Germany is no longer a refuge from the storm of voter dissatisfaction sweeping across Europe. Sunday’s regional elections in Bavaria have proven that beyond the shadow of a doubt. Yesterday, the Christian Social Union (CSU) received 36.8% of the vote, and lost its absolute majority in the Bavarian state parliament. In the last elections, held in 2013, the CSU received roughly 46% of the vote. Yesterday’s results mark the worst performance for the party since 1950. CSU’s decades-long domination of Bavarian politics is apparently over. Bavarian voters rejected the party and moved their support to the left and right. The Green Party captured 17% giving them second place. The right wing anti-immigration party AfD won 10.3% of the vote, giving them a visible presence in Bavaria, an area hard hit by the migrant crisis. AfD’s position is particularly remarkable given that the party did not even participate in Bavaria’s last regional election.
Sunday’s election results will have an adverse effect for Angela Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ and German national politics as well. The civil, but tense relations, and policy disagreements between the member parties are already coming to light less than a day after the election. The German Social Democrats (SPD) is viewing the results as a wake-up call amid fresh concerns about the survivability of the coalition’s alliance at the national level. SPD’s head has all but called for the resignation of Horst Seehofer, CSU’s leader. The party wants the way the coalition works to be improved and believes the best way to achieve that goal is through personnel changes. SPD also suffered major losses on Sunday with its support in Bavaria cut in half.
Looking at the big picture, Merkel’s coalition has been dealt a massive blow. Her allies have been greatly humbled and their power sapped. SPD’s role in the coalition is up in the air right now, and if the coming regional elections in Hesse go badly for the party, as well as for CSU, it could bring the coalition crashing down. With it will come Angela Merkel’s chancellorship, and her long-running position as the leader of Europe’s most powerful nation-state.
There’s something to be said for the determination of former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. Even after he was officially removed from office on Saturday he remained outspoken regarding his commitment to lead Catalonia to independence in the future. On Saturday afternoon after the Spanish government suspended Catalan autonomy, dissolved its government and assumed control of government functions in the region, Puigdemont released a prerecorded address to Catalans. In it he called Madrid’s actions ‘predetermined aggression’ and promised to continue the fight for independence through ‘democratic opposition.’ Regardless of his promises and desires Puigdemont is, for all intents and purposes, a man without a country.
Madrid is imposing direct rule on Catalonia, as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised would happen if events continued along the independence path. The declaration of independence passed by the Catalan parliament on Friday is now officially inconsequential. Whatever power base separatist politicians believe they had following the referendum appears to be dissolving, if it ever truly existed in reality at all. Polls published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais this weekend show more Catalans in favor of dissolving the regional parliament and holding new elections. Fifty-five percent of Catalans who responded to the poll opposed the declaration of independence, with forty-one percent in favor. Those numbers are not encouraging signs for deposed Catalan MPs and other pro-independence and separatist politicians who want to continue the fight.
Whether the separatists refuse to acknowledge it or not, the writing is on the wall. The bid for independence was doomed from the beginning. Even if the pro-independence politicians had removed the blinders and recognized that the level of support they believed they had was in fact a mirage, there is no conceivable way the Spanish government would’ve ever allowed one of its most valuable regions to break away from the mother country. Had the shoe been on the other foot and Catalonia had somehow won independence from Spain, Puigdemont and his newly formed government would have found their new state to be a pariah on the international scene. Spain’s allies in Europe, along with the European Union, and the United States strongly opposed Catalan’s independence experiment. Although the EU, and a handful of European states offered their help in negotiations between Catalonia and Madrid should it come to that, all foreign states and bodies have recognized publicly that the Catalan Crisis is an internal matter.
The crisis has not passed just yet. There are still hurdles for Madrid to overcome, and it has to determine if and when full autonomy will be returned to Catalonia. The coming weeks and months will be a time to mend wounds and forge a stronger relationship between Madrid and the region. Failure to do so on the government’s part will only invite Catalan separatists to resume the fight for independence at some point down the line.