Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Coalition politics in Germany

Jörg Diehl and Veit Medick have a good article in Spiegel Online on the SPD's consideration of building a Grand Coalition government as the junior partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU, Poker um Schwarz-Rot: Gabriels Kraft-Probe 24.09.2013.

They cast it in terms of two SPD leaders and what it might mean for their personal prospects in the SPD leadership. Such considerations are always at work in politics. Party Secretary Sigmar Gabriel is seen as more favorable to a Grand Coalition, North Rhein-Westphalia (NRW) Minister-President Hannelore Kraft as opposing. Kraft is also the leader of the majority SPD/Green (red-green) alliance in the upper house of the Parliament, the Bundesrat. In the German system, the upper house is composed of representatives of the states (Länder), not by directly elected members.

Diehl and Medick don't cite opinion polls on the subject. But they make it clear that there is considerable sentiment in the SPD voting base against a Grand Coalition. They report that there's considerable sentiment in the SPD in the states of Rheinland-Pfalz und Baden-Württemberg for a referendum among the Party members over any proposed Grand Coalition arrangement.

Diehl and Medick seem to have a touch of what we know in America as the Very Serious People syndrome. They write, "Etwas gegen die eigenen Leute durchzusetzen, gilt in der Politik als Ausweis von Führungsstärke. Gabriel braucht einen solchen Moment." ("In politics, to put something through against your own people [base voters] is taken as evidence of strong leadership. Gabriel needs such a moment.")

Let me understand this. Pissing off your own base supporters is a sign of "strong leadership." Even if you're doing it because you're a corporate ho' who wants to help Angela Merkel keep the EU being a neoliberal deathtrap for the very kind of social and regulatory policies your own people need and for which your own voters vote for you. Even if the last time the SPD was a Merkel coalition partner (2005-9), your party lost votes big-time in the next election. To the point that today, the SPD can no longenr compete head-to-head against the CDU. Even if Merkel's outgoing current coalition partner, the FDP lost enough of their votes that in Sunday's election, they didn't even make it into the Bundestag and are in serious danger of dying out as a party. Even if Merkel's high-risk policies have the eurozone in a chronic crisis and the EU may not survive her nationalistic European policies and the SPD would be signing up to share the blame for the ugly effects on Germany of that policy unraveling.

But, hey, "In politics, to put something through against your own people is taken as evidence of strong leadership"! Awesome. If the German press keeps descending toward American levels, Germany has even bigger problems than Angela Merkel.

Still, they manage to point out after they get through the favorite reporters' gossip that the Left Party, now the third largest party in the Bundestag, stands to gain big-time if the SPD goes into another Grand Coalition with Merkel. If she serves the full four years of this term and does so in a Grand Coalition with the SPD, that would mean of 12 years of the Merkel Era, eight of them would have been made possible by the SPD serving as a junior partner in her Grand Coalition. It doesn't sound like the way to create a competitive political profile for the SPD. Another Grand Coalition would give the Green a prime chance to take SPD votes from the center-left and the Left Party to take them from the left.

Still, "In politics, to put something through against your own people is taken as evidence of strong leadership." Except for, you know, among the people who actually vote for you. Because not many of them are saying, "Oh, my party never does what I vote for them to do, but they show such strong ... leadership! Ohhh-hhhh!!"

A Grand Coalition is a definite possibility. And at this stage, all the major players have to be attentive to negotiating strategy.

Of course, Gabriel's negotiating position would be stronger if her were giving credible indications he would be willing to consider an SPD/Green/Left Party alliance.

Thorsten Denkler in Fünf Gründe für eine große Koalition Süddeutsche Zeitung 23.09.2013 makes a very conventional pitch for why it would be a sensible, responsible thing for the SPD to make a Grand Coalition under Merkel. None of them have anything to do with Europe or the euro crisis or Merkel's austerity policies. He doesn't consider that with the SPD down 16 points in Sunday's election against the CDU what that would do the SPD's electoral profile. Except that it would presumably make them look like responsible grown-ups to the kind of people who say, "In politics, to put something through against your own people is taken as evidence of strong leadership."

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