We hope you’re ready for part 3 of our post- #BTW2021 analysis in this week’s Krautshell edition. Take a look below to see what happened over the past few days, and to take a peek into the brain of one of the most powerful men in Germany right now. We hope you enjoy and as always, ping us for more!
MORE ELECTION ANALYSIS (BECAUSE YOU LOVE IT):
Another post-election week has passed and what shall we say: It seems like the parties are doing their best to make our bold guess in our #THEÜBERSICHT come true. We predicted that Olaf Scholz (SPD) becomes Chancellor in a so-called “traffic light coalition” (SPD-FDP-Greens) and at least the preparatory talks for such a constellation have started this week. You probably remember how we reported that all involved parties, also the CDU/CSU, were having bilateral talks last week and the beginning of this week. Now, Greens and FDP decided to enter three-party talks with the SPD instead of the CDU/CSU. So, what happened?
- Not a stable partner: There were very discrete talks between FDP and Greens, FDP and SPD and also Greens and SPD. Then, the CDU/CSU entered their first exploratory talks with the FDP and afterwards the Greens and, once again, the contents of these “confidential” talks were displayed on live tickers in many German newspapers. The FDP and the Greens weren’t happy about the indiscretion by the conservatives. Quite a few people suspect that the parts of the CDU/CSU not wanting to join the next government might be the ones who leaked insights to sabotage the whole process. We cannot confirm that, but we wouldn’t find it completely unlikely.
- First traffic light soundings: On Thursday, the first three-way talk between SPD, Greens and FDP happened. Contrary to the CDU/CSU, however, the parties have held up to their promise of discretion. So, all we can say so far is that they presented themselves as optimistic for the continuance of the talks yesterday after their first session ended. Still, no words concerning what they talked about. Next session is expected on Monday with ongoing talks for the whole week. New surveys show that a Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a traffic light coalition would be supported by a majority of Germans currently. If you want, you can read more about the chances of a traffic light coalition here.
- Laschet backs out: In a session of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Armin Laschet indirectly offered to back out. He announced that there will be a major party convention for the CDU in the next weeks where the party can reposition itself also personnel-wise “from top to bottom”. He wants to keep the door open for a government participation and is ready to back out if this can only happen with other personnel. Still, he wants to moderate the wind of change in his party so that ugly fights for the new leadership can be avoided – let’s see if that works out. Possible candidates for the then vacant party leadership position are: current Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, Laschet’s two opponents in the last race for the party leadership Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen, and even CDU/CSU parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus might throw his hat in the ring. At least, they have all something in common with Laschet: they are all (around) middle-aged men from the Federal State North Rhine-Westphalia.
Besides the ongoing soundings between SPD, Greens and FDP, the repositioning of the CDU will be the interesting process in the coming months in German politics. Besides its convention, the party also plans on holding an “East Germany Summit.” Here, party leaders hope to discuss their weak results in Germany’s Eastern Federal States where they lost many electoral districts to the far-right AfD and election winner SPD. The CDU’s big crisis lies in their current lack of any distinctive image. Many politicians are demanding not just a repositioning in terms of personnel but also a re-orientation back to a programmatic party. It’s not possible to predict where this all will lead, but we are convinced that Laschet won’t be party for much longer. And, of course, we will keep you posted.
THE HOUSE’S VIEW: INSIDE THE BRAIN OF A KINGMAKER
Christian Lindner, Born to be in the FDP
In 1997, the German TV Channel “Deutsche Welle” aired an episode of its series “Jugendmagazin ‘100 Grad’” (English: Youth Magazine 100 Degrees), which featured a starry-eyed, ambitious 18-year old called Christian Lindner. In the video, Lindner drives his Mercedes and complains about the fact that school takes away time from his consulting business. Despite the ill-fitting suit and horrendous cow print tie, one thing was abundantly clear: this guy is going places. And go places he did. Fast forward to 2021, and this same man is the fearless leader of Germany’s liberal party, the FDP, being described as the “Kingmaker” of the next German government. Christian Lindner joined the FDP as a 14 year-old, and he truly lives and breathes his party’s ideology of “business knows best” and “personal freedom.”
It seems Lindner did something right, as his party received 11.5 percent of the popular vote this time around. This result is on the higher end of historic outcomes for the FDP. On top of this promising result, the fact that the SPD and CDU/CSU have very clearly indicated they don’t plan on governing together again means the FDP, together with the Greens, will be the deciding parties in building the next government. Given that Lindner holds this unique power, we want to give you some insights into the liberal leader’s brain and highlight three key factors that move him politically. This is the House’s View on three key elements that will influence Lindner and his party during upcoming exploratory talks:
We’re Not Going Through this Breakup Again
“It’s better not to govern, than to govern wrong.” That’s the quote that comes to mind when Germans hear the words Christian Lindner and coalition talks in the same sentence. Back in 2017, Lindner gave the above statement when his party broke off “Jamaica” coalition talks between themselves, the Greens, and the CDU/CSU. Reason: they did not want to compromise their principles. Result: many people struggled to take the FDP seriously, as it threw its chance at governing out the window and opted to sit on the opposition bench instead. Lindner is likely still haunted by the ghost of elections past and will therefore do everything in his power to ensure his party is part of the next government.
What does it mean for possible coalitions?
These past demons likely mean that Lindner will be marching into any coalition negotiations with a significantly more open mind than last time, more willing to compromise in certain areas.
Let Freedom Ring
Another important factor to consider inside Lindner’s brain at the moment: he’s feeling good about himself and his party. Previously, that wasn’t the case. In 2013, the party failed to enter the Parliament because they fell short of the 5 percent hurdle. The party slowly built itself up from there but back in 2020, and up until the beginning of this year, the party was polling between the 5 and 7 percent marks. Then, suddenly like magic, the party’s popularity steadily increased. And like any good magic trick, peaking behind the curtain will reveal what really happened. First, young people happened. Specifically, individuals between 18 and 29, of which the FDP won almost one-fifth of the share of votes. Second, the Coronavirus pandemic happened. During the pandemic, the FDP was one of the strongest critics of the government’s Coronavirus policies, particularly of blanket lockdowns for their detrimental effects on businesses and individuals’ freedom. Fair to say this resonated with many voters, and Lindner’s party is currently riding an upward trend. This will surely give him confidence in coalition talks, as he knows his voter base is behind him.
What does it mean for possible coalitions?
The FDP’s appeal among young people and previous experience in the opposition means the party is ready to set new impulses and issue in much-needed change. Get ready for some potentially unconventional ideas.
He’s the Tax Man
The third, and arguably most impactful factor influencing Christian Lindner in this year’s coalition negotiations is a seemingly unsexy topic: taxes. One of the FDP’s (and Lindner’s) core messages is and has consistently been to lower taxes, particularly for businesses. In fact, the party’s pro-free market stance on this matter is surely a main reason why many FDP voters choose the party. The problem: the FDP is currently engaged in exploratory talks for a traffic light coalition with the Greens and SPD. In their programs, both left-leaning parties called for an increase in taxes for high earners. These opposing positions mean the parties are currently playing a high-stakes game of chicken, and it’s highly unlikely Lindner will budge first. In no situation will Lindner be able to sell tax increases in a coalition agreement to his party base, and he clearly knows this going into any conversation. This fact could likely be the undoing should traffic light coalition talks fail.
What does it mean for possible coalitions?
Traffic light coalition talks are potentially quite fragile, especially when considering that the CDU/CSU is right there waiting on the other side of the door, should these talks fall through. And, what a coincidence, the CDU/CSU is also against raising taxes! Did someone say we might be going to Jamaica?
- Good Vaccination Quotas: It was this week that we found out that many more people are vaccinated in Germany than we initially thought. Most likely, more than 80% of adults are now fully vaccinated. A week ago, we still thought it were more about 68%-70%. The reason? Of course, old, slow, and analog reporting systems. Hurray!
- Belarussian Refugees: Currently, the EU is dealing with another refugee problem. To pressure the EU, Belarus authoritarian leader Lukashenko seems to be sending more and more refugees to Poland which are also illegally crossing the German border. In August, more than 400 people crossed the German-Polish border; in September it was already over 1,300. Currently, however, it seems as if the EU has no clear answer to this problem.
- Youth Power: In the new parliamentary group of the SPD, there are 49 parliamentarians that are part of the youth organization of the SPD, the so-called “Jusos” (transl. “Young Socialists”). They will have decisive power in a possible traffic light coalition as all their votes together would be theoretically enough in the Bundestag to stop projects by the government. Therefore, we suspect that some Juso-positions will be reflected in a potential coalition agreement.
HOW TO MESS UP ELECTIONS
In Germany, the federal states are charged with the organization and execution of elections. Usually, this happens orderly and without any major hickups. This is one of the reasons why Germans have very high trust in their electoral system and that their vote will be counted.
However, this time, one state messed it up: What happened in Berlin on 26 September 2021, the magnitude of flaws and hickups in the process is unprecedented and was even “noticed” by OSCE (you know, the organization we usually send to watch over dubious elections…).
It started with electoral offices running out of ballots – and they could not receive fresh supplies, because, in a bout of overconfidence, Berlin scheduled not only three elections (apart from the federal elections, there were state elections and a vote on dispossession of apartments), but also the Berlin Marathon on that day. Due to the latter numerous streets were closed and the ballot deliveries could not reach their destination. This chaos created long waiting lines, so apparently many people gave up hope and went home.
Next: The vote on dispossession was open for 16-18-year-olds as well. It seems like some of them were also handed ballots for the federal and state elections, where they did not have a right to vote. Same problem occurred with postal voting – there was no way to tell, if maybe here and there a 16-year-old slipped an unauthorized vote.
And the list goes on: There were reports of influencing voters in the voting cabins, one district announced a non-final result as final, and wrong ballots in the wrong districts led to an unusually high number of invalid votes.
After stating that she could not see any mistakes made right after the elections, one day later the State Election Supervisor Petra Michaelis took responsibility and stepped down from her office. There will be a commission to analyze the mistakes made. And appeals are expected after the official announcement of the final results on 14 October, even though they probably won’t have any influence on the election outcome.
Because the real damage is the additional boost this whole story gave to an already declining trust in public authorities and democratic institutions. More than a committee will be needed to fix this.