Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream

By Hanna Schlegel

Being German these days means witnessing the end of the Angela Merkel era. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Angela Merkel, is the CDU voters’ favourite to succeed the German chancellor as head of the Christian Democrats, according to a new poll published last Friday [23.11.2018]. But the disputed Friedrich Merz would be a way better choice from the view of the German centre-left parties.

Angela Merkel, as a result of her Christian Democratic Union’s poor showing in both federal (2017) and regional (2018, Bavaria and Hesse) elections, announced last October that she would neither run again as party chief in December nor seek re-election as chancellor in 2021. This decision not only further destabilizes German politics, with the threat of Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) collapsing in the coming months; the decision also means she will become less influential on the European stage. For the past 13 years, the ‘Queen of Europe’, as she is fittingly being nicknamed, has dominated European affairs and held Europe together. Her departure will have significant consequences for the Europe as a whole, given the position that Germany, being the EU’s country with the largest economy and population, occupies within the EU. A change of power in Germany might very well affect the EU power structure in general.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the race to succeed her as CDU leader will entail a battle over the party’s direction. Three candidates have already announced their intentions of running for the post: Health minister Jens Spahn, the chancellor’s loudest internal critic; Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Merkel; and Friedrich Merz, who is coming back to the political scene after a 10 years break. Continue reading “Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream”

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German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign

Wong Tsz 

Germany has just experienced one of the most turbulent general elections in recent history. Merkel has gained another 4-year term; for the first time since WWII, a far-right party, the AfD, has made its way into the German parliament; and a three-party coalition seems inevitable. But what else can we tell from this election?

Winners and losers:

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Official election figures. (Source)

Coalition

A record six parties have entered the Bundestag. They are: The centre-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union), SPD (Social Democratic Party), The Left (Die Linke), The Greens (Die Grünen), the FDP (Free Democratic Party), and the AfD (Alternative for Germany).

As it stands, no party wishes to cooperate with the AfD, and die Linke is a traditionally difficult ally due to its uneasy past regarding the East German Stasi (Staatssicherheitsdienst, SSD). Since the SPD vows to withdraw from the grand coalition that it has formed with the CDU since 2013, the only feasible possibility is the CDU-Greens-FDP coalition – also known as the ‘Jamaica’ coalition, named after the three colours. Although coalition government is not something new for the German politics, a three-party coalition is still not commonly seen in the German parliament. Continue reading “German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign”

Trump to UN: You’re Welcome

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Flags at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Photo by Aotearoa

Alexander Pitts 

Since the beginning of 2017, the world has been adjusting to the idea of “America first.” The United States’ shift towards isolationism and protectionism came as no shock under the incoming president, but – lest there be any mistake – he’s been very clear on the matter from the get-go.

Europe has rolled with that punch, responding with resolute determination to stand on its own and fill any potential gap left by America’s retreat from the front lines of the international forum. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Europe cannot only rely on the US to solve problems, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently proposed further globalization, integration, and a stronger EU presence on the world stage. This is good, and necessary, because President Trump hasn’t changed his tone.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on September 19, 2017, the US president reiterated his America-first stance, and, perhaps in an attempt to make the idea more palatable, insisted that every country should take the same approach (he used the word “sovereign” 21 times in 42 minutes). The thing is, a lot of countries don’t want to. The leaders of the European Union, save for one notable exception, believe that they are stronger together. Continue reading “Trump to UN: You’re Welcome”

What does Trump mean for the European Union? Looking at the reality of a Trump Presidency from the perspective of the EU

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Photo by Marc Nozell

Eoghan Hughes

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre  

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  

Are full of passionate intensity.”  

The Second Coming

WB Yeats

Donald Trump is the next President of the United States of America. In the US this needs to be accepted as soon as possible so that those for him, and those against him, can start making the best of this divisive result. America will learn how to deal with Trump domestically- they are a robust democracy with rigid cheques and balances.

Within the EU we also have to come to terms with a result that many did not think would happen and did not want to happen. This was not a European decision though, but the choice of the US electorate, a choice that needs to be respected. The choice we are faced with now is how to react to Trump’s America in the international arena. This choice is especially important for the moderates of the EU. If they want to stave off the effects of Trump they will need to, to quote Anthony L. Gardner, current US Ambassador to the EU, “speak out with passionate intensity”.

To do this, we first need to answer the question on all of our minds- what does Trump mean for the EU? When you are dealing with a man who one day threatens to take the US out of NATO and the next promises fierce allegiance to allied states, it’s hard to pin down the policy from the rhetoric.

Below I will give The Euroculturer’s best guess at how Trump’s Presidency will affect the EU, by asking what policies we can actually expect from the eccentric millionaire. Once we have it on paper, I will make a few suggestions as to how the EU, and its Member States, might best respond to this new era in EU-US relations.

What will he do?

Although conventional wisdom says that we shouldn’t take a candidate on his pledges, this candidate said he would win, and he did, against all odds. So on this occasion, it might be best to look at what Trump has already said about his planned foreign policy:

Mike Pence

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Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Effect: Trump has claimed in the past that Mike Pence, his running mate and Vice President elect, would be left to take care of ‘domestic and foreign policy.’ Though perhaps even more conservative than Trump, particularly as regards reproductive rights, Pence is a more traditional Republican, and would be therefore easier to anticipate. Expect a dismantling of Obamacare domestically, but little overt change internationally- which would normally give the leaders of EU States some solace. However, it is hard to imagine that the natural showman that is Trump would be willing to completely eschew the opportunity of meeting world leaders and taking part in important international congresses. Fame is Trump’s bread and butter, he is an entertainer, and one thinks he would not miss the opportunity to, at the very least, be the face of America in those critical moments. Therefore, discounting policy for the moment, we think you can at least expect a visible Trump in Europe.

Already his presence has been felt, with right wing parties falling over themselves to congratulate him and to declare his victory as a feather in their caps. An official from France’s Front National has stated, in the aftermath, that Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built’. Nigel Farage, the man who brought about Brexit with his UKIP party, has gleefully claimed to be the catalyst for Trump’s victory, and believes Trump’s victory heralds further political upheavals in Europe.  (Side note: Farage, in this same interview, made a joke about Trump assaulting Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, which perhaps shows the affect Trump is already having on the language of politics in European countries.)

So, for those who think Trump may just be a figure head, it is worth remembering the moral power a figure head has. Trump could embolden alt right movements in Europe, and with elections in The Netherlands, Germany and France coming sooner rather than later, Geert Wilders, AFD and Front National could be looking to shock the world with their surprise, poll defying victories. Nobody in the EU should take this possibility lightly.

Response: If Trump’s victory can embolden the alt right, it should also serve as a rallying call to the moderate and left movements in Europe (and the US). The fact that Trump won with the backing of traditional Democrats shows (as Brexit was passed with the backing of Labour voters) that the base of the left has been overtaken by the new rhetoric of the alt right, slamming global financial institutions and immigration. In many ways this is to be expected. Most countries in the EU have lived under austerity measures for nearly a decade, since the 2008 financial crash. While financial institutions have been bailed out, businesses have closed and rural areas have been decimated by a drain of the youth to cities and other countries. According to city dwellers and the middle class, the recession is over and austerity worked. For rural people and those living in relative poverty though, the recession never ended, and austerity is still keeping stride with their day to day lives. This is fertile ground for populists. Not because people are stupid, that’s the lazy answer, but because they are angry. Brexit was a sledgehammer to the system they felt encouraged their marginalisation, Trump was another.

Similarly, immigration has fuelled the alt right in the US and the EU. Here, fear of Muslim immigrants is felt in most EU states by a large section of society. This fear is not backed by fact; it’s not based on numbers and it is certainly not easy to address. However, this is no excuse not to address it. When liberal left society calls you a fool or a racist for a genuine fear, resentment brews. We saw this in the US where I personally believe that Clinton lost a lot of voters with her ‘deplorables’ comment. To this section of society the only place to turn is the right, where they may not be offered a perfect solution, maybe not even a message that they really believe, but they are paid attention to. The left and the moderates need to do more than dismiss the fears of this section of the population. We talk often about training immigrants to fit into society; we talk too little about how to prepare the current population. The left does not need to abandon immigration as a platform, it certainly cannot abandon asylum seekers, but they must innovate how this is communicated to the public. Research shows that interaction is the best cure for xenophobia, which explains why, consistently, city populations vote for more liberal immigration policies. Social democratic parties must lean harder on their ‘social’ aspect in Europe, get people to meet. Not just those who already support immigration, it’s not those we need to convince. Instead we need to find ways to reach out to those sections of society already facing hardship economically and are more likely to be segregated from international communities. Go where the people are- trade civic events that attract leftists for pubs, football clubs and all the rest. There also must be more that can be good to reach people in Europe’s small towns, Europe’s isolated farms. Regardless of how they do it, the left and the moderates, if they want to diminish the power of the fear of immigration, they need to realise that immigration should not be pushed, but introduced. Claims that the left has been betrayed by their base belie the fact that the voter base feels betrayed by their parties.

Pro-EU citizens and parties need to realise that only by tackling these aspects of globalisation, and by communicating with the people most affected, can the momentum of the alt right be slowed.  Otherwise the mere spectacle of a Trump Presidency might threaten the EU’s political establishments.

NATO

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US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw.

“US leadership is as important as ever. Our Alliance has brought together America’s closest friends in times of peace and of conflict for almost 70 years.

A strong NATO is good for the United States, and good for Europe.”

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO

Effect: Trump, throughout his campaign, has threatened to reduce the US commitment to NATO, threatened to leave partners that fail to raise their contributions to the alliance to fend for themselves, and has even threatened to pull out of the organisation all together.  This, surprisingly, is not too far away from the policy of previous Democratic and Republican leaders. The US elite have for a long time said that NATO lacks support from its partners, particularly European nations who fail to meet the budgetary requirements of the organisation. The difference here is the tempo of Trump’s statement- threats to abandon the alliance already causes hairs to stand on end, particularly in Eastern Europe, where states such as Poland count on NATO for defence in the event of a conflict with Russia. NATO as a deterrent itself is weakened by this threat and the EU states that rely on it for the stable state of the continent face an uncertain future.

Response: In the aftermath of Brexit, Italy, France and Germany discussed increasing military cooperation, now that the tricky UK was no longer part of the picture. The UK, the Netherlands and Poland have opposed an increase in EU common defence as it is feared that this could undermine NATO. With the UK out of the picture, the new big three still failed to get the Netherlands, Finland or Poland on side.

With Trump this might change. Even the distant chance that NATO could be weakened can cause chaos. In response to this the EU should push harder for closer common defence in the EU. The Netherlands and Poland, traditional atlanticists, may be won over to this as an alternative to NATO, a stabilizing force in the region and a clear deterrent for any hostile states. Ideas such as a common defence research fund, a centralised military operation HQ and even an EU army, which have been so recently been rubbished may be revived. They at the very least should be talked about, to lay the groundwork in the case that NATO becomes an uncreditable source for European security. It centralises European control of their defence, alleviating fear by becoming self-sufficient in terms of protection. Honestly, looking at the trend with NATO, centralising European defence may just be inevitable, but by seizing the opportunity, the EU gets the chance to show unity and forward thinking.

There are of course many, many difficulties to such a course of action, political and moral. Politically, getting neutral Ireland on board will be difficult and not necessarily tractable. Morally, there are arguments to be made about warmongering and feeding the military industrial complex. These are no small matters and should give pause to any thought of increased military cooperation or spending. However the moral debate, essential to this policy, is beyond the scope of this article- which is merely arguing that increasing EU common defence is an appropriate response to a weakening of NATO in order to ensure security and stability, particular in Europe’s border regions.

 Russia

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Photo by Администрация президента РФ

Effect: More concerning for security is Trump’s stated desire to cool tensions with Russia, potentially ending the EU-US joint sanctions regime and recognizing the annexation of the Crimea. These are points which the EU and some of its major Member States are unlikely to support.

Trump’s promise to end the deadlock and work with Assad to defeat ISIS also fits with his desire to improve relations with the Kremlin. However working with Assad, who is widely disliked in EU circles, risks alienating prominent Member States and encouraging Russia to take a more active role in international affairs, a situation that would make the EU’s eastern flank nervous. This could help destabilise states in Eastern Europe, with Russia interfering with more gusto in the aftermath of a warming of relations with the US.

Response: Despite recent problems amongst Member States in the EU’s eastern flank, the EU should take this opportunity to reaffirm the place of Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia at the heart of the European project. Support should be offered if tensions with Russia do rise, and a strong voice on their behalf should be coming out of Brussels in any talks with Russia. Likewise, if these states want a better relationship with Russia, they should be allowed to pursue it within certain limitations. They share a history which might be advantageous to exploit in building upon the EU’s autonomous relationship with Russia, something that will be needed if the US pursues a specific policy as regards Russia. Europe has different red lines with Russia than the US. For central Europe the Ukraine situation and the annexation of the Crimea is not an area where many concessions can be made to Russia.

Trade

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An anti-TTIP poster. Graphic by Mehr Demokratie

Effect: Under Trump and a House and Senate controlled by the Republican Party the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement is very likely dead. This would have seen tariffs between the EU and US cease to exist in most areas, a harmonisation of standards and the setting up of an arbitration system by which organisations can bring cases against states that introduce practices which disadvantage them commercially. While there are many who would like applaud this development, and perhaps rightly, there nevertheless stands the risk that this weakens EU and US trade, which would in turn weaken both our influences worldwide. Similarly, while not perfect, and not yet fully negotiated, TTIP offered the chance for two regions, which share many of the same values with regard to human rights, to work together and set the international agenda as regards workers’ rights. There are many legitimate criticisms of the TTIP concept of course, and even without Trump it may not have gotten off the ground politically in Europe or the US.  However, the jobs TTIP would have created could maybe have eased domestic tensions in the EU and the US, and therefore its loss cannot be counted an uncomplicated victory for anyone, as youth unemployment ravages the young voting population. Trump’s pledge to reduce the US corporate tax regime is also troublesome, as it will harm industry in the EU, particularly Ireland where many ostensibly US companies have their bases due to Ireland’s tax regime.

Response: The CETA deal with Canada is an example of how the EU should respond to TTIP. Although not free of problems associated with TTIP, such as the controversial investor court, CETA is an example of how the EU can expand its trade with smaller, likeminded regions as a way of offsetting the damaged trade relations. Seeking trade relationships similar to this with smaller states, such as Australia and New Zealand, will help bring investment into the EU and hopefully bring jobs to lift the many jobless of Europe into employment. It could also help the rural regions by boosting agricultural exports, and in this way respond to chronic problems in the EU’s rural areas. However, to avoid public opposition, these new deals should not seek to establish investor courts- even if these means the deals need to be more limited.

Conclusion

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Photo by Michael Vadon.

Trump means that the EU will be faced with new challenges, many of which are not anticipated in these responses, and many of which cannot be anticipated. However with this article I hoped to suggest that even if Trump were to be as extreme as his campaign suggested, there are moves to be made. The EU is not powerless to respond to a changing world, and for the sake of its citizens, it certainly should not stand idly if these changes will have a negative impact on their livelihoods. Trump’s Presidency does not necessarily represent anything revolutionary- he is not the first business man to be elected President, he is not the first man to be elected President, and he is certainly not the first Republican. His campaign was vicious and his comments on women and minorities have caused shock, but only time will tell if he really is anything other than another Republican President. However, if this does mark a new era in international politics, the EU is morally obliged to take its place in the world.

Click here for more by Eoghan Hughes.

Click here for more on the US Elections.

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The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US

This essay is moreover a response to political scientist Robert A. Dahl’s famous work How Democratic Is the American Constitution?, in which he points to several democratic issues in the American constitutional system.

us-constitution
The Constitution of the United States of America is almost a holy document in the US

Sabine Volk

How democratic is the American constitution? asks political scientist Robert A. Dahl in his famous essay. His argument does not leave much of a doubt to the answer: the American constitution is by far not the democratic model constitution that many Americans think it to be. Claiming a more critical stance towards the more than 200 years old script, Dahl discusses several questionable aspects of the American founding document. Amongst those aspects, for example, is the unique electoral system whose outcome does not always represent the will of the citizens, as in the 2000 national elections. Another fairly undemocratic feature is the unequal representation of citizens in America’s second legislative chamber, the U.S. Senate, in which the federal states are represented. Dahl defines unequal representation as a condition in which the number of members of the second chamber coming from a federal unit such as a state or province is not proportional to its population, to the number of adult citizens, or to the number of eligible voters.

“The inequality in representation,” he then finds, “is a profound violation of the democratic idea of political equality among all citizens,” since it goes against the basic democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” One cannot but wonder why unequal representation exists and on which grounds it can be justified in a democracy.  Continue reading “The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US”

The European Union’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Who Will Be The Next President of The European Parliament?

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EU Parliament in session

Bastian Bayer

Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and  that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.

Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017,  the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.

The face of EU policy

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Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament

Schulz has been, with interruptions,  president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.

He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.

However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.

However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.

What followed is a remarkable career.  After a career  as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.

In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.

Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU

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Tusk, Schulz and Juncker

Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.

The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.

Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:

“We need stability.”

Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.

“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.

To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts.  Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”

However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.

On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:

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Antonio Tajani

So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals.  Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.

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Alain Lamassoure

The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting  a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.

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Mairead McGuinness

Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.

So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.

For more by Bastian, click here.

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