Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Angie, the German President, the FDP and saving the EU

Günter Bannas argues that the current assumption that German President Christian Wulff can serve out his term in office only if Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to back him actually reverses the power dynamics at work here. He argues that whether Princess Angie von Merkel can continue her Chancellorship hangs on whether Wulff stays in office rather than resigning in the face of the current scandal. (Regierungskoalition. Geschwächt wie nie Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 09.01.2012)

His thinking is this. The German President is not chosen by Parliament as such or by popular vote. He's chosen by a body called the Bundesversammlung (Federal Convention) that is similar in concept to the American Electoral College. Not that the comparison clarifies much!

The Bundesversammlung includes all Members of the Bundestag (the lower House of Parliament) and an equal number of representatives chosen by the German states (Länder), as this article from the 2010 Presidential election time explains: How Germany's president is elected Deutsche Welle 29.06.2010

In partisan terms, this means that the composition of the Bundesversammlung is affected not only by the proportions in the national Parliament but also by the strength of the parties in the state parliaments (Landtags). Bannas writes that Angie's national coalition of her own CDU/CSU and the FDP would together have a bare majority in a new Bundesversammlung. But in 2010, with a bigger margin, it still took three votes in the Bundesversammlung to elect the current scandal-plagued President.

In German political dynamics, this would mean that Angie would likely have to agree on a Presidential candidate with the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), which would further increase the tensions in her governing coalition with the FDP. The FDP is having an existential crisis now, not as in anguished hand-wringing, but as in they are worried about their continued existence as a party. It's generally assumed that being in Angie's coalition has made it difficult for them to establish a clear profile among the public. If Angie's flips them off and makes a deal with the SPD on a joint Presidential candidate in the near future, that could be enough to persuade the FDP to bolt the coalition and bring down her government.

Or, as Bannas puts it, "Rasch könnte der Ausgang einer neuen Bundesversammlung die gedemütigte FDP zu einem letzten Rettungsanker greifen lassen, dem Bruch der Koalition mit der Union. Das Ende des zweiten Kabinetts Merkel wäre gekommen." (The outcome could quickly be that the humiliated FDP would grasp at its last saving anker, breaking the coalition with the Union [CDU]. The end of Merkel's second Cabinent would have arrived.)

Now, Angie likes power, in itself a good thing in a national leader. But Angie also has a mission, to impose austerity economics on all of Europe during this depression and roll back as much of the social state in Europe as she can get away with. She can also be bull-headed, as in lower head, aim horns, charge. We see her taking that approach with the euro crisis right now.

So if she thinks she can rope the SPD into another coalition in which the SPD agrees to support her Herbert Hoover austerity economics, she may go for it. She may be thinking that she's gotten this far out on a limb with her EU policies and it hasn't broken off and fallen into the abyss yet. She may figure, why not take another step or two and make the SPD my junior partner in bringing Europe to heel and lowering the living standards of ordinary Germans, too? She has a bit of Dick Cheney in her.

Bannas himself gives an interesting hint that Angie may be thinking along those lines, even though he's arguing it would be politically suicidal for her and the CDU. In the state of the Saarland for the last two years, the CDU has been heading the first "Jamaica coalition" at the state level, the name coming from the colors of the Jamaican flag and referring to a coalition of the CDU (black in the German partisan color scheme), the FDP (yellow) and the Greens (green, duh!). The FDP was having a national convention last week they hoped to use as a springboard to improving their electoral profile. But the CDU head of the Saarland Jamaica Coalition announced that she was dissolving the coalition and timed the announcement to coincide with the FDP convention, a real slap in the face the FDP. Bannas notes that Angie gave her blessing to the announcement, which one would assume in any case.

This is another sign that Angie is seriously considering the possibility and/or necessity of dumping the FDP as a national coalition partner sooner rather than later. In addition, Bannas quotes one of Angie's longtime cronies, Bundestag CDU/CSU caucus leader Volker Kauder, dissing the FDP and at least implying that Angie agrees with him.

Angie has a plan, and least to bring the eurozone under her idea of the Proper Order. But she's also lurching from crisis to crisis. The best chance for the survival of the euro and the EU may turn out to be the fall of Angie's government and its replacement by one not willing to insist on Herbert Hoover austerity in the middle of a depression.

That is, if Angie and Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron and the European financial lobby haven't done irreparable damage to the European project already.

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