Posts Tagged ‘Bavaria’

Germany’s jubilant Greens storm centre-left stage — Socialists and social democrats take a beating

October 16, 2018

“Clearly, things in Berlin cannot go on as before.”

The SDP emerged biggest loser from Bavaria’s election and now faces some hard choices Robert Habeck, right, and candidate Ludwig Hartmann stage jump at the Greens’ election party on Sunday in Munich

Image result for Bavaria election, Greens storm the stage, photos

Katharina Schulze and Ludwig Hartmann, top candidates of the ecologist Greens party in Bavaria, celebrate on stage at an election party after the election

By Tobias Buck and Guy Chazan in Berlin

Robert Habeck celebrated his party’s stunning performance in the Bavarian regional election with the exuberance of a rock star — stage diving headfirst into a crowd of supporters on Sunday. Facing the press in Berlin the following day the co-leader of Germany’s Greens hailed the result as “historic for Bavaria but also for the political dynamic in Germany and even Europe”.

The Greens, he added, had gained “relevance through substance”, by pushing themes such as climate change and environmental preservation and arguing for more European integration rather than “Bavaria first”. The party’s upbeat message proved attractive even to former supporters of the conservative ruling Christian Social Union, which lost 190,000 voters to the Greens on Sunday.

The largest Green gains, however, came at the expense of the embattled Social Democratic party, which emerged as the biggest loser of the night and now faces difficult weeks and hard choices. The SPD plunged from 20.6 per cent in 2013 to just 9.7 per cent, making it only the fifth-largest group in the regional parliament.

It was the worst result for the centre-left party in any German state since the creation of the federal republic in 1949 — and suggested that the Greens might be on course to supplant the Social Democrats in a left-of-centre leadership role in Europe’s largest economy.

Andrea Nahles, the SPD leader, was quick to link her party’s troubles to the quarrelsome government coalition in Berlin, where the Social Democrats serve as junior partners to Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc. “The poor image of the government has meant that issues that we care about, and that voters care about, did not break through,” she said on Monday.

Yet the shift in support from the SPD to the Greens reflects social and political trends that are playing out across Europe.

In recent years, socialist and social democratic parties in countries such as France, Greece and the Netherlands have faced pressure from all sides, with centrist and conservative parties attacking them from the right and smaller progressive parties eating into their leftwing vote.

In the case of Germany, the recent rise of the Greens has weakened the SPD’s hold on a core demographic, said Konstantin Vössing, a political scientist at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

“Traditionally there were two social milieus in the left block in Germany: classic social-democratic left-wingers and cosmopolitan urban-dwellers.

Both voted SPD.

But this block has now split,” Mr Vössing argued.

“The classic left-wingers still vote SPD. But the urban cosmopolitans have switched to the Greens. And there are more of them now than the classic working-class SPD voters.” In Bavaria, however, even the blue-collar vote failed to deliver for the Social Democrats.

According to an exit poll by Infratest Dimap, 33 per cent of those workers voted for the CSU and 22 per cent for the far-right Alternative for Germany, with the SPD winning the backing of just 9 per cent. Only among pensioners did the Social Democrats outperform their average, winning 13 per cent.

The Greens, meanwhile, racked up big victories in large cities — once another bastion of SPD support. In Bavarian cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, including the capital Munich, the party won 30 per cent of the vote, ahead of both the ruling CSU and the SPD.

Ludwig Hartmann, co-leader of the Bavarian Greens, won his constituency in the centre of Munich with 44 per cent of the vote — the kind of thumping victory that previously only the CSU could hope for. Analysts have singled out the Greens’ youthful Bavarian leadership duo, made up of Mr Hartmann and the 33-year-old Katharina Schulze, as a key reason for Sunday’s success.

Another was the selection of campaign themes that resonated with Bavarian voters even outside the party’s traditional strongholds. Recommended The FT View The editorial board German voters have turned right — and left According to the Infratest Dimap exit poll, voters in Bavaria identified climate change as the third most important issue in the campaign, ahead of refugee policy and asylum.

“All the parties talk about the environment now, but people remember that it was the Greens who really focused on this from the very start,” said Christine Landfried, a professor emeritus of political science at Hamburg university.

“And now they are being rewarded for this. After the drought this summer, everyone now began to realise how acute the problem is — and the Greens take it much more seriously than anyone else.” Inside the SPD, meanwhile, the debacle in Bavaria has further emboldened critics of the party’s so-called grand coalition with Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

With another difficult regional election in Hesse less than two weeks away, that criticism is unlikely to subside soon.

Suggesting that further turbulence lies ahead for both party and country, Ralf Stegner, the deputy SPD leader, said on Monday: “Clearly, things in Berlin cannot go on as before.”


Merkel’s Bavarian allies brace for election bruising

October 14, 2018

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies are heading for their worst state election result in over 60 years in a regional vote on Sunday that is likely to increase tensions within Germany’s fragile coalition government.

According to the latest polls, the Christian Social Union (CSU) will win around 34 percent, losing the absolute majority with which the center-right party has controlled its southeastern heartland for most of the post-war period.

Voting stations open at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and broadcasters are expected to publish exit polls shortly after 6 pm (1600 GMT).

d is likely to enter the state parliament for the first time.

Markus Söder at Munich rally, 11 Oct 18
These are turbulent times for Markus Söder and the CSU. Getty Images

One of the biggest winners are likely to be the ecologist, pro-immigration Greens who are projected to more than double their vote share to up to 19 percent and overtake the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) as the second-strongest party.

The regional protest party Free Voters and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party are both forecast to win roughly 10 percent of the votes.

This could complicate CSU State Premier Markus Soeder’s efforts to form a stable coalition government in Bavaria.

The splintered electoral result could force Soeder, who has ruled out a coalition with the AfD, into an awkward alliance with the left-of-center Greens.

Horst Seehofer, CSU party leader and interior minister in Merkel’s federal government, could face calls to give up at least one of his posts following the Bavarian election as his hard-line rhetoric against asylum seekers is likely to scare away voters.

Image result for Horst Seehofer, photos

“We’ve lost trust because of the CSU,” Volker Bouffier, deputy party leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. He accused Seehofer of damaging the image of the CDU/CSU conservative alliance.

Bouffier is premier in the state of Hesse where another regional election will be held later this month.

Seehofer has been among Merkel’s fiercest critics following her decision in 2015 to welcome more than 1 million migrants. He has gradually shifted the CSU, the sister party to the CDU, to the right to counter the rise of the AfD party.

Divisions between the conservative allies have widened further since March, when an inconclusive national election forced them into a coalition with the left-leaning SPD.

Merkel’s fourth and probably final government has already come close to collapsing twice, in arguments over immigration and a scandal over Germany’s former domestic spymaster. The parties are also at odds over how to phase out polluting diesel cars and whether to grant tax cuts for the rich.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Clelia Oziel


“We are in the twilight period of Merkel’s rule in Germany.”

October 10, 2018

Hit by a string of crises, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative union now faces two likely regional poll debacles, in Bavaria on Sunday and in Hesse two weeks later, further rocking her fragile coalition.

Only days ago she implored her centre-right CDU’s lawmakers to support their allies of the more conservative CSU sister party in Bavaria, saying it was time “to face the voters rather than snipe away at each other”.

The veteran chancellor has had a bumpy ride since the September 2017 general election was heavily impacted by her decision two years earlier to allow an influx of more than one million refugees and migrants.

© dpa/AFP | German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged allies not to “snipe away at each other” as regional poll challenges loom — but analysts say she has reached the “twilight period” of her rule

A xenophobic backlash drove the rise of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, complicating Merkel’s efforts to forge a coalition, which took a painful six months.

Finally, the biggest election losers, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), reluctantly came on board, but Merkel soon faced fire from another quarter — her erstwhile ally, the CSU Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

Seeking to match the AfD’s tough line on immigration, he twice brought their coalition to the brink of collapse.

But polls suggest his brinkmanship has only hurt the CSU, which is now polling at historic lows of 33-35 percent and looks set to lose its absolute majority, as voters have fled either to the AfD or to the Greens.

The surveys suggest that, at a time when the big mainstream parties are under fire in many western democracies, the wealthy Alpine state of Bavaria too faces a political earthquake.

– Warning shot –

In the election in the central state of Hesse on October 28, Merkel’s party is doing no better in the opinion polls, and CDU state premier Volker Bouffier faces the threat of defeat.

Both regional elections will likely force acrobatic efforts to forge new stable coalition governments and could revive discontent against Merkel.

A debate has simmered about the succession to Merkel, whose centrist, pragmatic and compromise-seeking governing style has kept her in power since 2005, and whose fourth term runs until 2021.

Despite Merkel’s past successes, “there can be no doubt that a change of method is needed,” influential CDU lawmaker Norbert Roettgen told news weekly Der Spiegel, adding there is “a desire for change” in the party.

Weeks ago, CDU/CSU lawmakers fired a first warning shot when, in a surprise vote, they kicked out Merkel’s long-time confidant Volker Kauder as their parliamentary leader and replaced him with a relative unknown, Ralph Brinkhaus.

The chancellor herself will soon face her own party vote when she runs again to head the CDU at a December congress, a meeting that Roettgen predicted “will be decisive”.

– Twilight period –

Merkel’s situation is all the more complicated because, in addition to the grumbling in her own ranks, her dispirited junior coalition allies the SPD are still plagued by doubts about staying in government.

Many SPD rebels have strongly campaigned for the party to head into opposition to be able to speak its mind and regain its fighting spirit.

With the party now polling below 20 percent nationally, the looming setbacks in Bavaria and Hesse are unlikely to improve the mood.

Veteran CDU lawmaker and parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble has mused openly about the SPD jumping ship, in an interview with newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

“If the SPD decides at some stage that it just can’t go on, then it won’t be the end of the world,” he said, voicing confidence that the CDU could run a stable minority government.

As the AfD and the Greens are gaining at the expense of the mainstream parties, new state-level alliances such as a possible CSU-Greens coalition in Bavaria could point to future pacts at national level.

“We are in the twilight period of Merkel’s rule in Germany,” said Sudha David-Wilp of think-tank the German Marshall Fund.

“And the CDU/CSU will have to think about what kind of coalition they’d like to form if they want to stay in power when the next federal election comes around.”


Rome warns Germany not to deport migrants back to Italy

October 7, 2018

Italy has warned Germany not to deport migrants back to Italy. Reports say the German state of Bavaria is preparing to send asylum-seekers back to Italy, insisting that the cases must be processed at the point of entry.

Migrants in Germany (Getty Images/AFP/C. Stache)

German news agency DPA has learnt that authorities in the southern German state of Bavaria were planning to start deporting large groups of migrants back to Italy.

According to the European Union’s Dublin Regulation, the cases of asylum-seekers must be processed at their point of entry into the 28-nation bloc. As a German border state, Bavaria is a point of entry into Germany from other European nations.

DPA said it was unclear whether German authorities in Bavaria would go ahead with deportations amid rising tensions with Rome over the migrant issue. The flights would normally have to be accompanied by federal police officers, and would thus have to be coordinated with Berlin.

Hard-line stance on immigration

The regional Bavarian government, supported by federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, has taken a hard-line stance on immigration, insisting that migrants have to be sent back to their point of entry into the EU. Seehofer caused a major row in Germany’s governing grand coalition, even drawing criticism from within the conservative alliance, including from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Twitter, Italy’s populist, far-right, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini warned Berlin and Brussels on Sunday that “unauthorized charter flights” would not be allowed into the country.

“We will close the airports, as we have already closed the ports,” Salvini added.

Matteo Salvini


Se qualcuno, a Berlino o a Bruxelles, pensa di scaricare in Italia decine di immigrati con dei voli charter non autorizzati, sappia che non c’è e non ci sarà nessun aereoporto disponibile.
Chiudiamo gli aeroporti come abbiamo chiuso porti. 

Migranti dalla Germania, arriva lo stop di Salvini: «Chiudiamo gli aeroporti»

Il ministro replica alla proposta tedesca- Primo volo charter: la Germania riporta 40 profughi a Roma di F.Caccia

Read more: How do deportations work in Germany?

Infografik Comparison of migrant landings in Italy EN

German deportations

According to DPA, the first migrant flight from Munich to Italy, carrying around 40 asylum-seekers, could depart as early as Monday, with the second flight planned for October 17. Italian daily Corriere della Sera also reported that Bavaria was planning the flights.

Several of these migrants are originally from Nigeria, the news agency said.

It was unclear whether the authorities in Bavaria have informed the Italian government about their reported plans. DPA said that Bavarian officials neither denied nor confirmed the reports.

In the first half of this year, Germany as a whole returned at least 1,692 migrants to Italy.

According to Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, EU countries send back about 10 migrants per week to Rome, Milan or Turin. These migrants are then taken to reception centers.

Read more: UN calls for EU and Italy to end migrant standoff

Dublin Regulation under threat?

Italy’s new populist government demands that other member states take the migrants in, going as far as threatening to withhold EU payments if assistance is not given.

In August, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said the EU had “decided to turn its back on Italy.”

Read more: EU Mediterranean migrant mission at risk of collapse

Hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers have arrived in Italy since 2013, fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

“Last year in the period up to August, 100,000 migrants arrived and the European Union did little or nothing. This year we had fewer than 20,000 landings, and the European Union is still doing little or nothing. So I am still willing to debate, but more recently, we’ve also been talking with some non-European Union countries, such as Albania, Serbia and Montenegro,” Italy’s Interior Minister Salvini told DW in an interview last month.

The EU’s Dublin Regulation states that people must seek asylum in their country of arrival, but Italy’s new government has increasingly barred boats from docking at its ports.

Read more: Germany ready to sign migrant return deal with Italy

Infografik Fluchtrouten EU ENG

German far-right terror group members detained in overnight raids

October 1, 2018

Germany’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of six men charged with forming a far-right terror group known as “Revolution Chemnitz.” The men are accused of planning attacks on migrants in eastern Germany.

Riot police (picture alliance / Thomas Frey/dpa)

Some 100 police officers raided several properties in the German states of Saxony and Bavaria overnight on Monday as part of an investigation into a far-right terror group called “Revolution Chemnitz,” named after the eastern German city that was the scene of recent far-right demonstrations following the killing of a German man, allegedly involving migrants.

The six men arrested, aged between 20 and 30, are suspected of forming a terrorist organization under the leadership of 31-year-old Christian K., who was arrested on September 14. According to Germany’s state prosecutors, the men had planned to attack “foreigners” and people who did not share their political views.

Investigators said the group had tried to acquire semi-automatic firearms, and on September 14 had taken part in a coordinated attack on foreigners in Chemnitz using glass bottles, weighted knuckle gloves, and an electroshock weapon. One man was injured during the attack.

Investigators described this as a “practise run” for a larger attack planned on October 3.

The prosecutors’ statement said the six men were all members of the “hooligan, skinhead, and neo-Nazi scene” in the Chemnitz area, and all considered themselves leading members of the far-right scene in Saxony.

Prosecutors believe the group’s aim was “the overthrow of the democratic rule of law” based on a right-wing extremist ideology.

What now for Angela Merkel? Is Merkel’s time as Chancellor coming to an end?

September 27, 2018

Once again, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing predictions that her “era” is over. But in the short-term, the main thing she will have to change is her relations with her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

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Is Merkel’s time as Chancellor coming to an end?

The defeat of Angela Merkel’s long-time ally Volker Kauder as leader of her parliamentary party group has been widely read as a disaster for the German chancellor despite protestations by Kauder’s deposer, Ralph Brinkhaus, that he does not oppose Merkel’s politics. Indeed, as even hostile media commentators had to admit, the tax consultant with a reputation for cool, level-headed budgetary analysis has never previously been considered a party rebel.

Nevertheless, as Merkel herself said, there is no way to “sugarcoat” Tuesday’s vote — it looked really bad, and was a shock for her party leadership. Kauder had been in the post for 13 years, and not only Merkel, but other leaders in her conservative alliance of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), had lobbied for him among the 246 conservative Bundestag members.

But what will this actually mean for the chancellor? In immediate terms, it will put even more scrutiny on other upcoming votes: the state elections in Bavaria and Hesse in October, and, perhaps most significantly for her personally, the CDU party conference at the beginning of December, when Merkel expects to be re-elected as party chairwoman among around 1,000 delegates. More poor results in those votes would mean further dents in her authority, and questions over possible successors will become louder.

Also, as political scientist Frank Decker told Der Spiegel on Wednesday, she still has control over her own transition — so it might be in her interests to find a way out before the end of the legislative period.

Bundestag - Ralph Brinkhaus (CDU) (picture-alliance/dpa/K.Nietfeld)Brinkhaus has never before appeared to be a party rebel

Read morePress review: Kauder ousted as parliamentary group leader

No confidence vote for now

Opposition parties, of course, want to test Merkel earlier, in particular, Free Democratic Party (FDP) leader Christian Lindner, who was among the first to demand that the chancellor hold a confidence vote in the parliament immediately. In last fall’s post-election coalition negotiations, the FDP had scuppered a new coalition with the CDU chiefly because Merkel would not be removed.

“A very clear no,” was the response from Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert at Wednesday’s regular press conference, as the chancellor prepared for her first meeting with Brinkhaus in his new position.

Indeed, reports of Merkel’s imminent downfall still appear far-fetched, despite everything. On Wednesday, leading CDU figures were lining up to back Merkel, who has, after all, won four national elections in a row. Neither her party, or the junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), itself plumbing uncharted depths in the opinion polls, have an appetite for a new chancellor, and therefore new elections.

“I’m certain that if she had held a confidence vote yesterday it would have been a fat victory,” said Volker Bouffier, CDU state premier of Hesse. Obviously, he added, she wasn’t overjoyed that the parliamentary group hadn’t followed her advice, “but that is no withdrawal of confidence.” Men who had become known as internal party rivals, like CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, also publicly backed the boss.

Listening to the party

But in the short-term, it seems clear that Merkel will not simply be able to impose her wishes on the parliamentary group in the manner she’s used to. At the very least, Brinkhaus’ election means she will have to do more to include the Bundestag members in her decisions from now on — one of Kauder’s main assets was his ability to head off internal dissent without much direct intervention.

“Brinkhaus showed courage to stand up against Merkel’s will, which is something the parliamentary group was in need of,” CDU MP Matern von Marschall told DW.

Seehofer (picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)If Seehofer leaves, will all the troubles end?

He also pointed out that the vast majority of CDU/CSU MPs, some 231 of 246 parliamentarians, are direct mandates – in other words, the directly represent certain constituencies who voted for them. In the Brinkhaus era, this connection with the grassroots will now become more important, he predicts: “For Merkel, it will become a little more difficult to get her way, the parliamentary group will be more self-confident, and they will listen to the constituencies.”

But again, the natural conservatism of German politicians in general, and CDU/CSU MPs in particular, will be hard to overcome. Political analyst Gero Neugebauer told public broadcaster NDR that the German system is structured to support the government: “In our parliamentary system the government party groups support the government, and the opposition parties provide control. One might regret that. It’s different in other parliaments, but here the entire parliament doesn’t stand in opposition to the government.”

Nevertheless, recent political events – from the summer crisis precipitated by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s migration “master plan” to the sacking, promotion, and transfer of domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen – have made clear that Merkel’s personal power base is diminishing.

Still, many of Merkel’s immediate problems could be resolved by mid-October, when Bavaria votes — if the 69-year-old CSU leader Seehofer quits following another poor result for Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, he will likely also disappear from the federal government — removing one of the main sources of friction in her fourth government.

Merkel coalition slides into ‘permanent crisis mode’ with spy row

September 19, 2018

A clumsy compromise to end a row over the fate of Germany’s spy chief has exposed a cruel fact: the parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-left coalition are loveless partners in a dysfunctional relationship that none of them can afford to quit.

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FILE PHOTO: Hans-Georg Maassen, Germany’s head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz)

The coalition leaders sought on Tuesday to end a scandal that had rumbled on for 11 days by agreeing to replace the head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, who has faced accusations of harboring far-right sympathies.

Their solution – promoting spymaster Hans-Georg Maassen to a better paid position at the Interior Ministry – has only inflamed tensions among the rank-and-file of the ruling parties, whose leaders are united by fear more than collective purpose.

The scandal, the latest in a series of setbacks to shake the six-month-old coalition, threatens to erode further the German ruling elite’s authority and may point to years of policy drift just as Germany and Europe are crying out for firm leadership.

Polls show both Merkel’s conservative bloc and its junior coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), would bleed votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the ecologist Greens in any new elections.

That leaves their leaders hanging on to the awkward right-left ‘grand coalition’ as Merkel, serving her fourth and likely final term as chancellor, tries to secure her legacy as a stateswoman and the SPD struggles to remain relevant to voters.

“The grand coalition is like a dead marriage where the spouses have too many intertwined assets to be able to separate without heavy losses,” said Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of weekly Die Zeit.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer addresses a news conference a in Berlin, Germany, September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

“They would be trounced in snap elections. Nor can they recruit more docile partners among the four opposition parties.”

The Maassen scandal comes only two months after Merkel closed a painful row with her Bavarian CSU allies on immigration – an issue that goes back to her 2015 decision to leave open Germany’s borders to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East.

The SPD had wanted Maassen removed after he questioned the authenticity of video footage showing far-right radicals hounding migrants in the eastern German city of Chemnitz.

But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), stood behind Maassen.

By promoting the spymaster to the post of state secretary in his Interior Ministry, Seehofer found a solution that satisfied the SPD’s demand for Maassen’s removal from the BfV but left the coalition looking lame.

“The only thing that is still grand in this coalition is the absolute determination to carry on muddling through,” mass-selling daily Bild wrote in an editorial in its Tuesday edition.


The grand coalition only took office in March, nearly six months after last year’s election, as there was effectively no other viable governing option following the collapse of talks between Merkel’s conservatives and two smaller parties.

After the Maassen deal, pressure is growing in the SPD for its leaders to reconsider the coalition or else deliver results that will win back working class voters who are turning to the far right or left, and middle class voters moving to the Greens.

“Patience in the SPD with this grand coalition is extremely thin,” said Ralf Stegner, a senior SPD official.

Even SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil questioned Maassen’s promotion, adding: “We must finally get out of this permanent crisis mode.”

Merkel’s 2015 decision on refugees has proved to be the defining moment of her leadership and one that still haunts her as the CSU, fearful of losing votes to the AfD in Bavaria’s state election on Oct. 14, tries to sound tough on immigration.

The CSU is likely to lose its absolute majority in Bavaria, which could make it an even more difficult partner for Merkel.

Nationally, the conservative bloc is polling around 30 percent, down from 33 percent in last September’s election. The SPD is on about 18 percent, down from 20.5 percent. The AfD is polling around 15 percent, with the Greens close behind.

“So it is in (Merkel’s) interests to keep up the image of a coalition that is functional and capable of acting,” said Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.

“She is managing to do that less and less,” he said, adding that even after the Maassen deal conflicts between the coalition parties were “bubbling away like lava in a volcano”.

Editing by Gareth Jones


Germany: Bundestag gets rowdy over far-right violence, immigration

September 12, 2018

MPs are holding a tense debate in the Bundestag in the aftermath of far-right protests in eastern Germany. A pending national budget plan and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies are also in the spotlight.

Merkel and the AfD in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)

Lawmakers in Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, gathered for a lively and occasionally bad-tempered debate on Wednesday, with immigration, far-right violence, and the nation’s budget high on the list of issues.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, kicked off the debate by taking aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the government’s criticism of violence at far-right rallies in Chemnitz.

AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland condemned the depiction of protesters who took part in protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz — many of which were organized by right-wing extremist groups. He described the majority of them as “concerned citizens.”

Gauland speaks in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)AfD parliamentary leader Alexander Gauland rails against the chancellor in the Bundestag

He acknowledged that some protesters did give Hitler salutes during the demonstrations, which is illegal in Germany, but he said that they were “in a minority” and that “the real crime was the bloody act committed by two asylum-seekers in Chemnitz.”

Taking aim at Merkel’s comments on the protests, Gauland said: “Hatred is not a crime.” “Who is endangering public peace in this country? Not us,” he concluded.

‘The means of fascism’

Gauland’s speech drew an extraordinary intervention from Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) chancellor candidate from last year, who stood up to accuse the AfD of adopting “the means of fascism” — specifically, the strategy of reducing complex political problems to a single topic, “in general related to a minority in a country.”

“‘Migrants are to blame for everything’ — there have been similar words in this house before,” Schulz said. “It’s time for democracy to defend itself against these people.” His fellow Social Democrats stood up to applaud their former leader’s impassioned statement.

Merkel also pushed back against Gauland’s comments, saying that outrage over a German man’s death cannot justify the violence that took place. “There is no excuse or justification for attacking people who look different,” she said.

Merkel’s speech was then promptly answered by an AfD intervention, from MP Stephan Brandner, chairman of the Bundestag’s justice committee, who called Merkel’s “general statements” about “migrant crime” a “mockery of the victims of your policies.”

The mother of all problems

The leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Lindner, used his speech to rail against both sides. Lindner, who has himself been criticized for making populist right-wing overtures in the past few months, said the German people were tired of seeing the “ritualized” outrage from the AfD being answered by equally routine outrage from the left.

Lindner expressed frustration that political debate in Germany was being reduced to the question of migration. After listing all the things that the government should have done better in its budget (driving digitalization, investing in research and education, unburdening taxpayers), Lindner complained that “we could deepen all these problems, but there’s no point, because once again all we talk about is migration.”

Lindner also addressed Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s contentious statement that “migration was the mother of all problems,” widely read as an attempt to field the populist right-wing vote ahead of an election in Seehofer’s native Bavaria next month.

“Mr. Seehofer, migration is not the problem,” Lindner said. “The problem is the management of migration, for which your party has also been responsible over the last five years.”

European Parliament to debate disciplining Hungary

September 11, 2018

The European Parliament is to discuss whether to launch disciplinary proceedings against Hungary.

MEPs will debate whether the right-wing government poses a serious risk to the EU’s values due to its policies on issues like migrants.

It comes just months after the European Commission took the step of launching similar proceedings against Poland.

However, this is the first time the parliament has tried to use the power, known as Article 7.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to fight the claims personally in the chamber, brandishing a dossier of counter-arguments more than 100 pages long.

Mr Orban and his Fidesz party say many of the accusations against them on issues over rule of law were solved long ago.

The BBC’s Nick Thorpe in Hungary says the country’s ministers, along with its vocal pro-government media, speak of a witch hunt against Fidesz, for standing up for national sovereignty against what they call the liberal elite.

Eurosceptic Mr Orban was re-elected earlier this year after campaigning on an anti-immigration platform, with Fidesz winning two-thirds of parliamentary seats.

But while he has support at home, critics in the European Parliament say his policies are evidence he does not respect the values of the EU.

A committee of MEPs points to the Hungarian government’s approach to migration – including a new law which criminalises lawyers and activists who help asylum seekers – as well as media, the courts and universities as proof.

However, in order for any sort of disciplinary proceedings to go ahead, it needs the backing of two-thirds of MEPs – and it is not clear which way the vote, due to take place on Wednesday, will fall.

If MEPs do decide to support the process, which could end up with Hungary being monitored by Brussels, it may be a very slow process.

The European Commission took the unprecedented step against Poland in December 2017, giving it three months to address concerns that its judicial reforms threatened the rule of law.

However, there is still very little sign that a conclusion is coming, BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming says.



Hungary’s Orban Tests EU’s Ability to Enforce Rule of Law

September 11, 2018

Prime minister pillories bloc’s lawmakers as elites, but he has cultivated ties with traditional parties that may shield him from censure motion

Viktor Orban has been dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon.
Viktor Orban has been dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon. PHOTO: MARCO BERTORELLO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has built almost unchecked power at home by attacking the European Union as a club of liberal, internationalist elites. Now he is counting on some of them to protect him from censure by the bloc.

A majority of lawmakers in the European Parliament, the EU’s legislative arm, wants member countries to admonish Hungary, as they did last year with Poland, for failing to uphold European legal standards. But for the vote to pass on Wednesday, a two-third majority of the 751-strong parliament is needed.

Whatever the outcome, Mr. Orban is likely to emerge unscathed thanks to his skills in testing the limits of what is acceptable in a Western democracy.

Dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon, Mr. Orban rose to power by pillorying the EU. But unlike President Trump, who has lambasted political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Orban over the past decade cultivated links with Europe’s traditional parties. Their support could be pivotal in a vote that will test the EU’s authority to check the powers of nationalists.

Mr. Orban will have the chance to defend his government in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday, in which he is expected to appeal to some of those supporters, who span members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, British conservatives and Italian lawmakers in the far-right League party.

His government has attacked the vote as a “witch hunt,” with government spokesman Laszlo Kovacs on Monday accusing lawmakers of perpetrating lies to punish Hungary for its opposition to liberal migration policies.

The lead drafter of the censure, Judith Sargentini, a Dutch lawmaker from the leftist Greens party, last week said her motion was based on the findings of many international bodies critical of Mr. Orban. “There is no turning back to a normal functioning democracy in Hungary,” she said.

To mollify his critics, Mr. Orban is expected to promise he will roll back some measures that sparked ire, such as his government’s targeting of universities and NGOs critical of his regime, an EU parliamentary official said.

But even if the vote passes and the sanctions procedure is triggered, the conflict with Brussels could help Mr. Orban, who has for years reveled in several disputes with the EU. The sanctions procedure carries little more than political stigma and the bloc would struggle to impose sanctions, such as a suspension of its voting rights. Mr. Orban has promised to veto any sanctions against Poland, which is fighting an EU case against it, so that he can count on Warsaw doing the same for him.

Since returning to power in 2010, Mr. Orban has given his party authority over Hungary’s courts, media, the central bank and tax inspectors to build what he has called an “illiberal state” modeled on Russia, China, and Turkey. He won a resounding two-thirds majority in parliament in April, in a vote that election observers called free, but not fair.

Viktor Orban with Matteo Salvini, the interior minister of Italy’s coalition government and the leader of the League, which has taken inspiration from the Hungarian leader’s stance on immigration.
Viktor Orban with Matteo Salvini, the interior minister of Italy’s coalition government and the leader of the League, which has taken inspiration from the Hungarian leader’s stance on immigration. PHOTO: MARCO BERTORELLO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Orban blames the EU’s political elite, and Ms. Merkel in particular, for allowing a “Muslim invasion” of Europe during the 2015 migration crisis that brought more than one million people fleeing war or seeking a better life into the bloc.

Yet some of those elites still defend Mr. Orban. His Fidesz party belongs to the powerful European People’s Party in the European Parliament. The EPP includes Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. One EPP official described Mr. Orban as “our most loyal” member, and favorably compared his party with the ruling party in Poland, which isn’t affiliated with the EPP and has long shunned answering any questions from Brussels.

“Mr. Orban always knew when to back down and avoid sanctions,” the EPP official said.

Tensions within the German government also help Mr. Orban. Ms. Merkel may want to punish him, but the Bavarian CSU—which has pressed the chancellor to take a tougher line on migration—has not only backed Mr. Orban, but has also invited him to speak to their party gatherings.

The party and Ms. Merkel in July barely papered over their differences on immigration to avert the government’s collapse. With Bavarian elections set for October, Ms. Merkel and EU lawmakers from the CSU are unlikely to test their fragile alliance so soon, according to two EU officials.

Still, pressure is mounting on the EPP to take a stand against its Hungarian member: French President Emmanuel Macron, who isn’t affiliated with any pan-EU party, said last week that the EPP couldn’t support both Ms. Merkel and Mr. Orban and should “clarify its position.”

Yet other parties in the European Parliament support Mr. Orban. The Hungarian president has bolstered his position by supporting nationalist parties in Austria, Poland, and Slovenia that see Hungary as a model. Italy’s League, a member of the country’s ruling coalition, is taking inspiration from him on migration.

The ruling party in the U.K. is also voting against punishing Hungary. British Conservative EU lawmaker Daniel Dalton said, “We don’t think the EU should meddle in the internal situation, where member states are sovereign.”

Write to Valentina Pop at and Drew Hinshaw at