[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

Here we go again, folks. Interesting stance from the Commission. The rumour is that Merkel is due to stand down from the leader of the CDU and out of the German government soon and wants to put her name forward as the head of the European Commission. Or at the very least a German. Which she will want to be her. If that is true, with Macron at being the current political leader, Merkel leading the Commission and Britain sidelined we could see some substantial changes in project in the coming years.

Basically, what I'm saying is Salvini and Di Maio may find an EU that is not in the mood to be conciliatory. Poland and Hungary are, as we say in Ireland, taking the piss at the moment but you get the feeling in interviews with many of the stakeholders of the project that they've run out of patience with those flouting the treaties.

Anyway, it all remains to be seen but do keep in mind that Italy has a relatively weak hand here. The vast majority of the Italian electoral want to remain in the EU and the euro so any threat is hollow. However, I do have some sympathy for the mess Italy is in. I've a suspicion here that if the Italian government does something about it's sclerotic labour market and other reforms, a bit of movement of debt controls would be found.

Perhaps Salvini and Di Maio know all this and the clash with the EU is all for home consumption. Fight the good fight and spin the final deal as a massive victory. Good politics for them, one would argue. Just be aware that this doesn't quite have the parallels with Brexit and is more related to Greece.

Oh, and I'll repeat my prediction from the euro crisis: This will result in greater structures and stronger governance around the European project. The only fatal outcome for the project is once France and/or Germany turns against it.

Not that Merkel would necessarily be a bad head of European Commission - probably better than any alternatives right now at least. But that could lead to an even more negative view on EU among the many who want to blame everything on Germany.

Speaking of Merkel...

Both the parties in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition have suffered heavy losses in a regional election, early results show.

Her centre-right CDU party and the centre-left SPD were each 10% down on the previous election in Hesse state.

SPD leader Andrea Nahles said the federal government's poor performance had "significantly" contributed to the disappointing result.

She told reporters the state of the government was "unacceptable".

The federal government must find a "reasonable way of working", after what looks to be the SPD's worst result in the western state since 1946.

The CDU must agree to a "clear, binding roadmap" ahead of a scheduled coalition review next year. "Then we'll be able to check whether this government is still the right place for us," she said.

Both the CDU and the SPD have seen their support slip nationally in recent months, and the coalition has already come close to collapse.

"The message to the parties ruling in Berlin is people want fewer disputes and more focus on the important issues," state premier and CDU member Volker Bouffier told supporters.

Meanwhile the left-leaning Greens surged into third place in the Hesse regional government, with about 19.5%.

And the far-right AfD will enter the regional assembly for the first time, having secured about 12% of the vote.

I'm surprised we aren't seeing more discussion about this. I guess people are too absorbed, heh.

Because it doesn't really change very much. Sure, the CSU and the SPD have fallen but the Greens and the FDP have increased. The Green's surge in the last two elections are the real narrative but that doesn't sell papers :).

Be careful reading the US and UK media as they really struggle to impart proportional systems and their functioning to their readers. What the media tend to do is frame it as a zero-sum game like in the UK and US which is just not accurate and gives false narratives like above. Parties rarely lose votes too one party directly in our systems and their reasons for losing them are broad. Votes tend to go in all directions for all reasons. The guiding assumption in the UK/US media is the votes are going to anti-immigration/anti-EU parties. Some are but the vast majority are not.

Remember how the US and UK media thought the Dutch were going anti-EU because the only anti-EU party was leading the polls? Or recently how Putin's puppet Jansa was going to be leader in Slovenia after topping the polls? Of course neither happened but I suppose it's weird seeing countries be lead by leaders who actually win a majority of votes unlike the US and UK

Long story short, these elections just indicate Germans want a stronger Europe and climate change is becoming a quite high electoral issue. And Merkel is on her way out, no question now.

I'd still love to hear from some local voices, AUs_TBirD?

Edit: Merkel definitely on her way out. She is not seeking a role in the Commission. Well, I was 100% wrong. It certainly changed quite a bit

There's a few narratives here.

First, the AfD. I'm sorely disappointed to see those dimwits gain enough traction to get over the 5% hurdle and into the state governments but after the last federal election it was a given. Also, looking at what's going on in other countries not only in Europe but around the world, I'd say that so far the swing to the right is still being handled fairly well in Germany. Still, I'd like nothing more than to see them gone, and the perceptible growing xenophobic sentiments thwarted. We'll see what happens next year, when some of the eastern states, Saxony among them (notoriously the most right-wing state at the moment), get their elections.

The SPD made a big mistake by yet again joining the grand coalition with the CDU after last year's federal elections. The thing is, everyone knew it was a mistake - well, everyone but the SPD, it would appear. Nobody who voted for them wants to see them do the CDU's bidding, but that's exactly what's (mostly) been happening ever since they joined forces in 2013. Because of this they already did terribly last year (as did the CDU).
Not only did they join another grand coalition last year anyway, but even now, after the even more disastrous results in these last two state elections (Bavaria and Hessen) they seem unwilling to change. If they don't correct course soon (which seems unlikely) I'm afraid they might not recover from this.

The Greens are profiting mostly from the SPD's weakness. Even though I would like to believe otherwise I currently am not under the impression that actual environmental policy is a primary motivating factor behind most people's voting behavior. Red/green (SPD/Greens) are associated because of prior coalitions, and that seems to me to be why people disillusioned with the SPD are moving to the Greens, not because of actual policy. The Greens themselves also have moved to the middle on a few issues in recent years.

The Linke (Left) is still stigmatized, probably because of the history of the DDR, but they are slowly gaining traction. I'm hoping that'll continue and they will someday be a much more prominent political force, especially now that the social democrats are beginning to fade.

I've been trying to keep tabs on politics these days, but a year or two ago I still wasn't paying very close attention, so take a pinch of salt with all of my takes.

So are AfD actually right wing in the economic sense? There are a lot of comparisons with UKIP but I wouldn't call UKIP's policies right wing economically. It's mostly nostalgia for the welfare state of the past with a side order of blaming foreigners for coming over here and wreaking it.

Ukip are well to the left of the Thatcherite Tories.

Priest at a service I was at this weekend made a couple of references to how great Poland is doing. Priest also had the same cadence and mannerisms as the sitting US president.

If Poland is doing great, then I want off the planet. Like right the eff now.
Poland is actually going back towards the Dark Ages, with the right to abortion being questioned anew, their MEP launching into sexist tirades, LGBTQ rights being threatened... it’a à mess and a very concerning one at that.

That was roughly my view on things in Poland, but it's "nice" to have confirmation.

I don't think that priest and I would be friends.

Indeed. I didn’t think you would be.

Granted, I’m not in Poland, I’m in France, so all my intel is secondhand.

I've a few Polish friends, work colleagues and parents of my children's friends that I've queried about their home country over the past few years. What I've learned is that It's similar to the US in that it very much breaks down over rural/urban divides with all the problems of the country blamed on elites, foreigners and minorities. Also there seems to be a healthy dose of false stories in order to further divide society. People talk of family members lost to nonsense they see, read and hear on the internet or TV.

Sound familiar?

The difference is here is that Poland is the largest recipient of EU funds and thumbing your nose at the Union is hardly wise. All the talk coming from the institutions is that they don't really care about Brexit anymore but instead the current members flouting the treaties. Ironically, Brexit has given those institutions a large stick to use against those rules breakers. Basically, if you hate it so much the door is over there. Put some manners on Liga Nord, that's for sure.

As for the realpolitik, budget negotiations are going to start up in earnest during this term and expect the Polish and Hungarian governments and MEPs to find themselves out in the cold. Seeing as the Polish general elections are set for November 2019 at the latest, it's not good time for PiS and their fellow travellers to be biting the hand that feeds it.

If Poland elects a government that isn't prepared to protect Hungary we are in for some interesting times. Of course, we have European elections between then and now which everyone and their dog suspects Putin will make a complete sh*t show. Whoo. Pie!

I am sure Russia is using their social media disruption strategy to even greater effect in Poland than in the US.

DoveBrown wrote:

So are AfD actually right wing in the economic sense? There are a lot of comparisons with UKIP but I wouldn't call UKIP's policies right wing economically. It's mostly nostalgia for the welfare state of the past with a side order of blaming foreigners for coming over here and wreaking it.

Ukip are well to the left of the Thatcherite Tories.

They are right-wing in the economic sense as well, yes. Though I have my suspicions that a majority of their base does not even know about that.

So, the French government has backed down. I have to say I'm sorely disappointed in Macron. I'm not saying a carbon tax is wrong but after removing tax on the rich while so many in France struggling to get by, this was bound to happen. Throw a spike in oil prices and this was the final straw. From my understanding, even after the deaths, 80% of the French public support the protests. I do sympathise. Was reform of France's wealth tax the pressing issue for the country?

Now, the French do love a good violent protest better than anybody but it's seems many are equating this to 68' which did lead to huge social liberalisation. Macron might get lucky with the falling price of oil but the cost of living in France is high and wages are stagnating. And with Marion Maréchal-Le Pen waiting in the wings, 2020 is becoming all the more serious for all of us.

Eleima, care to provide some better context?

Wasn’t the wealth tax badly designed? If it was the one the previous government made.
Higher taxes on gas seems very reasonable. But like most other things Macron has tried (like the work reform) it has to come with increased protection and benefits for the lowest incomes and unemployed.

The treaty of Marrakesh is going to be 'interesting' to understate it.
Open borders already back firing like crazy. Now we are welcoming more and
more immigration. While our immigration laws in The Netherlands aren't even
being used anymore. Flood gates were already open, now even more.
News is being repressed greatly about towns and cities unable to cope with this
influx. Not just the immigration part, that one is the easiest.
More the rape, theft and violence coming with it.

Sparhawk, what do you think the Treaty of Marrakesh is?

I’m not going to browbeat you or make snarky comments. I’m genuinely curious how you’ve arrived at your conclusion.

Shadout wrote:

Wasn’t the wealth tax badly designed? If it was the one the previous government made.
Higher taxes on gas seems very reasonable. But like most other things Macron has tried (like the work reform) it has to come with increased protection and benefits for the lowest incomes and unemployed.

I’ve no idea but from what I’ve been told/read the rich basically got a tax break from the reform.

As you said, this is not the way to do this. If Macron wanted to lead an EU wide transformation of our economy away from carbon, I could see that. Taxing people already squeezed is hardly going to cut it.

Axon wrote:

Sparhawk, what do you think the Treaty of Marrakesh is?

I’m not going to browbeat you or make snarky comments. I’m genuinely curious how you’ve arrived at your conclusion.

To show I'm not trying catch you out, I'm posting a link to what I understand the Treaty to be. I'm merely asking you what you think it is and what is forming that opinion. I'm not looking to change your mind and I'm perfectly happy to accept I'm wrong but I'd like to understand your view and what is informing it.

I hate to put words in someone else's mouth but I think Sparrowhawk is referring to the "Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration" which is to be adopted at the upcoming UN conference in Marrakesh. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global...

Cool, I was in the wrong. That's not even on our radar over here.

If part of your story is 'news being repressed', particularly somewhere like the Netherlands, I think you should take a long, hard look at your theories, because they are sounding mightily conspiratorial. I'm not saying there are no problems with immigration, but that part of it really sets off alarm bells for me.

Thing is, once you read the actual compact it appears to be pretty mundane stuff, hence Ireland will sign it with almost no debate. Sparhawk, could you point out the problematic sections of the compact?

Axon wrote:

So, the French government has backed down. I have to say I'm sorely disappointed in Macron. I'm not saying a carbon tax is wrong but after removing tax on the rich while so many in France struggling to get by, this was bound to happen. Throw a spike in oil prices and this was the final straw. From my understanding, even after the deaths, 80% of the French public support the protests. I do sympathise. Was reform of France's wealth tax the pressing issue for the country?

Now, the French do love a good violent protest better than anybody but it's seems many are equating this to 68' which did lead to huge social liberalisation. Macron might get lucky with the falling price of oil but the cost of living in France is high and wages are stagnating. And with Marion Maréchal-Le Pen waiting in the wings, 2020 is becoming all the more serious for all of us.

Eleima, care to provide some better context?

Sorry, I've been meaning to write for days, but the week was kinda crazy. Normal, chasing kids, lots of work because understaffed kind of crazy.

So the gilets jaunes. Let's me start off by saying that I was not exactly pleased with them, because their movement first came to my attention on November 24th, when we marched for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Over fifty thousand people marched all across France on that Saturday, about half of them in Paris, and that historical, symbolic march was eclipsed in the media by the gilets jaunes. We were not pleased. Not with the media's reporting, not with the gilets jaunes (who then went on earlier this week to issue a "but why aren't feminists joining us" statement - eff them). They've also set up blockades across the country. Some colleagues of mine were unable to come into work (despite telling the gilets jaunes that they work in ICUs and ERs). A nurse friend of mine was prevented from making her house calls. So yeah, not a fan. There have also been reports of racists slurs and violence against people of color which is just eff'ing unacceptable (people boxing a woman in, as she's terrified in her car, and they're basically telling her "to go back to [her] country" simply because she's not white - unnacceptable).

There's this poll making the rounds, which says that 80% of French people support the movement. That's not my experience at all. That poll has major issues, namely sample size, as well as strong bias (it was conducted by a network which has since taken major flak for the way they're reporting).

What has indeed happen last Saturday was some violence on the Champs Elysées, around and in the Arc de Triomphe. Artifacts were stolen and damage. A lot of us are furious. Some gilets jaunes are saying it's not them, but anarchists, and fringe movements. I will grant them that some videos have surfaced of gilets jaunes circling the Unknown Soldier's Tomb beneath the Arc de triomphe, in order to protect it. Still, it's pretty shameful. Striking and marching is a right in this country, no one has ever disputed that, but this kind of violence is just unacceptable (I might be using that word a lot, but there really is no other). A lot of us are concerned about the situation.

However, life is pretty much continuing as usual. I live further away from the Champs and though I did see people blocking the plaza nearby last Saturday, the protest were peaceful if a bit forceful (they do try to make you wear the jackets and declare your allegiance to their cause). The kids and I passed through unmolested. Tomorrow is a bit of an unknown though. There are rumors flying, and no one is sure where they'll set up blockades in the capital. Some are saying my neighborhood, and a lot of shops are closing tomorrow, as a precaution. In this pre-holiday season, I can't imagine this is good for business.

In the end, the gilets jaunes are harming fellow citizens. Instead of blocking the Palais de l'Elysée or Matignon (respectively the President's and the Prime Minister's residences), they are making things difficult for fellow citizens. They aren't earning any goodwill.

On Réunion island, out in the Indian Ocean, things got even worse. I've heard from a friend, and life had basically crawled to a halt, as schools were closed and access to gas stations was denied. This lasted two weeks, and the hospitals even declared a state of emergency (a Plan Blanc which I've only ever seen during the terror attacks, every hospital personnel gets called in and you basically have to stay until the Plan Blanc is lifted). Things seemed to have settled down there, according to my source, though.

Paris is still an unknown. I'm hoping I'll still manage to catch a train, as my grandfather is seriously ill in a hospital in the suburbs, but I've zero guarantee I'll be able to. Bright side is I live on hospital grounds, so I'll be able to come in (have a truckload of catching up to do because we're understaffed, see opening statement).

This was Eleima, rambly Goodjer correspondent in Paris.

Really appreciate the response, Eleima. Putting aside the conduct, by no means condoning it, of the gilet jaunes*, what about the underlying issues they are protesting about? Are they just to scatter shot to make any tangible effect? Are their solutions behind it or is it just a mass of people with various axe to grind? Is there widespread support for some of the issues they are raising? This is the element that is exceptionally hard to get a handle on over here.

On a wider point, universal income's day has to come but that's discussion probably belongs in another thread.

*They are so jarring to us over here in the UK and Ireland because we relate them to our family holidays in France. Thought you might find some humour in that

Thank you Eleima.

I view the gilets jaunes "movement" with a lot of suspicion as well. Not only on the surface level, as burning cars to protest fuel prices is so mind-boggingly hypocritical and counter-productive. And yeah, physical violence of any kind is usually a one-way ticket to plummeting public support, so that 80% approval rating feels wrong to me as well.

A few weeks ago I read some articles (in Flemish media) that spoke of a direct link between these protests and the extreme-right. And sure enough, when the protests first made its appearance in our capital, Voorpost members were just as ubiquitous as the 50 others there. Who refused to condemn the Voorpost members, no they were a-political. Sure buddy.

I would love for a decent media outlet to investigate further, as I've seen nothing but silence on this topic. Maybe I'm too suspicious, but the vibes coming of these protests (French flags everywhere, talks of defending 'the country', framing Macron as a dictator, Russian trolls exaggerating and emphasizing police violence) feel off to me.

At its core, the protesters have (had?) a point: once again, the burden of a necessary societal shift has been put solely on the (lower) middle class. But that's where my empathy stops.

You're right, Axon. I hadn't mentioned the object of the protests at all. And for good reason. To this day, it's still somewhat unclear what they're protesting. There's a general sense that it's about cost of life, the fuel tax. But there's no widespread support, no, not at all. It's unsurprising that you would have a hard time getting a handle on it, because there's a lot of uncertainties.
The thing is, this isn't a movement like ones we've seen before. Unions are usually the ones organizing and spearheading protests, leading negotiation talks. Not so here.

The movement does seem to be flagging a bit. Things were much calmer last Saturday though many stores closed down for the day (which was a bit disconcerting when you're trying to mail a parcel and go to the gym, so I ended donating blood instead). Macron has announced that the minimal monthly wage would get a 100€ raise, so that's something.

There was an Economist article last night, but full disclosure, I haven't had time to read it. Macron tries to buy off his critics (The Economist) I shall do so now. *insert elevator music*
Yeah, basically, it's saying he's making concessions. Wait and see as the week unfolds, I guess.