GlobalPost, May 14, 2012
BERLIN – It is a paradox of German politics that Chancellor Angela Merkel remains overwhelming popular, while the parties that make up her governing coalition lurch from one defeat to the next in a string of regional votes.
That was made evident yet again on Sunday when her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered their worst ever result in Germany’s most populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia. The party only managed to get just over 26 percent of the vote in the snap election, shedding almost 9 points since securing 35 percent in the last vote there in 2010.
Her junior coalition partners the Free Democrats did manage an impressive comeback, securing a surprise 8 percent and managing to return to the state parliament thanks to its dynamic leader in the state, Christian Lindner. However, the disastrous performance by the CDU will allow the Social Democrats and Greens to form a stable coalition, after operating as a minority government for the past two years.
The SPD won 39 percent of the vote in what had been its traditional heartland, largely thanks to the huge popularity of its leading candidate, state governor Hannelore Kraft. The Greens only fell back slightly, down from 12 to 11 percent, a relief given the strong showing of the Pirates who stormed into their fourth regional parliament after securing almost 8 percent. The post-communist Left Party only attracted just over 2 percent, compared to over 5 percent in 2010, and thus failing to enter parliament.
North Rhine-Westphalia is often a strong indicator of the national mood. When former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suffered a defeat there in a state vote in 2005 he called an immediate snap general election, which paved the way for Merkel’s rise to power. Continue reading
GlobalPost, 29 March, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — The European debt crisis hasn’t gone away.
Despite something of a lull following the frenzied maneuvers to prevent a Greek default, the specter of contagion still looms.
As the 17 euro zone finance ministers prepare to meet in Copenhagen later this week, the focus has now shifted to exactly how much firepower is required to prevent the crisis from spreading to big economies like Italy and Spain.
Germany, the bloc’s paymaster, has long been reluctant to see the euro zone’s new permanent bailout fund increased beyond the agreed 500 billion euros.
This week, however, Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that Berlin is open to boosting the firewall by allowing the temporary and permanent funds to run in parallel for a transitional period. Continue reading
GlobalPost, Feb. 9, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — All eyes have been on Greece as it battled to stave off default.
But it is Italy that may well be decisive in determining the outcome of the euro crisis.
Most analysts agree that Italy’s survival is vital if the euro zone is to avoid catastrophe. “The euro zone can do, if needs be, without Greece,” said Timo Klein, senior economist at IHS Global Insight. “But it certainly cannot do without Italy.”
The man leading the rescue mission? Mario Monti, who just three months ago was an economics professor in Milan.
Now the new prime minister, Monti is firmly in the driver’s seat in Rome, tasked with steering Italy away from the precipice of insolvency, and thus protecting the euro zone from a fatal blow. And many analysts predict that if anyone can pull it off, he can. Continue reading
The Sunday Business Post, April 10, 2011
The reaction in the political corridors of Berlin to the fact that Portugal has finally faced the music and asked for a bailout has been one of relief.
This is tinged with determination that this will be the last country to require a lifeline from its eurozone partners.
The German government, battered by a string of losses in key regional votes since the beginning of the year, is loath to be seen by the electorate as wasting yet more of taxpayers’ money on their profligate neighbours.
With just two years to go to federal elections, the ruling coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) is fully aware that any further bailouts – of, say, Spain, Italy or Belgium- could spell electoral doom. Continue reading
By Siobhán Dowling in Budapest, Hungary
Hungary will assume the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in January and the government is pledging to forge a policy for addressing the Roma in all of Europe. But the country has its own troubling history with the Roma, who have been deeply impoverished and pushed to the margins of society since the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Csaba Csorba is standing in scrubland beside the burned-out shell of a small house. He points to the spot amid the tall grass where he found his son Robert bleeding in the snow almost two years ago. Nearby lay the body of his four-year-old grandson Robi. The small boy had been shot through the head, his face was unrecognizable.
The murders of Feb. 23, 2009 saw the Hungarian village of Tatárszentgyörgy become synonymous with hate, hatred towards Europe’s Roma people. Robert Csorba, a 27-year-old father of three, had gathered up his young son in his arms and ran out to escape the flames that engulfed his house, the last one on the edge of the village. Unknown assailants had attacked under the cover of night, throwing Molotov cocktails at the door and then opening fire when those inside tried to flee. Robert was shot in the lungs and lived for another hour, dying on the way to the hospital. His six-year-old daughter Bianka was injured but survived, while his wife Renata and younger son escaped the blaze. Continue reading
Having succeeded in its referendum campaign against minarets in Switzerland, the populist SVP is now focusing on a different threat — this time from the north. The party is targeting Germans ahead of a local election in Zurich. Worringly it seems that its German-bashing is becoming respectable.
The far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is not content to wrest on its laurels after its spectacularly successful campaign against minarets. Now the populist party has a new enemy in its sights: Germans.
Ahead of local elections in March, the party has been waging a campaign against the many Germans who have settled in the German-speaking city of Zurich. And the SVP has chosen to hone in on what it claims is a hogging of academic jobs in Switzerland by German professors. While the attacks on what it calls “German sleaze” in the Swiss ivory towers fits into the party’s populist rhetoric, the tendency towards German bashing — like the rejection of the minarets — looks like it may be going mainstream. Continue reading