Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eurozone depression politics in Germany

"Europe suffers from fatal politics." - Joseph Stiglitz, August 2014

Paul Krugman in Replaying the 30s in Slow Motion 09/15/2014 provided a grim thought last Monday: "One European nation [Hungary] has already reached the point where its leader [Viktor Orban] openly declares his intention to end liberal democracy; thanks to austerity, extremist parties are gaining ground in elections, with Sweden (which squandered its early success) the latest shocker; and of course separatist movements are scaring everyone."

The EU should actually be doing something about that business in Hungary. But they're too busy enforcing Angela Merkel's Herbert Hoover economics on the eurozone. More Krugman: "We’re still nowhere like the 30s politically. But you do start to wonder whether self-congratulation over the political handling of Depression 2.0 will eventually look as foolish as the economic optimism of a few years ago."

A depression can cause political upheavals; gosh, who could have known?

You can't exactly see an upheaval in German politics yet, constrained as it is by the toxic consensus on Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies for the eurozone.

The national Social Democratic Party (SPD) at a recent party convention happily affirmed their support for the neoliberal-nightmare treaty TTIP/TAFTA to undermine democratic regulations on business and, perhaps most catastrophically, to deregulate international banking and capital flows even further. And the national leadership semms especially upset that some of its members and activists don't like it. (Veit Medick, TTIP-Zoff in der SPD: Gabriel haut auf die Pauke Spiegel Online 20.09.2014)

The European Greens (Greens EFA) has created this brief video spot on the TTIP's menace to democracy and well-being, TTIP: A race to the bottom (new version) 07/28/2014:

The Genossen (the traditional German term used for SPD "comrades") have reason to be worried about their own party's present and future. AS Veit Medick explains:

Gabriels Abrechnung ist auch ein Zeichen für die wachsende Unruhe in der SPD. Nach dem bitteren Wahlergebnis in Thüringen hatte es erste Kritik am Parteivorsitzenden und dessen öffentlicher Einmischung in die Belange des Landesverbands gegeben. Zwar ist die Arbeit Gabriels in der Großen Koalition innerparteilich weitgehend unumstritten, immer mehr Sozialdemokraten sind jedoch angesichts der unverändert schlechten Lage in den Umfragen beunruhigt.

[Party Chair and Federal Economics Minister Sigmar "Sigi Pop"] Gabriel's settling of accounts [with TTIP/TAFTA opponents in the SPD] is also a sign of the growing unrest in the SPD. After the bitter election experience in [the state of] Thuringia [where the SPD showed poorly last weekend], there had first been criticism of the Party Chairman and his public intervention in the matters of the state party. Even the Gabriel's work in the Grand Coalition in widely disputed inside the party. However, more and more Social Democrats are disturbed disturbed by the unchanged bad situation [of the SPD] in the polls.]
Let's see, after last year's national parliamentary election, the SPD had enough seats together with the Greens and the Left Party to form the national government. But Sigi Pop and the other SPD leaders fell all over themselves to again become the junior partner to Angela Merkel's CDU in a Grand Coalition government committed to Merkel's Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies.

Why, why would that affect the electoral support for a center-left party? Why would their labor constituency not embrace the idea that their own incomes should be slammed down, their job security undermined and social services rolled back in the name of a free-market fantasy about national "competitiveness"? Why, I just don't understand it, what could be going wrong for the SPD?

Speaking of Thuringia, it was one of two eastern German states that had Landtag (state legislature) elections last Sunday, September 14, along with Brandenburg.

But just as in last year's national Bundestag election, non-CDU left parties have the possibility to form the governments. In Thuringia, it would take the Left Party, the SPD and the Greens to form a government with a one-seat Landtag majority. If normal conventions were followed, the largest vote-getter among the three parties would head the government, that being the Left in this case. A Grand Coalition headed by the CDU with the SPD as a junior partner would also have a one-vote majority.

Brandenburg could have a government headed by the SPD with the Left Party as junior partner, or an SPD-headed government with the CDU as junior partner.

In German politics, both the Left Party and SPD are considered "red" parties, the CDU "black" and the Greens, well, "green." A Left/SPD/Green coalition would also be called a red-red-green coalition. A coalition of the SPD and the CDU is known as a Grand Coalition.

It will be especially interesting to see how the SPD conducts itself in Thuringia and Brandenburg. That is, how willing they are to form coalition governments with the Left Party. In Thuringia, the SPD is working on both the coalition possibilities. The Left Party gets the first shot at trying to form a government. (Erster Test für Rot-Rot-Grün in Thüringen Thüringer Allgemeine 19.09.2014)

The interference by Sigi Pop in Thuringia involved (Tilman Steffen, Gabriel bringt Landesverband gegen sich auf Die Zeit 15.09.2014)

Another eastern state, Saxony, had a Landtag election two weeks before those in Thuringia and Brandenburg. (Another little piece of Europe shifts right The Economist 09/01/2014) There, the only feasible government coalitions are a Grand Coalition or a black-green coalition. The CDU could also form a majority with the far-right anti-Europe Alternative for Germany (AfD), but they rejected that alternative. A Grand Coalition looks likely there. (Tillich will mit SPD über Koalition verhandeln Die Zeit 19.09.2014) There aren't enough seats for a red-red-green coalition there.

This Deutsche Welle English report, CDU rules out euroskeptic AfD for Saxony partner 01.09.2014, notes of the situation in Saxony, "Although the socialist Left party actually came in second place with 18.9 percent, both the CDU and SPD view the party as too radical to be a viable coalition partner."

Tom Strohschneider, a commentator at the website of the Left Party newspaper Neues Deutschland quotes historian Jürgen Kocka saying, »Wenn die Sozialdemokratie nach einem utopischen Überschuss sucht, dann findet sie ihn in dem großen Ziel, den Kapitalismus zu zivilisieren« ("If Social Democracy is looking for Utopian overshoot, then they will find it in the great goal of civilizing capitalism"). (Ohne Überschuss dated 22.09.2014; accessed 21.09.2014)

Strohschneider frames the left/center-left political situation in Germany this way:

Die Frage nach dem künftigen Kurs der Sozialdemokraten ist aber auch eine nach der Zukunft der Idee, für die sie einst stand: als jener Teil der gesellschaftlichen Linken, die trotz Bemühungen zur Zivilisierung des Kapitalismus durch Reformen nicht den Anspruch hat fallen gelassen, über ihn hinauszugehen.

Schafft die SPD eine Rückbesinnung? Skepsis fällt hier leicht. Häme sollte man sich aber sparen - nicht nur, weil andere linke Parteien vom Stillstand der Sozialdemokraten kaum profitieren. Es ist eine Frage praktizierbarer Alternativen überhaupt. Ohne die SPD wird es auf absehbare Zeit keine Antworten geben. Mit dieser aber auch nicht.

[But the question of the future course of Social Democracy is also one of the future of the idea, for which it once stood: as part of the social Left, which despite efforts to civilize capitalism through reforms, had not given up the demand to go beyond it.

Will the SPD achieve this reversion? Skepticism comes easily here. But one should refrain from mockery - not only because other left parties {the Left Party and the Greens} hardly benefit from the standstill of the Social Democrats. It's above all a question of practical alternatives. Without the SPD, there will be no answer in the foreseeable future. But also not with this one {i.e., not with the SPD in its current state}.
As Wolfgang Münchau noted before last year's elections, the Left Party and the Greens were offering pragmatic Keynesian solutions to the eurozone crisis, although the Greens have voted in the Bundestag to support Merkel's Hoover/Brüning policies.

Without a left coalition, more specifically without a left coalition that includes the Left Party and the SPD, there is no practical alternative to changing Merkel's destructive economic course from within German politics. So in the next few years, the impetus for such a change is far more likely to come from resistance from the "peripheral" countries within the eurozone.

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