Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pirates plunder Berlin as Merkel’s government founders

Elections in the city-state of Berlin on September 18 delivered another serious blow to the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, even as her party’s vote increased.
Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came in second place in the Berlin election, winning 23.4 percent of the vote – up from 21.3 in 2006.

The ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) dropped slightly, from 30.6 to 28.6 percent, but will remain in government in Germany’s capital. SPD leader Klaus Wowereit – Germany’s first openly gay premier – is likely to replace his “red-red coalition” partners, the socialist Die Linke (“the Left”), with the more moderate Greens.

The Greens came third in the vote, winning 17.6 percent – a swing of 4.7 percent – while Die Linke slipped slightly from 13.4 to 11.7 percent.

During five years of coalition government, Die Linke has become implicated in the Berlin government’s antisocial policies and a 13 percent unemployment rate, damaging its social justice credentials.

The hotly contested question of whether – and under what conditions – Die Linke should enter into future coalitions will be debated in late October, when the party holds its national “Program Congress” in the city of Erfurt.

The surprise winner at this election was the Pirate Party, which took an astounding 8.9 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time with 15 seats.

Despite having few policies beyond internet freedoms, personal data protection and the legalisation of cannabis, the Pirate Party stole thousands of votes from all major parties, and won the support of tens of thousands of first-time voters – mostly in the under 30 age group.

Perhaps the biggest story of the election, however, was the shocking vote for the neoliberal Free Democrats – the junior partners in Merkel’s federal coalition.

The FDP vote collapsed from 7.8 percent in 2006 to only 1.8 percent at this poll, well below the 5 percent parliamentary threshold. The FDP has now crashed out of parliament for the fifth time in seven state elections held in 2011, and is haemorrhaging support nationally as well.

The result also delivers a sixth electoral embarrassment for Chancellor Merkel this year, making her government look increasingly unstable.

To make matters worse, shortly before the election, the flagging FDP desperately appealed to nationalist “euroskeptic” sentiment by criticising the current eurozone bailout strategy, a policy of the German government itself.

The party’s new leader Philipp Rösler – Germany’s Economy minister, no less – caused uproar and consternation in government ranks by calling for “an orderly bankruptcy of Greece”.

Such a suggestion flies directly in the face of the plans currently being championed by Merkel for a further bailout of Greece’s economy.

Nevertheless, Rösler has insisted that he will continue to speak out on the subject – regardless of government policy – and declared that there should be “no taboos” in the eurozone debate.

It’s not only the FDP that’s having euro-skeptic conniptions. The CDU’s Bavarian sister-party – the Christian Social Union – is also taking a stronger line against any use of German taxes to bail out struggling eurozone countries.

On September 29, the German Bundestag will vote on giving the European Financial Stability Facility fund more powers. While that vote seems set to go ahead, the future of Merkel’s government is looking increasingly untenable.

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