[Discussion] European Political Landscape

There are three elections occurring over the coming year that are of huge importance. They are:

Italian Constitutional Referendum - 04/12/16
French Presidential Election - 1st Round 23/04/17, 2nd Round 07/05/17
German Federal Election - 22/10/17

This thread is to discuss the political realities, results and fallout around these elections. The scope is broad but try to keep the post relevant to the elections referenced above.

Edit - Updated thread title

I <3 Prederick

Prederick wrote:

EDIT: The fact that no-one has headlined this story "Things Getting Messi in Spain" is a INTERNATIONAL TRAVESTY.

Brilliant!

European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont

A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s ousted president a day after she jailed eight members of the region’s separatist government pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence.

In the latest twist in Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades, a national court judge on Friday issued a European arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont in response to a request from state prosecutors.

Puigdemont flew to Brussels earlier this week with a handful of his deposed ministers after Spanish authorities removed him and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with the declaration despite repeated warnings that it was illegal.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer has already said his client will fight extradition without seeking political asylum.

You know, I'd don't have a lot of time for Puigdemont. He marched a load of people up a hill and then bolted the moment things get serious. Frankly, he completely miscalculated and it's patently clear that he or Catalonia doesn't have the political will to follow through. This is an issue that is over now for at least a generation if not several.

Expect Rajoy to emulate Canada and up the requirements to secede. We all may have the opinion that the heavy handed tactics during the referendum were over the top but clearly Rajoy knew better. The Independence Movement brought a knife to a gun fight, plain and simple.

It was a really disappointing rush toward brinksmanship, and that left little room for progress or compromise.

So, catchup with Macron, it seems he has gotten over his first big hurdle:

It was expected to be the mother of all French political battles. But the first stage of President Emmanuel Macron’s reform of the country’s sclerotic labour market was completed not with a bang but a whimper. The million protesters who far left-leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon promised to deploy on the Champs-Élysées never materialised. Almost weekly demonstrations organised by the communist trade union CGT flopped.

Macron’s reforms seek to reverse the prevalence of temporary positions, by imposing high social charges on short-term contracts and offering lower charges for permanent jobs.

Macron was inspired by Nordic countries, not the “Anglo-Saxon” model. “We’ve maintained the prinicple of protecting everyone against the risks of poverty, old age, illness and unemployment,” says an adviser. “But the status of labour must not be an obstacle to a competitive economy. We have kept our model, but adapted it to the 21st century.”

I'd love to hear some local feedback but these are principles I can get behind and it sounds the French can too.

As for the other big player in Europe, Germany negotiations over coalition have collapsed. It appears another election might be on the cards. Not sure what Lindner and the FDP are thinking but I suspect that they are one of these parties who don't actually want to govern. Time will tell.

A bit surprised about Germany. But it will be interesting to follow what happens now.

As for Macron - can’t figure out if what he is implementing really is a Nordic model - seems like it’s at most half the model so far (which might be worse than nothing) - but though I guess I am biased, I do think the Nordic labour market model is a good one to follow.

Axon wrote:

I'd love to hear some local feedback but these are principles I can get behind and it sounds the French can too.

There have been a couple of min strikes here and there, people complaining, and threatening to take to the streets, but there has been little to no impact on daily life. I saw like ten vans of law enforcement move out last Thursday, but it's been business as usual, really.

Shadout wrote:

A bit surprised about Germany. But it will be interesting to follow what happens now.

The vibe (at least in the media) is that this may be the end of Merkel.

No single voice is louder in EU circles than Germany's and Angela Merkel's. If she is silenced politically, that will have a knock-on effect beyond German borders.

So is she finished?

There's talk here of "Merkel-Dämmerung", literally 'the Merkel twilight', meaning the petering out of the Merkel era but I wouldn't write her off just yet.

She's a seasoned political fighter who has already served three terms in office and has as good as said she'd be damned if she was going to give up now.

But this is certainly the biggest crisis of her career.

Once dubbed the Queen of Germany and even the Empress of Europe, the extent to which her crown has slipped was painfully obvious as she was forced (through smilingly gritted teeth) to patiently answer repeated questions on German TV as to whether she was the political equivalent of yesterday's toast.

But Mrs Merkel still enjoys personal popularity ratings many EU leaders would dream of and she knows full well her party has no other viable candidate for chancellor.

According to a poll by Forsa, 45% of Germans favour new elections. Mrs Merkel says, if no coalition can be formed, she too favours that option over heading a minority government.

So it's a real possibility.

For many young Germans it's a thrilling prospect.

Frustrated with consensus politics which they view as safe and boring, they hope this could be the beginning of a political earthquake in Germany - a bleeding out of those they see as the fuddy-duddy old guard.

They want German politicians to obsess less about avoiding debt and instead to invest more in their own country - to improve roads and rail services and poor internet connections outside the big cities.

Germany has the lowest infrastructure investment rate of any big, rich economy.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the British media are terrible at projecting desired outcomes onto European politics as opposed reporting the reality. To be fair, that BBC article is just providing clickbait to an UK audience and contradicts itself fairly quickly but it reveals a mindset or group think.

Gun to my head, the most likely outcome of all of this is Merkel heading a minority government or heading a CDU/SPD grand coalition. She remains one of the most popular leaders in all of Europe and there isn't someone waiting in the wings to unseat her. She's wounded, for sure, but talk of her demise are premature.

Yep, pretty much what Axon wrote. That article projects a wholly different vibe than what I'm getting here in Bavaria - whose CSU has been at odds with Merkel and the CDU (in spite of being sister parties) numerous times in the past years.

I've also kept reading/hearing that new elections are the least favorable option, and that the only winners in that scenario are likely to be the far-right AfD.

The outright refusal by the SPD in regards to a new grand coalition is meeting resistance within that party, so I wouldn't be surprised if that comes to pass anew, or possibly a "Kenya" coalition (because of party colors) with CDU/CSU (black), SPD (red) and the Greens (you figure it out). (The previous attempt with the FDP (yellow) and Greens was called "Jamaica").

Not having researched any numbers - the statement about infrastructure investment seems surprising. The past few years it has seemed like I could rarely travel 25 km in any direction without hitting a detour because of a road being repaired or newly built. Train service seems to have a fair number of outages/replacement lines as well due to track construction. While broadband penetration is still not as great as one would like - especially in rural areas - there are extensive, multi-year projects in my region as well.

Keep in mind that this is Bavaria, however, which, along with neighboring Baden-Würtenberg and Hessen, are the economic motors here.

As for the slow rate of digitalisation of services, that cannot only be chalked up to lacking investment. It likely has a lot to do with German's deep mistrust about sharing personal information as well. You can't turn on the news for half an hour without hearing the word "Datenschutz" (data protection), which is not just about information shared online, but about video surveillance, signing up for a supermarket rebate card, getting health insurance, or even having someone take your photo (in extreme cases). When getting my electronic national identification card, you have to allow the unlocking of the e-functions, and the local authority explicitly warned that if I chose to do that, then someone who got my card could do all sorts of horrible things with my digital signature. Also, there were few available services in my area for which it would be useful.
I unlocked it anyway.

Thank you for the on-the-ground description of what's going on!

Actually, AUs_TBirD, infrastructure spending is an issue Germany are having. It is an issue.

Axon wrote:

Actually, AUs_TBirD, infrastructure spending is an issue Germany are having. It is an issue.

How much of it is a Federal issue? I wouldn't be surprised if the Bavarian state is pretty flush for pothole fixing. Not an FT subscriber but the Economist mentions specifically the northern states, these are definitely areas which have been hit harder by the changing economic conditions. I had a friend do a post grad in Lubeck and his feeling was the area used to do a lot of trade with East Germany but once you can just drive it lost a huge part of its lively hood. Then because it used to be in West Germany it wasn't eligible for the reunification investment which was a bitter point for the locals.

There are some potholed roads here (the main road through this neighborhood being a prime example...digging it up and patching it seems to be a local pastime), but for the most part, the area is doing well. Schools, as far as I can tell, are in pretty decent shape for the most part or are being actively renovated/modernized (I know, since I've been the architect on several of them in the past years).

Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and sometimes Hessen are known as "giver-states", meaning that they generate surpluses in their budgets which are in part redistributed across Germany at the federal level. All the other German states are "takers". This is a bit of a sore point for some in the giver-states.

I'm not intimately familiar with the condition outside of this southern region, but I do occasionally hear things like 30% of bridges are in dire need of repairs, and another 15% are at the end of their lifespan (sounds awfully similar to what I've read coming out of the US as well).

I can also tell you that the A6 Autobahn is frequently at max capacity. It might be the main automotive artery from central Europe to France and beyond. It carries traffic from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, as well as a significant share from Poland, Hungary and beyond. I live right by it, and avoid it if at all possible. On some days, the right lane is an uninterrupted line of bumper-to-bumper trucks as far as the eye can see.
...The construction sites near Nürnberg certainly don't help either.

Bavaria has been governed by the CSU (Christian Social Union) pretty much since 1946 (exception being 1950-54). They are more conservative than Merkel's center-right CDU, but they appear to be doing something right economically (no matter what I may think of some of their other policies).

Pretty decent analysis of the current political situation in Germany.

To add a bit to Prederick's post from the 22nd about the End of Merkel. The tone may be shifting a bit in the direction of his posted BBC article.
I picked up the new Spiegel (the German equivalent of Time magazine) today, and the cover story is a picture of Merkel in front of a black background and the face of, I believe, the leader of the FDP party, who pulled out of coalition negotiations. The headline is "Hour Zero. A country without....direction. ....unity. ....a chancellor."
Caveat: I haven't had time to read it yet, especially since it was appropriated by other household residents as soon as I brought it home

Stern magazine (similar to Spiegel) ran with a title page with "....the end of the Merkel Era - why Germany must vote anew". Not yet sure if they are serious (since polls suggest the results will be largely the same), or if they are just trying for....what's the print equivalent of "clickbait"? Salesbait?

Focus magazine (my third pillar of news magazine) decided to go with the importance of taking care of ones liver.

Quick round up of stories over the holidays.

European Commission has triggered the Article 7 process in relation to Poland. As somebody who is in favour of the European Project, this is something I don't like to see but has to be done. As Frans Timmermans put it:

It is with a heavy heart that we have decided to initiate Article 7.1, but the facts leave us with no choice.

The Commission are damned if they do and damned if they don't. I work with a Polish guy but I won't repeat his opinion as I always like some local views regardless of which position you support.

Rajoy's hope that a snap election in Catalonia backfires. This isn't going away. As the Brexit talks heat up expect Scotland, Catalonia, Northern Ireland and others to start making noises about EU membership processes.

Italians going to the polls in March. Not quite the keystone that France is but worth keeping an eye on. Expect tons of articles from the Anglosphere predicting the end of either the EU or the Euro.

To add to your post...the SPD has agreed to coalition talks with Angela Merkel's CDU and the Bavarian CSU parties.

One fear the SPD has is that its legislative successes in a new grand coalition eill be forgotten or attributed to Merkel, as they believe happened during the last four years (also CDU/CSU and SPD grand/great coalition - it is called "große Koalition, or "GroKo" for short, because CSU and SPD are the two parties that consistently dominate election results.

Czech election: The politically incorrect president dividing a nation

Well, some of this sounds familiar.

Czechs go to the polls this weekend in the first round of a presidential election. The two-day vote is being seen as a referendum on the outspoken 73-year-old incumbent Milos Zeman, and the direction of the country.

One of Milos Zeman's first acts as president was highly symbolic.

On 3 April 2013, a month after his election, Mr Zeman watched as the blue and yellow EU flag was raised over Prague Castle, seat of the Czech president - something his predecessor Vaclav Klaus had staunchly refused to do.

The act went some way to reassuring at least some of the urban, liberal, pro-European Czechs - most of whom did not vote for him - that the country's geopolitical position would, perhaps, be secure in his hands after all.

That reassurance did not last long. Today the country is split like never before over President Zeman and where his true loyalties lie.

Outspoken

For most of the candidates vying to replace him in the upcoming presidential election, restating the Czech Republic's Western orientation is high on the agenda.

"Prague Castle needs to be fumigated," Michal Horacek, music producer, betting agency entrepreneur and now candidate for president, told the BBC.

"I want the castle to be like a shop window, a bright light of transparency for this country."

President Zeman has become one of the EU's most outspoken opponents of sanctions against Moscow, with his political ally - newly appointed Prime Minister Andrej Babis - echoing his view.

His coterie of close advisers include the founder of a Czech subsidiary of Russian oil giant Lukoil.

The president also made improving relations with Beijing a priority, hosting the Chinese president in a lavish state visit.

It is not something that everyone in the country sees as beneficial.

"I don't want the Czech Republic to become a Trojan horse for entities like the Russian Federation and China," Mr Horacek says.

President Zeman's most serious challenger - the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiri Drahos - is no less blunt.

"We say in Czech that 'the fish stinks from the head' and that perfectly sums up Mr Zeman's term," he says.

"He has damaged our standing internationally, he has alienated key economic and security partners, he has cheapened the public discourse and increasingly he is indulging extremists."

On these two last points - perhaps here more than anywhere else - Milos Zeman divides the nation.

I found this heartening, if only to know that the crazy is everywhere. Heard anything about this AUs?

Hundreds of Germans are living as if the Reich never ended

Not the 3rd one, to be clear.

The so-called Reichsbürger are convinced that the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) does not exist. In its place the old German Empire endures, which in their telling was never properly abolished and persists in the borders of either 1871 or 1937. There are nearly as many lines of pseudo-legal reasoning as adherents. One rests on the fact that the Allies never signed a peace treaty with Germany after the second world war. Another cites selectively from a decision by Germany’s supreme court in 1973 regarding an agreement between West and East Germany.

Huh. Sounds familiar, kinda like our sovereign citizens here, but it's still missing something...

The upshot, say Reichsbürger, is that the Federal Republic is really a limited-liability company based in Frankfurt and controlled by a Jewish world government based in America.

...THERE it is.

Yeah, the loonies are everywhere. The incident at the end, where the police officer was killed, was all over the news when it happened (just 40 km from me) about 18 months ago. That sh*tbag now got a life sentence. The police were actually coming because he had been hoarding weapons. The incident has put these nutjobs in the focus, and they are being monitored and pursued much more intensely now. There were reports that one of the police (who wasn't part of the raid), knew of the danger posed by this guy and didn't report it to those going over there, but apparently the evidence didn't support that sufficiently, as the investigation in that direction has been terminated.

I've seen what I believe to be a Reich-flag even closer to me...guessing about 25 km, flying over a house in some village.

In the past two years there have also been far-right incidents in the military. The "highlight" was one officer (?), who registered himself as a refugee from the middle east, and was planning to carry out a terror attack in order to stir up hate against foreigners/refugees.

Prederick wrote:

I found this heartening, if only to know that the crazy is everywhere. Heard anything about this AUs?

Hundreds of Germans are living as if the Reich never ended

Not the 3rd one, to be clear.

The so-called Reichsbürger are convinced that the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) does not exist. In its place the old German Empire endures, which in their telling was never properly abolished and persists in the borders of either 1871 or 1937. There are nearly as many lines of pseudo-legal reasoning as adherents. One rests on the fact that the Allies never signed a peace treaty with Germany after the second world war. Another cites selectively from a decision by Germany’s supreme court in 1973 regarding an agreement between West and East Germany.

Huh. Sounds familiar, kinda like our sovereign citizens here, but it's still missing something...

The upshot, say Reichsbürger, is that the Federal Republic is really a limited-liability company based in Frankfurt and controlled by a Jewish world government based in America.

...THERE it is.

What a bunch of morons. Why would the Jewish World Government, having free pick of the entire world, choose our 2nd World cesspool of no healthcare and no government services and actual hecking Nazis running around unchecked?

Young SPD activists in last-ditch bid to rule out Merkel deal

Germany’s young social democrats are demanding a clean break with Angela Merkel’s conservatives before a crucial vote on Sunday that will decide the country’s political future.

The SPD leadership, which unanimously backs entering a “grand coalition” with centre-right parties (the so-called GroKo), and the youth wing of the party (the Jusos) were making last-ditch scrambles for support on Saturday among the 600 delegates eligible to vote at a special party conference in Bonn. The deal they are voting on has the potential to topple both Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz.

The warring factions within Germany’s oldest political party know that the decision could make or break the SPD. The party has, for years, seen its popularity slide, most dramatically in September’s general election – by which time it had served in a coalition for eight of the 12 years of Merkel’s rule – when it scored its worst result for almost 80 years.

Schulz, who was initially vehemently opposed to a coalition, has appealed to members to recognise their sense of historic responsibility, recalling how the SPD was the only party to vote against the law that enabled the Hitler dictatorship in 1933. Now, he said, the party has the responsibility to revive social democracy by offering a fresh vision for Germany and Europe from within government.

But opponents to a deal, led by the Jusos (Jungsozialisten), argue that the responsibility lies in ensuring the party’s survival, which they say is possible only if it has the chance to renew itself in opposition. They also want to prevent the far-right AfD from becoming the main opposition in the Bundestag, a position it would hold in the case of a grand coalition.

I've no time for people who want to use opposition to improve their parties electoral prospect while at the same time using another party as a bogeyman for doing the same. Either govern or don't. It's patently obvious now that Trump and Farage never actually intended to succeed in their political goals but remain as a constant voice for "silent majority", improving their bank balance as merely a lucky side effect. Serious parties of government should not be validating that tactic.

On the other hand, it does give Schulz leverage in negotiations so who knows

Prederick wrote:

I found this heartening, if only to know that the crazy is everywhere.

This one is actually crazier than most crazy American news:

Far-right group built gallows, tried to arrest London mayor over criticism of Trump

Well, the article does start with them being supporters of Trump...

Sovereign citizens are an American thing, I think. It's the magical thinking about Common Law that translates it over to the UK. (Unless someone knows whether the Brits had the idea first...?)

Robear wrote:

Sovereign citizens are an American thing, I think. It's the magical thinking about Common Law that translates it over to the UK. (Unless someone knows whether the Brits had the idea first...?)

If it is a British thing, then it didn't hit anything like the same level of zeitgeist as it has here. There's been crazy folk who've tried to set up their own country consisting in it's entirety of a disused offshore anti-aircraft platform, but no-one takes them seriously.

Disclaimer - I've barely set foot in the UK in the last 10 years, so it could have taken off in that time, and I'd be none the wiser.

Jonman wrote:
Robear wrote:

Sovereign citizens are an American thing, I think. It's the magical thinking about Common Law that translates it over to the UK. (Unless someone knows whether the Brits had the idea first...?)

If it is a British thing, then it didn't hit anything like the same level of zeitgeist as it has here. There's been crazy folk who've tried to set up their own country consisting in it's entirety of a disused offshore anti-aircraft platform, but no-one takes them seriously.

Disclaimer - I've barely set foot in the UK in the last 10 years, so it could have taken off in that time, and I'd be none the wiser.

nope. That recent video is literally the first I've seen of it.

I swear to God, I'm not trying to turn this into a all-Deutschland-all-the-time thread, but all the interesting stories seem to be there right now.

Aus, I assume this has been greeted there with the same kind of disbelieving laughter I've seen on this side of the Atlantic?

A member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric, has surprised observers by converting to Islam.

Arthur Wagner sat on the party's executive committee in the state of Brandenburg but recently stepped down for reasons he says are unrelated.

The 48-year-old, who is still a member of the party, told one newspaper that it was a "private matter".

On its website, the AfD proclaims that "Islam does not belong in Germany".

AfD supporters have regularly held anti-Islam rallies, and in last year's federal elections the party used posters depicting housewives in niqab (face veils) to press home its message.

But a spokesman for the party in Brandenburg has insisted that Mr Wagner's conversion is "no problem" for the party.

"Religion is a private matter. We support the constitutional right of religious freedom," Daniel Friese was quoted as saying.

Mr Wagner, who is of Russian origin, previously belonged to German chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

However in a video published in 2017, he is shown saying that although he had once been an admirer of Mrs Merkel, her decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of migrants during the 2015-16 crisis had proved he was "totally wrong".

He claimed Germany had "mutated into another country" as a result.

Mr Wagner was also listed as previously belonging to a group called "Christians in the AfD".

Germany coalition talks: SPD membership spike sparks concern

Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have seen a spike in membership applications, raising concerns over the future of a possible coalition deal with Angela Merkel's conservatives.

The rise comes as the youth wing Jusos has urged people to join the party to block the repeat of a grand coalition.

SPD leader Martin Schulz has promised to put a final agreement to a vote of the party's 450,000 members.

The party could change the voting rights of new members, reports say.

At the weekend, delegates narrowly agreed to start formal negotiations with Mrs Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

Since then, the SPD regional offices have seen a surge in membership applications.

In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's largest state, 600 new applications were submitted. In Berlin, there were 300, Reuters news agency reports.