And Then There Was One: Angela Merkel and the 2017 German Elections

 

Angela_Merkel_Security_Conference_7_February_2015_(cropped).jpg
Merkel. Photo by Kleinschmidt.

Lauren Rogers

At the German conservative party’s annual meeting in Essen on December 4, Chancellor Merkel was elected head of her party for the ninth consecutive time. The show of support comes only a few weeks after Merkel announcing her willingness to stand for reelection in 2017. For those fearing the populist wave in Europe, driven in Germany with the Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party, Merkel’s candidature comes as a sigh of relief. However, her last term has not done her any favors on the left or the right and she was selected by only 89.5 percent of the 1,000 CDU delegates at the meeting. This marks her second worst result ever.

For the next ten months, Merkel will be forced to walk a fine line between hard-line anti-immigration policies proposed by her own party and taking care of the 1.1 million refugees that she herself welcomed in late 2015. After serving for over ten years, many question whether the Chancellor still understands the German electorate. Meanwhile, others are exalting her as the last stalwart of liberal democracy in the face of worrying populism.

Is she right for the job?

Angela_Merkel_Juli_2010_-_3zu4.jpg
Merkel’s famous stance. Photo by Armin Linnartz.

Were this a normal election cycle, pundits would be questioning whether Chancellor Merkel is good for Germany at all. After serving has the head of government for over a decade, Merkel has earned a reputation as the ultimate politician. Her speeches are measured, her policies are rarely radical, and her standard hand position, dubbed the Chancellor’s rhombus, has become iconic.

Nevertheless, Merkel’s third term has been wrought with crisis. After a narrow victory in the 2013 general election, Merkel’s CDU was forced to form a grand coalition – nicknamed the “GroKo” – with the SPD, Germany’s center-left party. Reaching consensus in a coalition government can be tricky in the best of times, but as crisis after crisis unfolded in Europe, consensus seemed impossible. Chancellor Merkel’s attempts to navigate smoothly through these crises, as she did during the eurocrisis of her second term, proved impossible.

Merkel’s migration policies in particular have drawn sharp criticism from all sides. In 2015, when the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa hit its peak, Merkel famously touted Germany’s so-called “Willkommenskultur,” and insisted that Europe could manage the refugee crisis with compassion and solidarity. In a speech following an attack on a asylum center in Heidenau, Germany in 2015, Merkel stood by her decision, calling the attacks on refugees “shameful” and declaring, “I have to honestly say that if we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in the presence of need, then this is not my country.”

While Merkel’s generosity was initially met with domestic and international support, the mood quickly soured as thousands more asylum-seekers poured into Germany. Many have commented that the Chancellor’s initial reaction, so unlike her usual measured decisions, marked a clear disconnect between the Chancellor and her constituents. In 2016, when Merkel’s party only managed a third place victory behind the populist AfD and the SPD in her own district, it became all the more clear how out of touch she has become.

Is she our only hope?

Cameron,_Obama,_Merkel,_Hollande,_Renzi_in_2016.jpg
Cameron, Obama, Merkel, Hollande and Renzi. Three resignations and one end of term later- Merkel is the last of the old guard.

Out of touch she may be, but with the threat of populist parties taking charge across Europe, Chancellor Merkel’s shortcomings become easier to swallow. The AfD, led by the startlingly Merkel-esque Frauke Petry, lists as its priorities curtailing further immigration; putting participation in the Euro up to a referendum; halting further negotiations on CETA and TTIP; and limiting Germany’s commitment to Europe with the motto “Germany first”. In other words, it is yet another iteration of the standard populist ticket seen around Europe and in the US in 2016.

Following the Brexit vote, which was driven by the populist UK Independent Party, and the US election of Donald J. Trump, the self-proclaimed “ultimate outsider,” moderates in Europe are understandably terrified. Less than a week ago, the Italian constitutional referendum prompted the resignation of Matteo Renzi. A week before that, French President François Hollande announced his intention to step down in 2017. Cameron, Renzi, Hollande, and Merkel – four of Europe’s most powerful leaders, and only one will remain in 2017.

To characterize Merkel as Europe’s “last hope” or as the “last defender” of liberal democracy, as some in the media have, seems a bit hyperbolic. The AfD did have a surprising turnout in 2016, but the likelihood that it will garner enough support to form – or even be a part of – the next coalition is slim. As of now, the party does not have any seats in the national parliament, though it does have 143 of the 1855 state parliamentary seats. Still, the rise in populism cannot be ignored and the CDU and other parties may have to cater to ideas that would have, in any other election year, seemed too far right. That was clear during the annual party meeting when delegates debated the merits of banning face veils for Muslim women and doing away with dual citizenship. The tone of the nation has shifted, and the Chancellor will have to consider this in order to run a successful campaign.

Can she win?

2015-07-04_afd_bundesparteitag_essen_by_olaf_kosinsky-141
Frauke Petry is seeking to upset the German establishment with the AfD. Will she succeed? Photo by Olaf Kosinsky

It may not be clear if she is the right person for the job, or if she has the full weight of the CDU behind her, but Chancellor Merkel has been in power for almost 12 years. For many Germans, she seems almost like a permanent fixture atop the governmental pyramid. Not the most effective leader, or the most likeable, but the best option for right now.

Still, Merkel’s approval ratings have seen constant fluctuation in the past year. Over the summer, she reached new lows – in an August 2016 poll published by Zeit Online, only 42% of Germans wanted to see her run again. However, immediately following the US election of Donald Trump, Merkel’s approval rating rebounded. According to a Stern Magazine poll, 59% of Germans signaled their wish for her to run again on Nov 9, perhaps a reactionary poll driven by a glimpse of real populism in the US. However, as the dust settles Merkel must find a way to make these ratings sustainable, otherwise she faces an uphill battle in September. ”You have to help me,” Chancellor Merkel told CDU members gathered in Essen last week. Someone has to.

Click here for more on National Politics.

Click here for from Lauren Rogers.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Europe at a Crossroads: The Rise of the Right and Post-Truth Politics” by Ben Krasa

“Can the Roma Speak? Roma in the UK in the aftermath of Brexit” by Sohini Rajiyung

Advertisements

Alone together: The UK and US Special Relationship in the Trump Era

Teheran_conference-1943.jpg
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. World War II was the beginning of the special relationship between the US and the UK.

Arne van Lienden

In 1946 Winston Churchill famously proclaimed that another devastating war could not surely be prevented “without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples… a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States.” The term ‘special relationship’ has been used ever since by leaders of both countries to explain the uniquely close relations between Great Britain and the United States in cultural, historical, and political matters that go far beyond a shared language. However, relations between Great Britain and the US are more complex than the sentimentalized notion of a ‘special relationship’. The intensity of the relationship has always depended on coinciding interests and the personal relationship between leaders of both countries. The last eight years the relationship has become weaker. Instead of focusing on an Anglo-American alliance, Obama repeatedly stressed the need for multilateralism. However, in times where both the electorates of Great Britain and the United States have decisively rejected multilateralism the relationship is bound to become very special again.

Strong bilateral ties between the United States and Great Britain existed long before World War II. But after the war there was a strong urge- particularly in the UK- to articulate the exceptional character of the relationship more explicitly. Whereas Great Britain had historically been the strongest in the relationship, the war radically altered power relations between the two countries. The British government needed US support on the continent in order to keep communist influences limited in the shattered countries of Western Europe. The UK was not as materially affected by the war as the countries on the continent, but the fight against the Nazis had put a great strain on its economic resources. In order to overcome the debt and stagnant economy the UK hoped for US economic assistance after the war. The US did of course stay very much involved in Europe and it is in these first postwar years that the fundaments were laid for a ‘special relationship’. The UK was able – partly through American financial aid- to revitalize its economy and although poverty was still widespread, the country was still considered to be one of the victors of World War II and consequently recognized as a global power. The US also feared a Communist take over in Europe and cherished the strategic alliance with the equally anti-communist UK. The extensive cooperation in matters of defense and intelligence that were established during World War II continued after the war, only this time to fight a different enemy.

Thatcher_Reagan_Camp_David_sofa_1984.jpg
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

The strength of the ‘special relationship’ always heavily depended on the political situation in both countries and has usually been stronger in times where political agendas coincided. This is most clearly seen in the last two decades of the 20th century. In the 1980s UK Prime-Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan pursued a similar neoliberal economic agenda and the two leaders developed a relationship that “was closer ideologically and warmer personally than any relationship between any other British prime minister and American president”. Also after the Cold War the ‘Special Relationship’ endured. The 1990s saw the rise of Tony Blair’s New Labour in the UK and the election of Bill Clinton in the United States. Blair and Clinton also developed a close relationship and the former described them as “political soul mates”. Blair’s relationship with George W. Bush was more problematic but at the same time proved the strength of the ‘special relationship’. Bush and Blair were political and ideological opposites. However, when Bush made clear to Blair he was going to invade Iraq in 2003, Blair felt compelled to join his most important strategic ally. The disastrous consequences of the Iraq War are well known and Tony Blair is probably painfully right in hindsight when he sarcastically called a possible invasion “my epitaph.

Clinton_Blair.jpg
Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

In the last eight years the ‘special relationship’ has been under great pressure. Instead of cherishing the Anglo-American alliance, Obama pursued a more multilateral foreign policy. This strategy is of course a consequence of the Iraq war, where the UK and US have arguably left Iraq as a more destabilized and sectarian country than it was before the invasion. The biggest strain on the relationship followed from the military operations in Libya in 2011. In a recent interview in The Atlantic Obama said he “had more faith in the Europeans” but that the Europeans were not committed enough to the intervention. In the same interview he especially mentions David Cameron, who according to Obama got “distracted by a range of other things”. He also criticized what he called European “free riders” that pick and choose where to military intervene.  In the UK these remarks did not go down well. Former UK foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind stated, “if there’s criticism, looking at your own actions is sometimes appropriate” and also other British politicians spoke out against Obama’s criticism. The British outrage over Obama’s statements reveal a deeper-laying development in the ‘special relationship’. Whereas the US enjoyed the UK as a partner in times where it needed an ally in Europe, nowadays its scope is way broader. Under the Obama administration the US has increasingly consolidated its relationships with other countries like Germany, China, and Australia. Some authors even called the relationship with Germany the new “special relationship”, a very sensitive statement in the UK for evident reasons.  In times where the global power of Britain is steadily diminishing, a potential break-up in the ‘special relationship’ is a real concern.

Blair_Bush_Whitehouse_(2004-04-16).jpg
Tony Blair and George W. Bush.

However, 2016 might go down as the year where the ‘special relationship’ became great again. The relationship has always been dependent on coinciding political agendas, and the election of Trump in the United States and the Brexit-vote in the UK might realign these interests once again. Both votes revealed that the electorates have had enough of multilateralism and extensive international cooperation. Both Trump and Brexiteers promised to give the countries back to the people in times where the people felt it was taken from them. In his campaign Trump even mentioned that his election would be a continuation of what the Brexit-vote started. In this climate of isolationism it might very well be, ironically, that both countries will need each other more than ever. When the UK loses its access to the single European market, it will need to rely on its economic ties with the US. While Trump’s cabinet is slowly taking shape, it is still very unclear what his international position will be. The UK sees an opportunity here as it hopes to be able to influence his agenda like Thatcher was able to do with Reagan”. We are yet to see how the new episode in the ‘special relationship’ will play out, but it is clear that the foundations for renewed extensive cooperation are there.

Cameron,_Obama,_Merkel,_Hollande,_Renzi_in_2016.jpg
David Cameron, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Matteo Renzi in 2016. With Obama seeking new partnerships and Cameron busy with the EU referendum, the ‘special relationship’ looked to be over.

Another important factor also points towards a more intensive relationship between the UK and US. It seems that for the first time it may become a love triangle. During Donald Trump’s campaign UKIP-leader Nigel Farage, one of the lead supporters of Brexit, took the stage on multiple occasions. This has lead to rumors about a role for Farage in Trump’s administration, and Trump himself has spoken of Farage as a potential UK ambassador to the US. Especially the photo of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage in a golden elevator spoke to the imagination of many speculators. Although it is merely gossip at this point, the fact that a British politician could play a role in the American Presidential elections and Trump’s remarks on Brexit show that the ‘special relationship’ still plays an important role in both countries. It proves that the foundations for more extensive cooperation have not been eradicated by Obama’s presidency.

Will Donald Trump and Theresa May reignite the special relationship?

The election of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the EU dominated world news in 2016. For many people it has been a confronting year, a year where it turned out that polls and numbers are sometimes grossly mistaken. Also many will perceive it as a year where global and European cooperation seem to be under grave threat. The actual political consequences of both votes are yet to be seen, but it is clear that the Trump-victory and Brexit created a new impetus for a ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK. In a time when both countries have turned their back to the rest of the world, they will need each other more than ever.

Click here for more on World Politics.

Click here for more by Arne van Lienden.

 The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Fixing America’s Two-Party System” 

“Putting Life on Hold: Teaching English Abroad”

“Plotting Elena Ferrante: An Anonymous Writer’s Map to Freedom” 

The Silver Lining of the 2016 Election and the Way Forward

Ryan Minett

As we all know now, most of our nightmares have come true. Trump has become president and we are all coping with this shocking development in different ways. Many are surprised, some are confused, a small percentage of those I’ve seen online are pleased, but most, I am relieved to see, are very, very angry. We knew this was a possibility, but the reality of the situation only really started to sink in as swing state after swing state fell to our newly elected, Oompa-Loompa in Chief. I myself am not altogether surprised. Just think for a second how dumb the average American is, then realize that 160 million Americans are, by definition, stupider than this, and the reality of President Donald Trump becomes somewhat more understandable. In the meantime, I, with all the American optimism that can get someone like our future Racist in Chief into the Oval Office, have been looking for a silver lining to this horrible cloud, and if you bear with me, I have hopefully found one. Continue reading “The Silver Lining of the 2016 Election and the Way Forward”

The Trump Presidency: The Importance of Staying Rational

Alexander Pitts

It was Election Night at the Groninger Forum: a USA-themed event featuring music, lectures, workshops, and live coverage of the results. I had been looking forward to it since I first heard about it. An American-themed party in Europe? Awesome! Getting to follow the election with friends, instead of staying up all night in my room, biting my nails and staring at my laptop screen? Wouldn’t miss it. It was supposed to be fun.

I’ve probably discussed American politics more since I moved to Europe than I did at home. Everyone is very curious. I completely understand – I’ve been baffled by this whole thing too. But I have a tendency to joke about things that make me feel negative emotions – anger, fear, sadness – which led to a very flippant take on the election. Any time someone asked me if I was scared or nervous, I would say, “No! I’m excited! I can’t wait to see what happens.” When people asked me if I thought Trump could really win, I would say, “No, but I’ve been wrong before, and at this point, nothing can surprise me.” That was a stupid thing to say. Continue reading “The Trump Presidency: The Importance of Staying Rational”

Message from an Obama Groupie: An ode to the Obama decade

Lianne Arentsen

Some say most Europeans are fans of Obama. I am not sure about that, but I definitely am. You could say I am an Obama groupie. So this article will be an ode to Obama. Or better said, an ode to the feeling that Obama gives.

The Obama hype is not new; we have had it since his first run for President. However, in light of the current events in American politics, more and more Obama groupies stand up to sing his praises. This is hardly surprising. When it seems like the good days are over, it is common to look back at the first blush of the romance. Now, with all the drama between and around Clinton and Trump, Obama is like a sweet memory of the good old times, even though he is still in charge. We know Obama cannot stay. We know our Obama-days will be over soon. So we are sad about that, we are afraid of a future that include Clinton and Trump, and are therefore already looking back on the great years we had with him.

Of course Obama is was not the perfect POTUS. He did not do everything he promised. Guantanamo Bay is not closed, even though Obama said he would close it years ago. However, there is no such thing as a perfect president. They are all humans, and humans make mistakes, especially when caught in an endlessly tangled bureaucracy. They learn from it. With that in mind, let’s get back to the ode to Obama.

Barack_Obama_on_phone_with_Benjamin_Netanyahu_2009-06-08.jpg

What’s not to love about Obama? The Huffington Post even made a list of 55 reasons to love Obama. Read it. If you didn’t love him yet, you soon will. Some examples of those 55 reasons: Obama is the first black president, he has made great reforms (think about Obamacare, and the Lilly Ledbetter Act) and, he has even won the Nobel Peace Prize. And did you know he can sing? He can easily start a professional singing career once his presidency ends. Another choice of career could be a DJ: for the past two years, he has released summer playlists on Spotify. But, also importantly, he has a great sense of humor. He makes the most out of his final moments as the President of the United States.

That is what we love about him. Whenever there is a new video of Obama mocking himself, of making a hilarious joke, we laugh and we like and share it. We cherish these moments, because we know all the laughing will soon be over. So for now, we stay in our little cocoons watching the videos of Obama, pretending all the American election drama is not happening right now. So here’s a little advice: whenever you read articles about the terrors of a Trump or Clinton, or discovering a new drama or embarrassment for Trump and Clinton, pretend you didn’t see it. Go watch Obama doing Thriller. What you don’t see, is not there.

What will happen in the next Presidency, we do not know yet. For now we can only say, Obama out!

Obama_013.jpg
Photo by John Kees

Click here for more by Lianne Arentsen.

Featured picture credit: Pete Souza.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“The Danger of Ridiculing Trump: Even if he loses Trump and his supporters cannot be ignored” by Arne van Lienden

“Should Voting be Compulsory in the US?” by Emma Danks-Lambert

“Islamophobia: Made in America – A New Phenomenon? US Elections and Discrimination” by Sabine Volk

Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016

 

Donald_Trump_and_Hillary_Clinton_during_United_States_presidential_election_2016.jpg
Trump and Clinton. Photos by Gage Skidmore, compiled by Krassotkin

Ryan Minett

Next Tuesday will hopefully be the end of the absolute fiasco, disaster, or whatever less printable name you would like to call this year’s election. As much as I would like to talk about it, there is little to nothing positive that outweighs all the negative associated with both candidates. In the last few weeks, there have been rumors from both sides that either Clinton or Trump would drop out of the race leaving the election all but decided in favor of the other candidate. Both times these rumors have come out I was terrified at the very real prospect of either Clinton or Trump becoming president, though honestly I was more terrified at the thought of POTUS Trump than POTUS Clinton. I’m not here to support one or the other. They are both deplorable candidates. That a country of 320 million people has to choose between these two is embarrassing though not altogether surprising. Watching this campaign has been nothing short of Kafkaesque as we watch this garbage, unable to do anything. This is not an election where the voters will vote in favor of a candidate, but rather, for the most part, against a candidate. If anyone is still unaware, next Wednesday the future president of the United States will almost definitely be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Writing those words, my heart beat faster and a wave of fear crashed over me as I realize yet again how bleak the future is.

Why I’m scared of Trump… Continue reading “Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016”

Should Voting be Compulsory in the US?

 

vote_here_sign_in_taft_texas
Taft, Texas. Photo by Jay Phagan

Emma Danks-Lambert

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 21: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

The United States has the lowest voter turnout records for a democratic society in the Western World and typically, those who aren’t able to vote are from lower socio-economic areas and minority groups whom struggle to reach polling stations due to distance, Republican tactics of voter disinformation, deliberate attempts to purge voters, refusal of registration for certain voters and long waiting times that can discourage people from attending.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 8th) the United States will have an election that could either vote in a Democrat or the Chancellor turned Sith Lord who turns the Galactic Federation into the Empire with extreme responses to acts of rebellion, shoddy weaponry systems and attempts to wipe out a religion because it’s considered a threat to the Sith’s rule.

Setting aside the sheer foolishness of having polls open on a working week day without a sausage sizzle in sight-an act that would surely lead to street riots in Australia- the latest poll on Real Clear Politics showed only one point difference between four years of continuity in the United States and the last four years the United States might ever have.

However, in 2012, voter turnout was only 57.5% and when the approval rating of both candidates is at historic lows, it is unlikely that this election will see a dramatic increase in that number; this means that the countries future is in the hands of the minor few instead of the majority.

Yet, in 2008, a study revealed that the previous elections of 2000 and 2004 could have swung to the Democrats if there had been universal turnout as encouraged by compulsory voting.

So why doesn’t America have compulsory voting?

506px-Democracy_Sausage.jpg
A view of the Australia Parliament on the 2016 election day. It is a famously tasty day in one of the only countries to have compulsory voting. Photo by Democracysausage

Compulsory voting is only enforced in twenty-two countries across the world (and one Swiss canton) and in those countries the fines for not voting are typically so low as to be considered symbolic more than a diversionary tactic. One of the more common arguments against compulsory voting in America is the first amendment of the Constitution which allows for freedom of religious practise, which for over one million Americans who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, means the right not to participate in political happenings. More famously, it allows for freedom of speech, for which it is claimed that compulsory voting is compelled speech and thus a violation of that right. In this case America’s liberty might be its downfall.

Click here for more by Emma Danks-Lambert.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“The Danger of Ridiculing Trump: Even if he loses Trump and his supporters cannot be ignored” by Arne van Lienden

“Islamophobia: Made in America – A New Phenomenon? US Elections and Discrimination” by Sabine Volk

“Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016” by Ryan Minett

 

 

 

 

Trumped in America: Undercover Europeans at Trump’s Cincinnati rally

 

pic-trump-rally-2
The Euroculturer was lucky to have two staff members attending this very busy Trump rally. Photo by Sabine Volk and Elisa Abrantes

Euroculturer correspondents Elisa Abrantes and Sabine Volk reporting on an all American experience.

It’s a Thursday evening in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the atmosphere outside the US Bank Arena is slightly tense as people queue to get inside, their T-shirts and posters ready to show support for their preferred competitor. We are at the largest indoor arena in the Greater Cincinnati region, boasting facilities that can fit over 17,000 people, and tonight it’s almost full. People of all ages have come here, and we see couples, families, groups of friends mixed into the crowd. As we pour into the stadium with other supporters, the chanting “USA! USA!” becomes louder and the atmosphere more rowdy as we are hit with booming music, chants, cheering- we try and find some seats. The colour red dominates the stadium; T-shirts, lights, posters…

The screens above the field do not show close-ups of the music artists or hockey players that usually occupy the spotlight in this arena. The centre of the arena is occupied by a single stage, with a single podium and single microphone, and shortly after we find our seats, presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the floor. While Frank Sinatra sings “New York, New York” the crowd goes wild and posters and smartphones fill our view. After proclaiming his love for Cincinnati, Trump begins his speech, and the Europeans present try to catch as much of this as possible beneath the deafening cheers. Continue reading “Trumped in America: Undercover Europeans at Trump’s Cincinnati rally”

All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November

If Brexit taught us anything, it’s to never assume the worst will not happen.

throne
Donal Trump on his second favourite chair

Emily Burt

I believe Donald Trump will be president next year.

A rolling poll from key swing state Ohio has placed him ahead of his democratic rival Hillary Clinton for almost a week now; and broader polls show the candidates are neck and neck with less than 50 days to go until the November presidential election.

Of course polls can be wrong. And it’s easy to see why people assume Trump is too outlandish, too ridiculous, and unreal to be elected. One of his platform policies is to build a wall around America, paid for by the people he wants to shut out. His son recently compared the global refugee crisis with a bowl of skittles. He eats KFC with a knife and fork – surely there’s at least one state where that’s illegal. With every week that passes, he drops another clanging gaffe that reverberates, painfully, across international media: and the world says this could never happen. Continue reading “All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November”