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A Swede in Germany

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Follow-up II: The German 2017 election

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In October 2017 I wrote:

We are now two weeks past the last German parliament election, and there is still no certainty about who will rule with whom—however, there is a fair chance that we will be rid of the conservative CDU/CSU and social-democrat SPD coalition.

The current situation is depressing in (at least) two regards:

Firstly, even now, close to five months after the election, the issue has not yet been entirely settled, a renewal of the CDU/CSU and SPD coalition only now being finalized. At this tempo, it would have been faster to hold a re-election and settle the issue properly. Certainly, a re-election would have been a better solution for other reasons (cf. below).

Secondly, the result, this renewal, is the worst case scenario. (Among those with a realistic chance of occurring.) The only positive thing that might come of it is a further weakening of SPD. (Cf. my original post.) Sadly, this situation is partially the consequence of a more natural coalition partner doing the right thing—unlike SPD.

As I have written before, this type of coalition poses a major threat to democracy, grossly violating the trust given to these parties by their voters, and even eliminating the relevance of the voters’ will from the process: Any vote not given to CDU/CSU or SPD is effectively wasted—and any that was given to them only marginally affects who is the stronger party within the government that would have been anyway. At the same time, politicians often complain that too few people vote, sometimes even in an accusatory manner*. Why should people bother voting when their votes have so little effect? When they know that the politicians merely see them as a means to end or, worse, as a mere nuisance? To boot, such extremely long negotiations prior to forming an alliance ignores the will of the voters for an unconscionable amount of time, during which the old government, based on an election long past, continues to rule**.

*Along the lines of the non-voters not doing their civic duty.

**In this specific case, the harm is small, seeing that one constellation of an unholy alliance is replaced by another constellation of the same unholy alliance; however, this would not generally be the case.

Unfortunately, this problem of a Democracy Lost is not in anyway unique to Germany—it is a global phenomenon. It is, however, more tragic in Germany, where the awareness of the dangers rightfully should be larger than elsewhere, seeing both how the Nazi used and abused a democratic process to gain power and how a quarter of the country was stuck in a totalitarian pseudo-democracy for most of the post-war period.

As an excursion, while the current situation proves that the German election system is flawed, it does not necessarily prove the superiority of e.g. the U.S. (republic) or U.K. (parliamentary, first-past-the-pole) systems over an (almost) plain representational parliamentary system. The latter is used with considerably less problems (to-date, knock-on-wood) in e.g. Sweden, due to a small-but-crucial difference: The German system is geared at having a majority government; the Swedish at a plurality government—in rare cases even a (non-plurality) minority. Governing without a parliamentary majority does weaken the rulers, but it has so far worked well (in those case where no majority was reached). Furthermore, a plurality government is more democratic than a forced, unnatural majority of the type currently ruling Germany—it can even be argued that it does better than a majority government, since smaller parties are given more sway and a chance to influence at least some issues through actual voting (as opposed to debating and working on committees). I might even go as far as saying that a weaker government is often a positive in its own right, keeping the politicians (less dis-)honest and preventing too much damage to be caused by those incompetent or too driven by ideological agendas. An exception occurs, obviously, in times of great crises, notably wars, where a strong government can be imperative—but there is no such crisis. (For that matter, a government that does not yet exist, due to lengthy negotiations, is even weaker than a weak government that does exist…)

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Written by michaeleriksson

February 13, 2018 at 12:27 am

Follow-up: The German 2017 election

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Six or seven weeks ago, I wrote “We are now two weeks past the last German parliament election, and there is still no certainty about who will rule with whom”.

This is now more true than it was back then, because the coalition talks between CDU/CSU, FDP, and the Greens have failed. There is great insecurity, and even the option of a new election is on the table.

To some degree, this is bad; to some, it gives me great hope, because of the motivation given by FDP leader Christian Lindner for why he terminated the talks. What I wrote in a footnote about the preceding CDU/CSU and SPD coalition was “[…]it had two parties in bed with each other that simply do not belong together. This type of coalition amounts to a breach of the voters trust and is by its nature not very democratic.”—and Lindner, highly unusually for a politician, appears to have an at least similar take on the ethics of coalition building.

To give some quotes from his speech (translations somewhat approximate due to idiom):

Nach Wochen liegt aber heute unverändert ein Papier mit zahllosen Widersprüchen, offenen Fragen und Zielkonflikten vor. Und dort, wo es Übereinkünfte gibt, sind diese Übereinkünfte erkauft mit viel Geld der Bürger oder mit Formelkompromissen.

(

After weeks we still have a document* with countless contradictions, open issues, and conflicting targets. And where there is consent, the consent is bought with large amounts of tax payers’** money or [formulaic compromise]***.

*Referring to the preliminary agreement, common statement, whatnot, which would have been the result of the negotiations and the base for the coalition.

**More literally, “citizen”.

**I am not aware of an English equivalent, and to boot this is one of the rare occasions where I learned a new German word. Wikipedia gives an explanation amounting to “we pretend to have reached a compromise, while actually leaving the issue open for the time being”.

)

Es hat sich gezeigt, dass die vier Gesprächspartner keine gemeinsame Vorstellung von der Modernisierung unseres Landes und vor allen Dingen keine gemeinsame Vertrauensbasis entwickeln konnten. Eine Vertrauensbasis und eine gemeinsam geteilte Idee, sie wären aber die Voraussetzung für stabiles Regieren.

(

It turned out that the four parties [to the negotiations] could not develop a common understanding for the modernization of our country and, above all, a mutual trust base. However, a trust base and a common understanding* would be necessary for a stable government.

*“Idee” is normally translated with the cognate “idea”; however, the use here appears to be more abstract and “understanding” matches the previous formulation better.

)

Unser Einsatz für die Freiheit des Einzelnen in einer dynamischen Gesellschaft, die auf sich vertraut, die war nicht hinreichend repräsentiert in diesem Papier.

(Our efforts for the freedom of the individual in a dynamic society, which trusts [has confidence in?] it self, were not sufficiently represented in this document.)

Wir sind für die Trendwenden gewählt worden, aber sie waren nicht erreichbar, [list of sub-topics]

(

We were elected for course* changes, but these were not reachable, [list of sub-topics]

*Literal meaning closer to the English cognate “trend”.

)

Den Geist des Sondierungspapiers können und wollen wir nicht verantworten, viele der diskutierten Maßnahmen halten wir sogar für schädlich. Wir wären gezwungen, unsere Grundsätze aufzugeben und all das wofür wir Jahre gearbeitet haben. Wir werden unsere Wählerinnen und Wähler nicht im Stich lassen, indem wir eine Politik mittragen, von der wir im Kern nicht überzeugt sind. Es ist besser, nicht zu regieren, als falsch zu regieren.

(

The soul of the document we cannot and will not be responsible for [stand by?], many of the discussed measure we even consider harmful. We would be forced to relinquish our principles and all that for which we have worked for years. We will not abandon our voters, by signing off on a policy*, of which we are not truly** convinced. It is better not to rule, than to rule erroneously***.

*“Set of policies”, “political direction”, or something similar, might catch the intention better.

**Literally, “in the core”, which could conceivably and alternatively refer to the core of the policy, or possibly even FDP.

***“Falsely” or “wrongly” might be better translations when understood correctly; however, these words could introduce unintended connotations, e.g. two-facedness or moral wrongness. These would make sense it context, but do not match the normal intent of the German formulation.

)

Respekt, Herr Lindner! I would like to see a lot more of this attitude among modern politicians.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 21, 2017 at 1:45 am

The German 2017 election

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We are now two weeks past the last German parliament election, and there is still no certainty about who will rule with whom*—however, there is a fair chance that we will be rid of the conservative CDU/CSU** and social-democrat SPD coalition***. The most likely resolution appears to be a CDU/CSU, FDP (liberal, libertarian), and “the green party” coalition. This would be a clear improvement, but the presence of the Greens would make the situation sub-optimal: The environment is important, but large parts of this party is simply highly irrational—astrologists, not astronomers. To boot, large parts of their agenda is as incompatible with the potential partners as SPD’s was. On the plus side, the Greens did not even break 9 % and would be a decidedly junior partner, and they share my and FDP’s distaste for e.g. privacy violations, Bundestrojaner, and the like: Together they and FDP might restrain CDU/CSU in this regard.

*Note that Germany has a multi-party system with a fairly proportional representation by votes (unlike e.g. a first-past-the-post system). After the latest election, there are a total of six parties that made the 5 % cut-off.

**A quirk of German politics is that these parties are not nationally present, with CSU appearing only in Bavaria and CDU everywhere but Bavaria. For the purposes of national politics, they are often informally treated as one entity.

***This coalition being unfortunate in two regards. Firstly, objectively and neutrally, it had two parties in bed with each other that simply do not belong together. This type of coalition amounts to a breach of the voters trust and is by its nature not very democratic. As I noted after the previous election, if such coalitions are tolerated, we might just as well do away with the unnecessary formality of voting. Secondly, subjectively and personally, I dislike the politics of SPD (more than e.g. those of CDU).

It can be interesting to look back at the last few elections, seeing that they have seen some notable developments:

2009: Leading up to the election, another CDU/CSU and SPD coalition was in charge. SPD took a severe hit, CDU/CSU a minor hit, and the smaller parties benefited correspondingly. While CDU/CSU and SPD had been roughly on par last time around, CDU/CSU was now considerably larger and formed a (much more natural) coalition with FDP, which reached a record 14.6 % of the vote.

2013: CDU/CSU gained considerably and looked set for a continued coalition with FDP—except that FDP took a severe hit… So severe, in fact, that it narrowly missed the 5 % cut-off and was left out of parliament. Roughly 10 % or two thirds of the vote gone, from record high to record low, in four years. This was particularly unfortunate*, since CDU/CSU and FDP would have remained in majority, had the cut-off been just a sliver lower.

*However, at the time, I reacted with misplaced Schadenfreude: FDP had been fishing for tactical votes from CDU/CSU supporters, something I strongly disapprove of. Yes, it served them right; however, a very unfortunate political situation arose (cf. above).

2017: This time both CDU/CSU and SPD took severe hits (the former more so in absolute terms, but proportionally the loss was roughly a fifth each), but the remaining two parties (the Greens and leftist extremist/populist Die Linke) only saw marginal gains*. The reason was a resurgence of FDP, which not only made the cut-off but was back above 10 % (historically a good level)—and the massive rise of AfD**, gaining 8 % (for a total of 12.6 %) and its first entry.

*In terms of votes. In terms of seats, they obviously lost ground.

**I am loath to categorize AfD for several reasons, including that it is a very young party with an undeveloped own identity and that it can be hard to tell the difference between its own actual position and the often distorted portrait painted by the other parties and media. It does, however, indisputably have aspects of nationalism, migration skepticism, and a general dissatisfaction with the political establishment. Add in a degree of populism and it might be fair to say that it fills a similar niche as Trump in the U.S. (On these three points, I strongly agree with the last, disagree with the first, and agree or disagree with the second, depending on exactly what we discuss. Cf. a footnote below. In most other areas, I am likely in disagreement; a pro-equality and anti-feminist stance being an obvious exception.)

Interestingly, despite the major changes of 2013, the results of 2017 match those of 2009 very well, apart from the addition of AfD. (And, indeed, without AfD, the Greens would not be needed for CDU/CSU and FDP to re-form their coalition.) Scale off roughly 1/8th of the 2009 results and that is approximately the 2017 result. CDU/CSU has a little more; FDP a little less; the others match very well—as does the sum of the CDU/CSU and FDP percentages.

A twist here is that AfD allegedly has gained disproportionally many voters from CDU/CSU, while CDU/CSU remains the least affected compared to 2009. (This paradoxical situation is likely explained by other voter movements to the benefit of CDU/CSU, especially, I suspect, from FDP.)

Looking at the long term developments, 2009 saw an all-time low for SPD and a lowest-since-1949 for CDU/CSU—something repeated exactly in 2017. The historical constellation of two major parties with several minor parties is, just like in Sweden, disappearing. To some degree, cf. above, this could be explained by the ruling parties being punished: They actually have to do something, often something unpopular, and with a risk of screwing up; the other parties can just sit back, complain, and promise that “with us, everything would have been/will be better”. However, other explanations include voter estrangement and dissatisfaction with the attitudes and policies of the older parties, as well as more success for parties that focus strongly on specific areas where individual voters have similar priorities (the Greens, AfD, and Die Linke fall strongly into this category). SPD, specifically, is likely hurt by Die Linke* “stealing” more and more voters with opinions on the far Left or that are vulnerable to Leftist populism, especially in the area of the old GDR, where SPD often finds it self the smaller of the two…

*This starting with the entry of PDS (the reincarnated SED) in the 1990s and increased by the defection of a part of SPD to PDS to form Die Linke at some point before the 2009 election.

As for my personal take, I am not a fan of any political party (cf. earlier writings), but I would tend to consider a CDU/CSU and FDP coalition the best alternative. While none of them match me ideologically, FDP is likely the closest to a match, with CDU/CSU second. The Greens and Die Linke have no place in any government, hardly to be considered politically sane. SPD is politically sane, but remains a Leftist party (admittedly less so than in the past), with many ideas that I cannot get on board with, at least some of which are likely to be detrimental to Germany’s long-term prospects. AfD as a first time entry, is unlikely to be a good choice for a coalition partner (see also above and below).

The entry of AfD is tricky to judge, especially with the problems of understanding its ideology correctly. However, it has at least two benefits as a signal to the older parties: Firstly, that they cannot ignore, trivialize, or misrepresent migration* issues like they have done in the past. Secondly, that they have to step up their game in looking to the people, not themselves, in general. Until more is known, I am cautiously positive. (I would certainly see the continued presence of Die Linke as a greater reason to be concerned.)

*Migration is another tricky issue, including what levels and what type of migration should be allowed, including applying different perspectives. For instance, from an ideological perspective, I would favor free migration, seeing borders, citizenships, passports, more as an artificial obstacles than anything else; however, from a pragmatical perspective, I would want to consider properly the effects of such migration—including the negative ones that the politicians of the older parties often want to ignore. Similarly, we must consider the possibility of different resolutions for immigrants from different countries, with different backgrounds (notably in terms of education), or with different attitudes. Here is the important point: Irrespective of whether we are for or against migration, migration policy is something that must be discussable and discussed in a free manner, just like e.g. tax levels. The too common attitude of “either you agree with me or you are a racist/xenophobe/Nazi/whatnot” is inexcusable, doing no-one a favour.

(I draw on the German Wikipedia pages for the respective elections for data: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2017, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2013, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2009.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 8, 2017 at 8:40 pm

More on the German election

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We are now more than two months past the election—and I have some serious doubts whether I was wise in endorsing Merkel’s victory.

For starters, the victory part can in it self be disputed. As I did warn, the failure of FDP left the Bundestag with a more-or-less hostile majority. Differences between various Left-leaning parties has still left Merkel and CDU/CSU as the main force; however, they need an alliance with the Social-Democrats (SPD), negotiations have taken forever, and the price to pay has been very heavy indeed: The Social-Democrats have a disproportionate number of cabinet seats allotted to them and they have pushed through a number of issues that are are worrying. The most notable example is an unduly high minimum wage at 8.50 Euro/hour, which could severely worsen the market for the barely employable. A far worse suggestion was under discussion, but appears to be off the table for the moment: The introduction of quotas for female board members, with a minimum of 30 or even 40 % being women—outdated, sexist, and unjust. (As usual there was no talk of a minimum quota for each respective sex—just one for women.)

CDU/CSU themselves were less than exemplary during the campaigning, making hefty promises. These promises are now combined with those of the SPD and the resulting joint proposals are quite expensive—but little has been said about the financing. As is, there will sooner or later (probably sooner…) be a hole that needs to be stopped. Based on my impressions from the negotiations, the stopping will likely eventually be done through tax increases.

Furthermore, there have been a number of areas in recent times where CDU/CSU have acted unfortunately or potentially dangerously. Most of these point to the important role the failing FDP could have played to keep a liberal rain on Merkel (not to mention keeping SPD away from power and thereby avoiding the above problems). Examples include:

  1. A far to complacent reaction to scandals around surveillance of citizens and politicians (not limited to the NSA).

  2. There are suggestions to reinstate the Telecommunications data retentionw, which on a previous attempt was struck down by the Federal Constitutional Court—the more absurd in light of the recent surveillance controversies.

  3. A wish to make customers of prostitutes criminally liable when they visit prostitutes who work on a non-voluntary basis. Superficially, this may seem like a move to counter-act “trading”; practically, it is an entry point for a renewed ban on prostitution and puts the customers in a very unfortunate position. (I will expand on this in the following post.)

Simultaneously, although likely not tied to CDU/CSU, there are renewed attempts to ban NPD, a minor party considered neo-nazi and “hostile to the constitution” (“verfassungsfeindlich”—a legal German term allowing the banning of organizations). This may not seem bad on paper; however, it violates the principles of democracy in the name of democracy, highlights the limits of freedom of speech and expression in Germany, and shows a great hypocrisy: The East-German Communist party has a descendant in “Die Linke”, which is actually represented in parliament. (The originally party, SED, was restructured and renamed to PDS after the fall of East-Germany. PDS was represented in parliament until just a few years ago, when they merged with another Left-extremist/-populist grouping to form “Die Linke”, which is still represented. There is even some remaining overlap with SED in terms of the actual people involved—admittedly minor by now, but then more than twenty years have passed.) In contrast, NPD has no direct ties to NSDAP (“the Nazi party”), but are accused of having similar opinions. The one is the continuation of a criminal organization and thrives in parliament—the other has similar opinions to a criminal organization and risks being banned.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 4, 2013 at 5:27 am

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The German election

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Around the last Swedish election, I wrote no less than four entries ([1], [2], [3], [4]).

Last Sunday, the German elections took place—and I have yet to write a single word.

To remedy this somewhat, the things that strike me as particularly important or interesting:

  1. Conservative CDU/CSU finds it self in paradoxical situation, being widely hailed as the victors, yet being forced to search for a coalition partner among three Leftist parties to continue their government.

    To a Swede, the situation is particularly odd, because in the same setup in Sweden, a Leftist government would have been a near given, seeing that the the Social-Democrat SPD, the Center-Left ecological party “Die Grüne”, and the SED-descendant and extreme Left “Die Linke” together have narrow majority of the seats.

    While Die Linke, with their connections to the East-German communist party, are unlikely to be a welcome partner for the other parties, a Leftist minority government with their support seems the logical conclusion.

    That this is different in Germany relates (I speculate) to a system that requires a majority for the prospective Chancellor during the intra-parliamentary election. Only if a majority fails to manifest it self repeatedly can a minority government be formed—or a second public election called for.

  2. The liberal (in various parts classical, social/pseudo-, and neo-) FDP dropped out of the Bundestag for the first time in some sixty years—after having reached a record high in the previous election and being the junior-partner in the incumbent government.

    The long-term effects of this are yet to be seen, but they could conceivably be far-reaching. Factor in that Die Grüne und Die Linke both took hits in terms of popularity, and Germany might be headed towards a two-party system. On the other, FDP might bounce, seeing that analysts see much of their failure as a consequence of achieving too little as the junior partner—a problem they will not have in the next four years.

  3. New-comer AfD, a euro-critical party riding on the dissatisfaction with the older generations of parties, came close to entry, but ultimately failed. Their progress or regression until the next election is one of the more interesting questions ahead.

    In their wake, other minor parties, notably “the pirate party”, fared poorly and had no chance at entry. FDP can put at least part of the blame for its fiasco in the hands of AfD.

  4. Germany has a 5% lower limit for representation in the Bundestag. Sweden has a 4% limit—and both FDP and AfD would have made it under Swedish rules. Together they account for 9.5% of the votes going to waste. (With several percent more lost on another small parties.)

As an aside, assuming that the Conservatives do prevail: The best man won—and was a woman.

(While I do not think highly of politicians, Angela Merkel is far above their mediocre average in terms of competence. Ideologically, I might have preferred FDP, but that they would not provide the chancellor was a given.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm