshing on the Union and their little dog Toto the FDP pretty nastily throughout the campaign.1 Surely, though, I should spare a thought for Die Linke.

It’s easy to fail to pay the ‘Left Party’ the attention they deserve, mostly because nobody is likely to form a coalition with them. But still it should be noted: they did very well in this election. They should receive the congratulations they deserve.

Congratulations, then, wendebeschädigte East German communists: you polled surprisingly well, once you put yourselves under a West German carpetbagger.

And congratulations, Oskar Lafontaine. Many years ago you were the only major German political leader willing to speak the truth about the cost of unification. What a way you’ve come since then, finishing your career by becoming the first West German head of the SED.
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There’s nothing better for livening up all this dull, wonkish chatter about the German elections than a bit of CDU-bashing. So, how shall I bash them today? Oh, I know! How about this: they’re a shower of xenophobe racists.

Yes, yes; not exactly news, is it? What is news, though, is that the Union appears to value xenophobia even more than it does winning elections.

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Red light or green?

You already know, because Alex has been doing such a good job of making sure you do, that the impending German elections will be as close-run as the related campaign has been shambolic. According to the polls, the Union and FDP will outpoll the currently governing SPD-Green coalition; but not by enough for a majority. What’s more, the Union has been slipping (slightly) of late whilst the SPD are (slightly) gaining. Black/Yellow (48%) are still doing better than Red/Green (42%), but not as well as Red/Green/Even Redder1 (49%).

What’s interesting about all this, though, is the number that’s not being loudly pointed at: Red/Green/Yellow, which is currently the same as Black/Yellow. This is the so-called Ampelkoalition (‘traffic-light coalition’, based on party colours). Down in the comments to one of Alex’s earlier posts there’s been some talk about this as an increasingly likely outcome of the vote, though one commenter begs to differ.

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Back to the Roots.

Today, the IHT reprinted post referendum reflections about Europe by former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt that were first published last Thursday in the German weekly Die Zeit.

I’m sure some will call it elitism in light of the recent constitutional referanda, but Schmidt still believes that real political leadership is now more important than ever in Europe, for

[b]ecause Europeans can look back on more than a millennium of national development, the Union cannot be brought to completion in just a few decades by ministers and diplomats: The EU needs the consent and will of its citizens. The coming experience of increasing helplessness of smaller and medium-sized nations acting alone will increasingly convince their citizens of the need for the Union, but that will take time and perseverance.

Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Val?ry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Delors, many of the old guard knew: We can repress the historically created egocentric nationalism of Europeans only gradually. Today’s statesmen and the overzealous Brussels commissioners should follow this example.

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People Get Ready

Laura Rozen thinks that the broadcast of a graphic video from the massacre at Srebrenica may mark a tipping point in Serbian public opinion and pave the way for the arrest of Ratko Mladic and his extradition to The Hague.

She quotes an international justice listserv:

B92’s Danijel Bukomirovic, speaking in Dutch on NOS Journaal at 20:00 CET, suggested between the lines the Serbian government had had a hand in the surfacing of the ‘executions tape.’ The dire economic needs of the country make EU accession talks the only option for a better future, but oppositon amongst a majority of the poulation against the ICTY’s demands for the extradition of indicted war criminals stands in the way. A mood swing amongst a public in denial of the Srebrenica massacres would pave the way towards the extradition of Ratko Mladic…

This is part of what’s at stake with EU enlargement, and indirectly with the constitutional treaty.
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In comments to an earlier post on neonazi electoral gains in eastern Germany, I noted that Germany’s mainstream right wing Union parties normally respond to this sort of thing with a rightward lurch of their own. And indeed, they are right on schedule.
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