News Digest 17th July

The K question and the CDU leadership

As discussed in the News Digest last week, in the coming months the parties will be choosing their Chancellor candidates for the federal election next year and the CDU is also due to elect its new leader in December.

In February, the current CDU chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced that she would step down, after only just a year in the job, and a party conference was planned to elect her successor in April. However, this was delayed until December because of the corona pandemic. The three leadership candidates are North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister Armin Laschet, and MPs Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen (both also from North-Rhine Westphalia). Health Minister Jens Spahn, who was widely expected to run, made a surprise announcement in February that he would run as deputy to Laschet.

All parties will also soon be selecting their Chancellor candidates for the federal election next year – who this is to be is the K (Kanzler) question. The CDU/CSU Union can choose a candidate from either party, although in practice a Bavarian CSU candidate is rare – however this time, Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder is a strong possibility.

The ZDF Politbarometer last week showed that whereas in March, 30% of all those surveyed believed that Söder was suitable for the office of Chancellor, now 64% of all respondents and 78% of Union supporters say that he has what it takes to become Chancellor.

The Tagesspiegel noted that although it would not previously have been expected for Söder to be a serious candidate, “if you ask yourself the question of whose crisis management is best rated and who has the highest approval ratings, you will inevitably end up with Söder at the moment.” However, “he knows that he only has a chance if the CDU sees this as an inevitability.” In other words, he can’t go anywhere if the CDU oppose him.

A Spiegel journalist tweeted two possible covers for the edition with a leading article about Söder – the one on the right, he said, didn’t make it. In ‘Der Erbschleicher’ (one who is sneakily after the inheritance), the Spiegel wrote, “Markus Söder could be Chancellor in 2021. A year ago, this sentence would gave been unthinkable, laughable.” Söder, argues the Spiegel, is “too careful to openly claim the candidacy. But… he has a say, he lights fires.”

Merkel’s visit to Bavaria this week was widely reported as a further boost to Söder – as the Tagesspiegel wrote, “the Chancellor does not want to drive up to Armin Laschet this Tuesday in a carriage, but to the ‘Bavarian Versailles’ on the island of Herrenchiemsee……staging has its place in politics.”

On Angela Merkel’s birthday on Friday, it was reported that Wolfgang Schäuble, Former Finance Minsiter and current President of the Bundestag, had given Merkel a gift in a joint interview with Spahn in the Zeit – the scalp of right-wing leadership contender Friedrich Merz. Schäuble, who had endorsed Merz in the 2018 leadership election, spoke highly of Spahn as a possible leader, saying, “He has a clear head, he communicates well, he can face other opinions, discuss them…. and he wants to achieve power.”

Whether Spahn runs to be leader is a key question for Merz, since they are both on the right of the party, and Spahn reportedly decided not to run in February so as not to split the right-wing vote. Spahn, however, has a problem. He is tied to Laschet, but since the Covid-19 crisis started, Spahn’s popularity has improved dramatically and Laschet’s has gone in the other direction. The Tagesschau noted this dilemma last week: “(Laschet) started his candidacy with a brilliant move, by joining a team with Jens Spahn. Then Corona came and Laschet started to lurch. Söder is not the only one who has criticised his crisis management. In addition, he has weak poll ratings ​​and there are persistent rumours that Laschet might end up giving Spahn the lead role. Spahn was able to take advantage of the corona crisis and prove himself as Minister of Health. However, a withdrawal from Laschet would amount to a declaration of moral bankruptcy, which would not help consolidate his support in North Rhine-Westphalia.”

The SPD Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz, came second to Söder in the ZDF Chancellor survey last week, with 48% believing he has what it takes to become Chancellor (although 42% said he does not). Scholz, the most popular SPD politician with the public, is reportedly preparing to run as the party’s Chancellor candidate, after having being defeated in his bid to be SPD leader last December. This week, reported the Welt, Olaf Scholz said he was confident that the SPD could lead the government after the next federal election, and SPD co-leader Walter-Borjans said that Scholz as the SPD Chancellor candidate was a ‘serious option’ – not ruling out supporting a Scholz candidature, but a long way from endorsing him too.

As far as the polling numbers are concerned, an SPD-led government is currently not likely, since the party is regularly in third place at around 15%, behind the Greens and well behind the CDU.

Meanwhile the Süddeutsche Zeitung is tracking progress of the promises the CDU/CSU and SPD made in the coalition agreement in 2018: Of the 142 promises made, 42 have been implemented, 13 partially implemented, 57 are in progress, 25 not yet begun and 5 failed.

European recovery

This coming weekend, at the EU summit, the EU countries will meet to agree the budget for the next seven years: the planned corona recovery program of 750 billion euros will be added to the budget, taking the figure to about 1.8 trillion euros – the largest financial package in the history of the EU and one that is controversial. Several counties, particularly the ‘Frugal Four’ – Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Holland – have criticised the proposal. While Angela Merkel has indicated a readiness to compromise and a hope for an agreement, the Tagesschau warned, “given the long list of issues, a new summit at the end of the month is not out of the question,” and the Tagesspiegel quoted Merkel as saying that, “very, very difficult negotiations,” are to be expected, since the differences in the positions of the member states are still “very, very big.” The Zeit noted that not only could Hungary’s Viktor Orbán veto the budgetary decision, the budget must also be ratified by national parliaments which could prove difficult in the Netherlands.

Divided Germany

Three ministries cooperate to publish the Deustchlandatlas – a set of 56 maps showing demographic, economic and social trends across Germany – and the latest was published this week. Many of the maps showed a clear divide between the eastern and western states, as this Deutsche Welle tweet shows.

In the east, there is an ageing population and lower population density, partly due to the migration of mostly younger people from east to west that happened after unification, a trend which was only reversed in 2017. Unemployment is higher, and incomes are lower.

Equality for women

Following last week‘s announcement of a national equality strategy, the Thuringian Constitutional Court has annulled the state law which provides for equal numbers of men and women on party election lists. The case was brought by the far-right populists the Alternative for Germany (AfD). This is disappointing, wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung because “So far, the hope that the proportion of women will increase by itself has not been fulfilled. It only looks good in the parliaments of the city-states of Hamburg and Bremen, where the proportion of women is more than 40 percent. In Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Thuringia and Berlin, however, only around one third are women. In Bavaria, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, they make up just over a quarter of MPs, and even less in Green-ruled Baden-Württemberg. In the Bundestag, only 31% of MPs are women.”

The Tagesschau warned that the ruling could also send a signal to Brandenburg, where constitutional judges are also due decide whether the parity rule complies with the state constitution. Despite the ruling, the Frankfurter Allgemeine reported that the Left, Greens and SPD are continuing to plan on such a rule for Bundestag elections.

A Welt article on the other hand argued the parity law was clearly unconstitutional, “The Basic Law (the constitution) stipulates otherwise. It emphasizes the freedom of the parties. They can position themselves as they see fit.” It quoted a former constitutional judge who said that the principle of equality in the Basic Law aims to promote gender equality, but does not prescribe certain results. The article continued, “Most parties fail to get more women into their ranks and into parliament. They are unable to provide enough female members for mandates because their own officials are against it……the motto is : We pass a law that forces us to bring more women into parliament, thereby obscuring how unable we are to solve a problem that we have created ourselves. It does not work that way – neither in Thuringia nor in Brandenburg, and certainly not in the federal government.”

Racism and extremism

Last week, there was criticism in Germany over the cancellation of a study on racial profiling by German police forces; CSU Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was reported as saying that it was ‘not needed’, although SPD Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said that she would like the study to go ahead. This week, the Spiegel reported that Seehofer is delaying a further study on “right-wing extremist attitudes and actions” amongst police officials, which was requested by the German police training authority. The proposal paper for the study noted that reports of right-wing extremist attitudes and actions by the police have increased in recent months.

The Zeit examined the criticism of Seehofer in the last few weeks, noting that “an experienced long-term politician like Seehofer apparently does not want to be driven by competing forces, by coalition partners the SPD or the opposition, least of all by the police-defenders, the AfD,” and criticised Seehofer and his department for allowing membership of the AfD by civil servants, unless those civil servants run for public office.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Lower Saxony’s SPD Interior Minister Boris Pistorius wants to organise a study on police work and racism in a network of several federal states. “I would like us to tackle this, with or without the federal government,” he said.

The Deustche Welle examined the issue of right-extremism in the police this week, pointing to the lack of studies and the possibility that there is a network of right-wing extremists in the force. For example, “a police detective started a right-wing extremist chat group that compiled an “enemies list” containing the names of thousands of politicians, journalists and activists. When authorities searched the man’s apartment, they found guns, flash grenades and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. The man claims many more police and soldiers are in the group. Furthermore, swastika graffiti and anti-Islam slogans are a regular feature at the Berlin and Brandenburg police academies.”

The Interior Ministry also supported the Stuttgart police this week: the police in Stuttgart had received severe criticism across Germany, after they confirmed that they are investigating suspects’ family backgrounds following a riot on June 21st – specifically, they aimed to find out whether suspects had a migration background. This was criticised as racial profiling, not far from the AfD’s attempts to exploit the riots: in the last sitting week of parliament, for example, the AfD forced a debate on the riots in which parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel spoke of “uncontrolled immigration,” through which many “young men, primarily from the Islamic culture,” who “despise the state”, came to Germany. She and other AfD MPs laughed at Cem Özdemir, a Green Party MP for Stuttgart when he said he had experienced racism, reported the Welt.

The AfD continues to be plagued with problems. Last week, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution released its annual report. Noting that right-wing extremism was the greatest threat to security at the moment, the BfV counted a total of 32,080 right-wing extremists in Germany last year – an increase of 30% compared to the previous year; the rise is because the BfV now include members of the AfD youth organization “Junge Alternative” and the AfD’s nationalist wing, the Flügel, which has been dissolved but is still active as a network. Now, reported the Berliner Zeitung, more and more AfD members have been offering to cooperate with the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). A spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior in Brandenburg was reported as saying, “Since the AfD in Brandenburg was classified (as a suspected case), the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has seen a surge in AfD members throughout Germany who are offering their cooperation.”

Corona in the UK

Several German papers reported Boris Johnson‘s late ruling on face masks in shops this week, with the Zeit commenting that, “The UK is the worst affected country by the pandemic in Europe, with more than 45,000 deaths from the virus. The country ranks third behind the United States and Brazil in global death statistics. The government is accused of reacting to the pandemic too late and not correctly. England also made this decision much later than many other countries such as Germany or Italy. In Scotland, wearing masks in shops is already mandatory.“

Party political funding

Political parties in Germany are financed by membership fees, funds from the states and donations. If parties receive individual donations of over 50,000 euros, they must report this to the President of the Bundestag, who then published the information. The Zeit reported that all the parties represented in the Bundestag, apart from the CDU, have lost big donations in the first half of this year; the Bundestag administration said that the CDU received five grants of over 50,000 totalling 624,000 euros (more than in the whole of 2019). The AfD received one individual donation of 100,000 euros but the CSU, SPD, FDP, Greens and the Left did not receive large donations.

In 2019, in contrast, the CDU received large donations of 475,002 euros, the CSU 485,000, the SPD 206,651, the Greens 335,001, the FDP 360,000 euros and the Left Party 60,000 euros, while the aid received none. Most of the donations were received towards the end of the year.

Refugees

A Welt am Sonntag survey this week showed that a majority of Germans want to see a change in the asylum system ib Europe to end unauthorised entry of asylum seekers; at the same time, there should be an increase in the number of admission of vulnerable refugees directly from the camps in the crisis regions.

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