EU Election Aftermath: France and Germany

The flags of Germany, France and the European Union are seen in front of the the Chancellery, before the meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in Berlin

France- The results of last weekend’s EU Parliamentary elections revealed France’s political divisions. Voter turnout in France was the highest for an EU election in nearly a quarter-century. European political analysts point to this fact as proof that citizens are beginning to truly grasp the importance of the EU Parliament in their daily lives. This theory is nonsensical though, given the shifting political landscape in France. The motivation had to do more with many French citizens being determined to lash out at their government and project their disaffection with the present French government, the EU, and centrist political parties in general.

The Take Power party, a nationalist political party aligned closely with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) came out on top with 23.3% of the vote. The mainstream political parties in France, as in much of Europe, did not fare well. The feeling across France is that the mainstream left and right parties are not representing the average citizen very well. The average citizens in France came together and rejected the policies, and politics of not only the EU, but those of their president as well.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party gained 22.4% of the vote, however. The narrow margin limits the damage to Macron, at least in the short run.

 

Germany- The EU election results in Germany are placing added pressure on Angela Merkel’s grand coalition. The nation’s two major parties suffered substantial losses last weekend, weakening a coalition that’s already fragile enough, and also bringing the possibility of Merkel not finishing her term as chancellor one step closer to becoming a reality. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) are not at all pleased with the weekend’s results, and where it leaves them. Sunday marked the continuation of a trend of steady decline, internal unrest, and worsening election results. The party took only 15.6% of the vote, down 11 points from 2014, and placing it in third place. Merkel’s own Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian Christian Social Union allies garnered a total of 28.7% of the vote. Yet this was a drop of 7% from 2014 for them.

The internal unrest in SPD has ignited a power struggle. If the left wing of the party comes out on top, SPD could leave the coalition, bringing about new elections and all but serving as the final nail in Angela Merkel’s political coffin. Politicians in Berlin have been downplaying talk of the coalition possibly crumbling, however, the possibility will need to be addressed, and planned for if SPD does walk out.

Merkel Steps Down as Leader of the CDU

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Today’s announcement by Angela Merkel concerning her political future was something of a foregone conclusion. The embattled German leader will step down when her current term as chancellor ends in 2021. Nor will she be seeking reelection as the leader of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) in December. The big question in Berlin at the moment is whether or not Merkel will be able to survive politically until 2021. Merkel’s announcement today will eventually strip her of her influential powers in Europe and internationally, as well as on the domestic front.

For years she has been the unofficial Godfather of the European Union. For years her support was essential to the creation, and expansion of many EU economic and political policies. If Merkel supported a certain policy or decision, it would blossom. If she opposed it for whatever reason, it would never see the light of day. Even as the effects of Merkel’s decisions on the migrant crisis negatively impacted the continent, the EU and Brussels continued to follow her lead. The same held true through the rise of right wing populist political parties around Europe, and the growing anti-EU sentiment in many nations. As long as Germany, and Merkel appeared politically stable, the EU refused to panic.

All of that began to change last September when the major political parties in Germany all suffered heavy losses in the federal elections. Merkel’s re-election as chancellor did little to prevent the government from entering a six-month coma as efforts to build a grand coalition got underway. Finally, in March, 2018 a grand coalition was formed. The domino effect was already underway though. The major parties of the grand coalition sustained heavy losses in last month’s Bavarian state elections, bringing on concern about the future of the coalition, and of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship.

Sunday’s election results in Hesse proved to be the last straw. CDU saw its share of the vote drop by 11 percentage points. Merkel’s declining popularity undoubtedly proved to be the major reason for CDU’s slide. The fact that she is standing down as the party leader will bring about a temporary reprieve, but it will not change the fact that her grand coalition is now perilously vulnerable. Its survival is now dependent upon the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD). SPD’s losses in Hesse were significant. Its share of the vote was down by 30.7 percent, the worst results there since 1946.

In the coming months, if SPD cannot show its members that its place in the coalition is benefitting the party, it will likely leave. SPD’s departure will likely sink Merkel’s grand coalition, and turn out to be the final nail in her political coffin.

Saturday 30 June, 2018 Update: EU Migration Deal Saves Merkel….For Now

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The European Union’s 28 national leaders hammered out an eleventh hour deal on migration after twelve hours of talks. The deal,  though somewhat vague, appears to be enough to appease German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rivals and keep her fragile coalition government in power for the time being.

The deal proposes screening potential asylum-seekers for their eligibility before they reach EU soil. Middle Eastern and North African nations that agree to set up screening centers will be granted EU financial aid to cover the costs. EU Leaders also agreed to toughen internal checks to prevent asylum-seekers from freely choosing an EU nation to apply for asylum. 3 Billion euros will also be paid to Turkey as part of the 2016 compensation deal with the Turkish government to pay for Ankara’s efforts at keeping migrants away from Europe.

The EU deal is less than perfect, though it does promote more stringent future efforts on the part of the union to contend with irregular migration from the Middle East and North Africa. Many questions remain unanswered, such as the timetable for implementation. How quickly the terms of the deal can be become reality will influence Merkel’s own political fortunes.

For now, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his allies appear to be satisfied with the EU deal, and what it will do to help correct Germany’s asylum policy woes. If there are any delays, or disruptions in implementing the deal, however, Merkel could pay a steep price. Seehofer still has to sell the deal to his party, the Christian Social Union. CSU will face a heavy challenge from the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party in the coming October state election in Bavaria. If the party deems this deal to be ‘too little, too late’ Seehofer himself might be replaced as party head. The rumor mill in Berlin points to Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder as the next chairman if Seehofer falters.

If that scenario becomes reality, the CSU could bring Merkel’s brittle coalition government crashing down.

Tuesday 19 June, 2018 Update: Merkel at the Edge Once More

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Since 2015, Angela Merkel’s political fortunes have been incontrovertibly tied to Europe’s migrant crisis and the immigration issue. Germany’s open border migration laws have seen 1.4 million refugees from the Middle East and Africa accepted in the last three years. This mass influx has led to a decline in Merkel’s political clout at home and abroad. As more refugees crossed into Germany with very little oversight or restriction, crime rates rose dramatically. Terror attacks sprouted up across the Federal Republic. Populist parties emerged from the political wilderness and began gaining acceptance in the mainstream with their anti-immigration positions. Germany’s federal elections in September, 2017 saw German voters turning away from Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition and gravitating towards parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other Euroskeptic populist parties. The gains made by these upstart parties in the Bundestag forced Merkel to form a larger, more inclusive coalition government.

At the moment, the conservative partners in Germany’s current coalition government are threatening Angela Merkel’s political future.

On Monday, the conservatives gave Merkel a two-week ultimatum to either reform immigration and asylum laws, or turn migrants away at the border. Germany’s Minister of Interior Horst Seehofer, is leading the charge. Seehofer stated that if no solution is reached by the end of the month, he will personally order German border police to turn back migrants. If no resolution is found, Germany could see itself in the midst of yet another political crisis, and Merkel will be fighting for her political life.

Holding true to her modus operandi, Merkel is turning to the European Union for help. EU heads of state will meet in Brussels at the end of June and immigration will be a hot topic. Merkel is already pressing for a ‘European solution,’ either in the form of a continent-wide immigration policy, or convincing other EU member-states to take in more migrants. With more populist governments taking power in Europe recently, few nations will probably be receptive to the idea of accepting more migrants, and refugees. The new third-rail in European politics seems to be immigration. Continental leaders who agree to raise the number of immigrants their respective nations will accept are running a dangerous risk. Contrary to what many media outlets, or the European Union would say, the mood in Europe right now is decidedly anti-immigration.

Merkel has learned this the hard way.

Sunday 4 March, 2018 Update: Merkel Gets Her Coalition. Now What?

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Angela Merkel has her coalition. The Social Democrats voted in favor of forming a new government along with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union conservatives. Merkel will stay in the chancellery in Berlin, and political stability is set to return to Germany, at least for the moment. Forming a coalition after months of deadlock is assuredly a victory for her, though the scope and magnitude of it is up for debate. During the next few months, Merkel needs to tread carefully. One errant slip can turn it into a Pyrrhic victory and then the coalition becomes an albatross around her neck.

Make no mistake about it, Merkel has her work cut out for her. In spite of the grandiose proclamations of a ‘Grand Coalition,’ the government that has been put together more accurately resembles a diminished coalition at best. Germany was rattled by the political paralysis that followed the September elections, leaving many to wonder if the nation will ever be the same again. Support for the coalition is dropping, according to polls. At the same time, the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is building momentum. AfD is also setting itself up to be the main opposition party in parliament, raising the prospect of a clash with the new government somewhere down the line.

Merkel has promised to place more focus on domestic issues, though this might be a matter of too little, too late. Immigration is what brought Merkel and Germany to this point. The clumsy way she went about opening of Germany’s borders to the migrants is what caused German voters to turn on their chancellor. Merkel finds herself having to make amends, and possibly even give some of the new government’s positions and policies a slight tilt to the right. Last week she openly admitted that there are no-go zones in Germany after vehemently denying their existence for years. There are reports that Germany could even be seeking a reset in its relations with the United States. It’s a well-known truth that Merkel’s relationship with President Trump has been cool to say the very least.

The  fact that she is making these moves now, and that Germany finds itself in this position shows the clout that right wing political parties, and populist movements now hold in Germany.