Posts Tagged ‘Bavaria’

Merkel ally Horst Seehofer to resign CSU leadership

November 7, 2018

Sources close to the Interior Minister spoke told a respected German paper he plans to resign. Seehofer’s spokesperson has denied the reports.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer in the German parliament (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache)

Horst Seehofer, leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, will resign from his role in the next few day, according to a German media report.

Sources told Die Zeit newspaper that Seehofer’s decision to leave the helm of the Christian Social Union (CSU) has been influenced by Merkel’s planned resignation from the leadership of her own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

What we know so far

  • Numerous sources close to Seehofer told Die Zeit he plans to step down from the party leadership but wants to stay on as Interior Minister.
  • The Minister’s spokesman denied the claims, saying Seehofer has not committed to stepping down from the role.
  • The CSU press office told DW it had no further information.
  • Seehofer later denied reports, calling them a “red herring.”

Seehofer’s tenure as CSU leader: Seehofer has been at the helm of the party since 2008. The CSU is the Bavarian sister of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, and is part of the German government coalition. Despite the alliance, Seehofer has been a stark critic of Merkel, in particular of her open-doors migration policy.

Increasingly under pressure: The past few months have put Seehofer under increased scrutiny. On the one hand, the CSU performed poorly in last month’s state election in Bavaria; on the other, there have been increasing disputes with the party’s government coalition partners, the CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD). Two big topics of contention: migration policy and Seehofer’s support of disgraced former intelligence chief Georg Maassen.

Who could be his successor? The state premier of Bavaria, Markus Söder, is likely to succeed Seehofer as head of the CSU — if his resignation were confirmed. Söder has been one of Seehofer’s strongest rivals. Just over a year ago, Seehofer had stepped down from state premier to make room for Söder, after the CSU had performed poorly in Germany’s federal elections.

Angela Merkel’s twin resignation: Seehofer’s reported resignation comes less than two weeks after Angela Merkel announced she would be stepping down from the helm of the CDU. She said she will remain Chancellor until the end of her term in 2021.

gs/aw (Reuters, dpa)


Angela Merkel’s next big test: The Hesse regional election

October 28, 2018

With the legitimacy of her big-tent coalition in question, the German chancellor hopes for a positive outcome in the final regional election of 2018. But the political wind is blowing against big parties.

Angela Merkel (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler)

It’s no secret that regional elections in Germany are about not just local politicians and policies, but the national government as well. That’s especially true of Sunday’s vote in the central German state of Hesse and Angela Merkel’s national coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats.

Both sides have been dramatically losing support, and hardly a week goes by without pundits pointing out that their so-called grand coalition no longer commands a popular majority. Indeed, a consensus is emerging that the era of big-tent parties capable of attracting 40 percent of the vote and more is swiftly coming to an end.

Hesse is, in essence, an opportunity for Merkel to show that her conservative CDU party and her governing coalition aren’t as sickly as many of the pundits’ diagnoses suggest. But for that to happen, she needs a number of factors to work in her party’s favor.

Poll ahead of Hesse election

A comeback for the CDU

Hesse is home to Germany’s financial capital, Frankfurt, and a state where the CDU has taken at least 36.8 percent of the vote every year since 1970 and has governed since 1999. Conservative State Premier Volker Bouffier also remains relatively popular among Hesse’s 4.4 million eligible voters.

But there is little chance on Sunday of the CDU matching previous results. Recent opinion polls project that six parties will qualify for Hesse’s regional parliament, with the conservatives taking as little as 26 percent of the vote.

The silver lining of the dire poll numbers is that anything over that figure will be interpreted as a slight, not-as-bad-as-expected comeback. By bolstering turnout, Bavarian conservatives were able to buffer heavy losses and avert an absolute blow-out in regional elections there two weeks ago. Bouffier, who spent the week warning against “left-wing experiments,” will be hoping for the same effect on Sunday.

In any case, Merkel needs the CDU to take the largest share of the vote, entitling it to claim a mandate to form the next government. Otherwise, popular dissatisfaction with her and her policies will be blamed for dragging down Bouffier, and pressure for her to step down as chair of the CDU will increase — all the more so because Bouffier is one of Merkel’s closest allies and helped negotiate the national coalition.

SPD campaigning in Hesse | Wahlkamps-Bus von Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel (DW/P. Hille)The Social Democrats are hoping to halt the downward spiral

A non-disaster for the SPD

Even if the CDU outperforms in pre-election polls, the Hesse result could still imperil the governing coalition. Junior partners the SPD are reeling after taking less than 10 percent of the vote in Bavaria. That result was a humiliating disaster for Germany’s oldest political party, which in its heyday was accustomed to getting 40 percent or more of the vote. It also led some Social Democrats to again call for an end to the SPD’s cooperation with Merkel.

Read moreThe surprising success of Germany’s Green party

Well-liked lead candidate Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel has repeatedly emphasized that “Bavaria is Bavaria, and Hesse is Hesse.” Opinion surveys suggest he has a point. The Social Democrats are currently polling between 20 and 25 percent, enough to silence inner-party discontent without challenging the conservatives’ pre-eminence. Something in that range would probably suit Merkel just fine.

Campaign poster in Hessen (DW/K. Brady)The Greens are positioning themselves as an alternative to the grand coalition

A good but not great result for the Greens

The biggest danger to the SPD are the left-leaning Greens, riding high after their best-ever showing in Bavaria and projected to get between 15 and 22 percent of the vote. Their lead candidate, Tarek Al-Wazir, tops popularity rankings and personifies the Greens’ new mainstream appeal. “We are the only party that hasn’t been driven crazy by right-wing populism,” Al-Wazir told voters at the start of the week.

The environmentalists are almost certain to record their best-ever performance in Hesse on Sunday, something Merkel wouldn’t mind terribly, since a strong performance would make it easier for Bouffier to extend his current coalition with the Greens. Indeed, much to the chagrin of the right wing of her own party, Merkel is reputed to consider conservative-Green partnerships as the future of the CDU on the national level.

At the same time, though, she’ll hope that Green gains aren’t enough to eclipse the CDU or open up the possibility of a three-way coalition with the SPD and the Left party, which will likely clear the 5 percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation. The most recent polls suggest that a so-called green-red-red coalition of all the parties on the left could be a possibility, meaning that Bouffier could be out, even if the CDU takes the largest share of the vote. One of the most fascinating points of this election is what it will say about the Greens’ future orientation.

Frankfurt Skyline (pictue-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler)Germany’s financial capital Frankfurt is Hesse’s most important city

Disappointment for the AfD, the FDP as a player

The one party Merkel definitely wants to see stumble on Sunday is the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). A disproportionate number of AfD voters are disgruntled former conservatives, and because the CDU has ruled out any cooperation with the populists, a large AfD haul of votes would restrict conservatives’ ability to form a stable parliamentary majority. Any instability in Hesse hurts Merkel’s efforts to show that the political system in Germany is still functioning smoothly.

Read moreMerkel gets tough love from her party’s youth wing

The final factor in the Hesse equation is the conservatives’ traditionally preferred coalition partners, the pro-business, center-right Free Democrats (FDP). They are currently projected to get between 6 and 9 percent of the vote.

Merkel: ‘I need to do more to regain people’s trust’

Merkel, who tried to form a national coalition with the FDP and the Greens last year, would probably not begrudge the Free Democrats their share of the vote as long as they don’t eat into CDU support too dramatically. A so-called Jamaica coalition of CDU, Greens and FDP is, according to opinion surveys, another possibility after the Hesse election.

Whichever way it is divided, the political landscape in Hesse reflects that of the nation as a whole. With an unprecedented six parties likely to be represented in parliament, forming a coalition will be more complicated than in the past. If that process is led by the CDU and goes smoothly, it will be a victory for Merkel.

If uncertainty reigns, or conservatives lose control of the Hesse government, it will further weaken her hold on power as chancellor and party chair.

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).

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, outdoor

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.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

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.”