“I’m no magician,” admitted a visibly deflated Martin Schulz on Sunday night (14 May) after it became clear that his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) had suffered what he called a “crushing defeat” in their traditional heartland and his own home state, North Rhine-Westphalia.
By Monday, he and SPD were back in fighting form, saying the federal campaign was only just beginning.
Next week, Angela Merkel will welcome the fourth French president of her chancellorship to Berlin.
In Emmanuel Macron, she will meet the man who staved off the far-right threat and possibly saved the European Union from breaking apart, but also a man whose ambitious ideas for shaking up the eurozone are anathema to many in Germany, particularly in her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
The initial hype surrounding Martin Schulz has faded somewhat since his surprise appointment as the new leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) back in January.
Yet, in Germany’s increasingly multiparty political landscape, the former European Parliament president is still in with a shot of unseating the current chancellor, Angela Merkel, in September’s elections.
The populist AfD was first to attack Chancellor Merkel after a truck smashed into a crowded Berlin Christmas Market on Monday night. The act of terrorism will increase pressure on her as she heads into an election year.
It was the attack that Germany had been bracing itself for.
And it could have far-reaching political implications, particularly for Chancellor Angela Merkel, already fighting off a challenge from right-wing populists.
On Monday night, shortly after 8 p.m., a truck smashed into a crowded Christmas market in the heart of West Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.
While the authorities were initially extremely careful not to jump to conclusions about the circumstances leading to the awful carnage, by Tuesday the Berlin police said that they were dealing with a “presumed terror attack,” stating that their investigators were working on the assumption that the truck was intentionally driven into the crowd.
If that is confirmed, it would be the first time that a terror attack has been carried out in the German capital, and on a symbolic and also relatively soft target: the traditional Christmas market, where locals and tourists gather to drink mulled wine amid glittering fairy lights.
The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany was quick to single out who they blamed. Immediately after news of the incident emerged on Monday night, Marcus Pretzell, a member of the European Parliament for the party and partner of AfD leader Frauke Petry, tweeted: “When will the German rule of law strike back? When will this cursed hypocrisy end? These are Merkel’s dead!”
The deputy leader of the Social Democrats, Ralf Stegner, called the comment “unbelievable and disgusting!”
“Instead of respect for the victims, again disgusting political exploitation of this tragedy by the AfD and other right-wing agitators,” he tweeted.
Yet, for all the outrage heaped on the AfD, there is little doubt that the party is likely to profit from an attack in the heart of the German capital.
The populist AfD are projected to win up to 13 percent in the state election in Berlin on Sunday. With Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats likely to be booted out of the ruling coalition in the city, the vote will once again pile the pressure on the chancellor over her refugee policy.
Handelsblatt Global, September 16, 2016
They came in small numbers but were loud, angry and out to make trouble.
As Chancellor Angela Merkel was addressing a rally of a few thousand supporters of her conservative Christian Democrats in a leafy suburb of western Berlin on Wednesday night around 30 supporters of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party turned up. The group heckled, showed red cards and chanted “Merkel Must Go!”
Once again Germany’s upstart populists were proving to be something of a headache for the chancellor.
On September 4, the party was humiliated in the rural eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania when it only got 19 percent of the vote, pushing it into third place behind the AfD, which won 21 percent. In cosmopolitan urban Berlin this Sunday, the AfD won’t do quite so well but it’s still expected to get 13 percent, according to a Forsa poll released on Thursday. Meanwhile the CDU is expected to only get around 17 percent and be booted out of the left-right coalition with the SPD that has governed the city state since 2011.
While the anti-immigrant AfD were disappointed to only come fourth in Lower Saxony’s local elections last weekend, that vote for councils and mayors in small towns and villages was particularly difficult for the party which only formed in 2013 and has yet to develop an extensive grassroots organization across the country.
“All state elections in Germany are also a plebiscite over the governing coalition in Berlin.”
“I would not see the Lower Saxony vote as an indication that the rise of the AfD has been halted,” said Kai Arzheimer, a political scientist at the University of Mainz.
Furthermore, the Berlin vote comes as both Ms. Merkel’s personal ratings and CDU support nationally continue to nosedive over her decision last year to allow 1 million refugees into the country.
Although she has no obvious rival, these setbacks have led to speculation about whether she will run for a fourth term in the next federal election in 2017.
And another strong showing for the AfD on Sunday will likely pile the pressure on the chancellor particularly from her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union. The CSU leader, Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, has been a thorn in her side this past year, constantly complaining about the influx of refugees and demanding upper limits to those the country can take in.
Yet in Berlin, the refugee issue is not at the forefront of the campaign. In fact the city is remarkably tolerant on the issue with a recent survey showing over half of Berliners — 52 percent — feel that the new arrivals are a positive addition to the city. Many Berliners are more concerned with local issues, such as rising rents, the poor state of schools or the ongoing fiasco over the failure to open the new airport. The hipster capital of Europe may be home to plenty of cool startups and cultural institutions but it lacks much real industry and its unemployment rate at around 10 percent is still above the national average.
The capital has never been a stronghold for the CDU apart from in some affluent western suburbs.
Its more liberal voters have veered towards the Greens or the pro-business Free Democrats, or even the Pirates, the pro-privacy activists who garnered 9 percent in 2011 but will probably fail to get more than around 1 percent this time. In the former east of the city, the far-left Left Party, the successor party to the former East German communists, has always polled strongly. It is here that support for the AfD, which had not yet been formed when the city last voted in 2011, is strongest, is at around 20 percent. Yet the party is also polling at around 15 percent on the western edges of the city.
Meanwhile, the SPD has long dominated politics in Berlin. The center-left party has been in every government in the newly reunited city since the fall of the wall. It may have lost its charismatic leader, former mayor Klaus Wowereit, in December 2014. Yet, his successor, mild mannered and rather dull Michael Müller is still far more popular than the CDU leader in the city, deputy mayor and state interior minister Frank Henkel, a hardliner on law and order.
It’s been a rough year politically for Angela Merkel and things are likely to get worse Sunday when a right-wing populist party, the AfD, could outperform her own Christian Democrats in elections in the chancellor’s own home state.
Handelsblatt Global, September 2, 2016
It’s just over a year since Angela Merkel uttered her now infamous words: “Wir schaffen das,” or “We can do this” – a statement that threw German society and politics into tumult.
And in the ensuing 12 months, as the chancellor has repeatedly defended her decision to take in refugees fleeing war and chaos in Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones, Germany has faced the challenge of registering, housing and caring for of up to 1 million people.
The influx has eased since a deal with Turkey and the blocking of the Balkan route, and many thousands have already left, either deported or voluntarily after their asylum applications were rejected. Nevertheless, the country still faces the challenge of integrating hundreds of thousands that will stay – many for good.
Proponents of the U.S.-E.U. trade deal were caught unawares by the vehement public opposition in Germany. Activists here say that their beef is not so much with removing tariffs as with the other elements of the deal. And they say they are gaining support in other E.U. countries.
Handelsblatt Global, April 22, 2016
“Obama and Merkel are coming. Demo: Stop TTIP and CETA!”
That is the slogan being spread through social media and on posters across Germany. It is intended to rally the troops to Hanover this Saturday on the eve of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Organizers estimate tens of thousands will amass to protest the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal between the European Union and the United States, and its Canadian counterpart, called CETA.
Mr. Obama’s visit to open the Hannover Messe trade fair alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday is regarded as part of an efforts to kickstart TTIP ahead of the 13th round of negotiations next week in New York.
While it may be one of the United State’s best trading partners in Europe, Mr. Obama is entering hostile territory in Germany.
Along with Austria, the European country has the least enthusiasm for and the most skepticism about the all-encompassing trade deal, according to polls.
Last October, despite the country being gripped by the refugee crisis, an anti-TTIP rally in Berlin drew 150,000 to 250,000 people, depending on whether you accept the official count or the demo organizers’ numbers.
The anti-TTIP movement is hoping for another big turnout on Saturday.
“There is nothing in the agreement about raising standards, and that is exactly the problem. In the future it will be even harder to strengthen or raise standards.”
“We are expecting several tens of thousands,” said Roland Süss, a trade expert with activist group ATTAC, which has 90,000 members in Europe. The group’s members typically are vocal critics of the excesses of conventional capitalism, strong defenders of the environment and opponents of government privatization efforts.
Yet the thousands planning to meet in Hanover are only the tip of the iceberg in Germany.
A survey released Thursday in Berlin showed that only one in five Germans think TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent in 2014.
The poll by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, found that while two years ago 88 percent of Germans favored free trade in general, by February only about half of Germans considered free trade a good idea. More than a quarter reject it entirely.
“Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion. Trade is a key driver of the German economy,” Aart De Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Foundation, said.
For those backing the deal, it is a conundrum that people in a country that relies on and benefits from global trade would want to block a deal like this.
After all, Germany prides itself on being an “Export Meister.” It is the world’s third-largest exporter with €1.2 trillion worth of goods and services traded abroad in 2015.
And trade ties with the United States are a big part of that. The United States is the biggest buyer of German exports outside the E.U., and Germany is the U.S.’s most important trading partner in Europe. At the end of 2015, bilateral trade was worth approximately $174 billion, according to the German Foreign Office.
Proponents argue TTIP will only enhance those ties, creating growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
But many non-profits, political groups and trade unions, which have led the charge against the deal, question those assertions and argue it’s not free trade per se they are opposed to.