Sunday, September 22, 2013

Merkel's high point (let's hope!) (Updated)

Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel may be a terrible leader for Europe. But she's a great politician inside Germany. At least until her euro crisis policies unravel and German voters themselves have to face the realities of her dogmatic, brutal and stone-conservative economic policies.

Her current coalition partner party, the Free Democrats, failed to achieve the 5% vote hurdle needed to get seats in the Bundestag for the first time in the history of the Federal Republic. The SPD gained back some of the votes it lost in 2009 after its stint as Grand Coalition junior partner with Merkel and her CDU in her first government. The drop in vote percentage for both the Greens and the Left Party would indicate that some voters unhappy with the SPD's performance in that coalition moved by to the SPD.

In other words, despite their lackluster campaign and pathetic Chancellor candidate this time around, the SPD managed to regain some of the ground it lost as the compliant junior partner to Angela Merkel previously.

Only parties that get 5% (or three direct mandates) get Bundestag seats. The seats are apportioned among the parties with representation according to their vote percentage. The vote of the parties in the new Bundestag based on Sunday's election will be, according to the breakdown on the front webpage of Die Zeit at this writing break down this way:

CDU/CSU: 41.7%;296 seats
SPD: 25.6%;182 seats
Left Party: 8.5%;60 seats
Greens: 8.4%;60 seats

Those totals account for all 598 Bundestag seats. The parties that passed the hurdle received 84% of the vote.

Update:In the German system, depending on the final votes, the total number of seats can vary. As the Deutscher Budestag English-language website states of the outgoing Bundestag, "The 17th German Bundestag has 620 Members, eleven more than in the last electoral term."

As of around 4:15 Monday morning German time, both Die Zeit and Spiegel Online have the seat count at 630 seats. The revised breakdown for both sources is:

CDU/CSU: 41.5%;311 seats
SPD: 25.7%;192 seats
Left Party: 8.6%;64 seats
Greens: 8.4%;63 seats

The parties that passed the 5% hurdle received 84% of the vote.(End Update)

With that count, Merkel's CDU is three seats short of an absolute majority. She can form a CDU-only government if the other parties, or even one of the other three parties, agrees to it. In terms of right-to-left configuration, a CDU-green coalition would be the most likely majority coalition. But in current conditions, that sounds unlikely. The big question will be whether she will try to form a Grand Coalition with the SPD as junior partner. (A CDU-Left coalition isn't even a consideration.)

An obvious implication of this is that if the SPD wants to increase its own voting percentage - which normal Madisonian political thinking would assume that it wants to - their most obvious road to doing that would be to (l) stay out of a Grand Coalition; (2) establish a distinct oppositional profile to take maximum political advantage of the all-but-inevitable unraveling of Frau Fritz' euro policies; (3) develop the kind of cooperation with the Greens and the Left Party that could lead to a red-red-green government after the next election. And there's a good chance that the next one won't be so long as four years from now when the euro policies unravel.

Lenz Jacobsen discusses that option in Opposition ist doch kein Mist Die Zeit 22.09.2013. He reports that SPD Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück, in perhaps the best thing he's done in the whole campaign, is recommending that the SPD pursue the opposition course. Jacobsen notes that the SPD's vote was 16% below the CDU/CSU, which means that Angela Merkel is the only mass German Party at the moment. ("Angela Merkel ist jetzt die einzige wahre deutsche Volkspartei...") If the SPD cares about competing as a mass party with the CDU/CSU, they have to distance themselves from Merkel.

That in itself won't be enough if they faithfully agree to everything Frau Fritz wants to do, especially her neoliberal eurozone policies that are not only bad in themselves but will at some point start blowing up politically.

The fact that it would make sense politically and serve the interests of the voting base of the SPD do pursue such a course does not mean that they will, though. Merkel may try to rope them in to a Grand Coalition, which she knows could put the CDU on the road to being an actual majority party and hammer the SPD at the next election.

Jacobsen also points out the combined SPD/Green vote of 34% is so far from the CDU's 42% that a red-green coalition no longer looks so good as a strategic option. This creates a strong incentive to work on the red-red-green option.

Making the eurozone work is not identical to saving the EU, which is also threatened by Britain's strong inclination at the moment to bail out of the whole project, given the increasingly nationalistic inclinations of David Cameron's government.

But the failure of the eurozone would, at best, set back the European project to something like the pre-1992 state. Not only will saving it not be easy. But if there is going to be anything "left" to the left/center-left parties, they have to demand drastic changes to the basic EU organization. As long as it continues in its existing form, its going to be a neoliberal death-trap for progressive social and economic policies. The Fiscal (Suicide) Pact, to take just one example, essentially bans counter-cyclical (Keynesian) economic policies in recessions and depressions. Even requires pro-cyclical ones in a recession, because it requires arbitrary deficit and debt limits, the latter tied to percentage of GDP.

As Andreas Fisahn puts it in "Vier Jahre Merkel, vier Jahre Eurokrise," Blätter für deutsche un internationale Politik 09/2013

Tatsächlich ist die aktuelle Krise keine Euro- oder Schuldenkrise, sondern eine Krise der europäischen Wirtschafts- und Finanzverfassung. Ein emanzipatorischer Ausweg aus der Krise kann daher nur in einer grundsätzlichen Revision der Europäischen Verträge bestehen.

[In reality, the current crisis is not a euro or debt crisis, but rather a crisis of the European economic and financial constitution. An emancipatory way out of the crisis can therefore only occur in a basic revision of the European treaties.]
Frau Fritz has been so consistently nationalistic in her approach to the euro crisis that it's hard to see her pulling such a thing off. More accurately, maintaining the neoliberal structure and restrictions of the current EU has been so central to her policies, she would probably prefer to take down the EU altogether than let it be saved by an "emancipatory way out of the crisis." For her, the European project is a One Percenter affair.

How that is playing out for the people of Spain right now, Paul Krugman explains in part in The Pain In Spain Is Not Hard To Explain (Wonkish) 09/22/2013. The pseudo-economics that austerity advocates have been using to justify their policies assumes that a 25% unemployment rate - one out of every four people in the labor force without a job - is pretty much normal. As his title explains, Krugman gets into the weeds on what that means. It has to do with the EU Commission's official estimates of the output capacity of the Spanish economy being unrealistically low and then using that over-conservative number to minimize the real harm that their austerity policies - largely dictated by Frau Fritz - are doing to people in Spain.

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