Germany’s new coalition is a recipe for stagnation

A new, fresh leader. Bold radical ideas. And a programme for rebooting an economy that, for all its formidable strengths, is, to put it kindly, a little stuck in the 20th century. Later today, Germany is set to anoint its first new Chancellor in 15 years, and, at the very least, you might expect some new ideas. The trouble is, there is little sign of them from Olaf Scholz. Instead, the country is opting for the euro-zone’s slow lane, falling behind a rapidly reforming Italy and France. After two months of complex negotiations, following an inconclusive election in September, the Social Democrat leader Olaf Scholz will finally present his coalition

‘What do you think the English will say?’ Pablo Larrain on his pop horror Diana film

It all looks ever so Sandringham. Formal evening garb, dining table the length of a cricket pitch, royalty nibbling in silence. As a tableau vivant it might be lit by Lichfield and styled by Hartnell. And yet something is awry. The beautiful princess feels stifled. She grabs at the tourniquet of pearls roped round her neck, whereupon it snaps. Huge gems plop into her gloopy green soup. Dauntlessly she dips a spoon in, feeds a pearl into her mouth and takes a pulverising bite. This royal Christmas is not normal for Norfolk. Spencer is the latest entertainment seeking to decrypt the myth of Diana, Princess of Wales. Its opening credits

German voters set for a tense night

The German elections have turned out to be an unexpected nail-biter. Since the exit polls were released earlier this evening the result has been too close to call. Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and their coalition partners, the SPD, are both predicted to have received 25 per cent of the vote each, which means it will remain unclear throughout the evening who has won as the votes continue to be counted. Despite the close result, the mood in the Christian Democratic camp is subdued. Angela Merkel’s would-be successor Armin Laschet has received the worst result his party has achieved in its history. The exit polls showed that 1.4 million of their voters

Feted abroad, dismissed at home: will Germans really miss Merkel?

As Angela Merkel finally steps down, the verdict on her leadership – at least from overseas – appears to be unanimous: she is a safe pair of hands who will be greatly missed. Her departure is a big loss for Europe. But is that right? Many Germans, it seems, are much less favourable about Mutti. There have been dissenting voices outside Germany to be sure, arguing that her achievements and historical importance have been exaggerated. Her overseas critics point out that she failed to make the most of the considerable authority she acquired and that her interventions in the European Union only made its divisions worse. The inflexibility of Merkel

Why won’t German politicians talk about migration?

For a country with a reputation for being staid and predictable, the election campaign that closes the Merkel era in Germany has not been without its dramas.  The opening of the campaign coincided with a flood disaster in the north-west of the country, which propelled climate change to the top of the agenda. Then favourite and assumed Merkel-successor, Armin Laschet, was undone when he was caught on camera joshing with colleagues amid the human misery. Then, earlier this month, police raided the offices of the finance and justice ministries as part of a money-laundering investigation that could harm the prospects of the current front-runner, the deputy chancellor, finance minister and Social-Democrat contender,

The sad circus of the German election

The German election campaign has been entirely lacking in substance. Laschet, Baerbock, Scholz: none seem to grip the public’s attention. None are good enough to stand out, yet none are bad enough to drop out as the media and the opposition struggle to land definitive blows. Amid the monotony of political circus and sclerosis, the German press’s tactics are becoming increasingly outlandish, as two 11-year-old children asking questions about land requisition processes on television showed. A particular segment on the talk show Late Night Berlin is responsible: the idea is that children ask politicians questions. In the last episode, broadcast on Tuesday, Merkel’s would-be successor Armin Laschet was made to

How Germany’s Free Democratic party capitalised on the AfD’s misfortunes

One of the most remarkable stories to come out of Germany in the last year has been the rise of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). Having struggled for relevance in 2020, the party has transformed itself into a political force that could decide the makeup of the next government – and maybe even anoint Angela Merkel’s successor as Chancellor. The FDP’s success follows an almost eight-year long self-reinvention in which the party has sometimes resembled a cult of personality centred around its charismatic chairman, Christian Lindner. It was Lindner who began the party’s revival after a shattering 2013 defeat led to the loss of all its seats in the Bundestag,

Germany is facing political stagnation

Jamaica, Germany, Kenya or traffic lights? The names of the potential German coalitions — and their corresponding party colours — can be quite exotic. But as the vote has begun to split in the run up to the federal elections next month, the possible combinations that will make up Germany’s government have grown. The race is still wide open. Coalitions were purposefully built into Germany’s post-war democracy — the voting system mixes first-past-the-post with proportional representation to ensure a workable splintering. With one notable exception in 1957, no political party has received the votes of over half of the electorate outright. It usually falls to the party with the most

The German Greens can’t make up their mind on Afghanistan

The situation in Afghanistan has suddenly dominated the debate in the middle of a sluggish German election campaign. Candidates to succeed Angela Merkel are having to declare their positions. Military intervention is out of the question without US backing. The question then becomes a repeat of the Syrian crisis: will Germany once again open its doors to potentially hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants? It’s an unequivocal ‘nein’ from the government. ‘There will not be another 2015’ came the strong response from the ruling coalition of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the SPD. The Green party, currently in opposition but the second strongest party in most polls, are fudging the

Merkelism is here to stay – and that’s bad news for German politics

When Angela Merkel leaves office after Bundestag elections next month, she will have forever changed the course of German history. Merkel has steered Germany through a recession, the Eurozone and migration crises and the Covid-19 pandemic. During the Trump presidency, Germany’s chancellor became an icon for liberals around the world. Yet her legacy in terms of Germany’s domestic politics leaves much to be desired. And her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has been left searching for meaning, with many voters now left wondering what the point of the Union is after Mutti. On the face of it, Merkel’s insistence on reaching for consensus in German politics appears to be something to celebrate. Under her

Merkel’s radical lockdown plan could quickly backfire

In its flailing response to the Covid crisis, the German government appears to have finally given up on federalism. Angela Merkel’s latest idea is to introduce nationwide ‘emergency brake’ measures to combat rising case numbers, replacing a patchwork system across the 16 federal states. But will it help bring Germany’s third wave under control? Legal changes to grant the federal government unprecedented power to enforce coronavirus regulations in all states have been backed by ministers. The final obstacle for the German Infection Protection Act is parliament. If Merkel’s plan is approved, it will mark a big change in the way Germany is governed. It will also make it clear that Merkel is increasingly

Could the Sputnik vaccine end Russia’s rift with the West?

Accounts differ. But it would appear that during a wide-ranging conference call earlier this week, the leaders of France and Germany broached the possibility of – wait for it – buying some of Russia’s pandemic pride and joy: its Sputnik V vaccine. If a deal is struck this would be a huge boost to Russia at home and abroad, and by extension to President Putin, who has spent months trying to dispel widespread Western suspicions about the Russian vaccine, from its Soviet-era name to the breakneck speed of its development. Any deal would also represent quite a turnaround for France and Germany, whose leaders have spearheaded a Continental European reluctance

Why can’t other politicians say sorry like Angela Merkel?

Angela Merkel did something remarkable this week: she said sorry. Having announced an Easter lockdown in Germany, the Chancellor partly reversed her decision. ‘This mistake is my mistake alone,’ she said, urging ‘all citizens to forgive’ her. Was this a particularly groundbreaking speech? Perhaps not. But one thing is clear: it is exceptionally rare to hear a politician admit blame and take responsibility so explicitly, unconditionally and openly. And when it does happen, it is more often than not from a woman. Last summer, Nicola Sturgeon apologised to pupils over the controversial exam results in a similar fashion to Merkel: ‘Despite our best intentions, I do acknowledge that we did

What Angela Merkel can learn from the Queen about vaccine scepticism

You have to feel for Germany. After a fraught vaccine procurement process, not only is the government struggling to persuade its citizens to take the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, but Angela Merkel has now stated that she will not be given the jab on account of her age.  ‘I do not belong to the recommended age group for AstraZeneca,’ the German chancellor told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. It could well be the final nail in the coffin for an EMA-approved, safe vaccine that has cost her country millions. Merkel’s view may be aligned with government policy – she is 66 and therefore, under the German rules which state that over 65s

Are Germans losing faith in the European project?

Germans are increasingly losing faith in the European Union due to its bungled handling of the vaccine roll-out. Germany and the other member states have assigned Brussels to organise and oversee the procurement and distribution of Covid jabs. But, so far, the roll-out has been a logistic mess. According to a poll by Civey, commissioned by the German newspaper Der Spiegel, more than 60 per cent of German citizens said their view of Brussels had worsened in light of the disastrous vaccination management. Almost 70 per cent laid the blame at the feet of fellow German Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, who admitted last week

Merkel is making a mess of Germany’s Covid vaccine rollout

Angela Merkel is known for her competency, yet even Mutti’s defenders would struggle to use that word to describe Germany’s rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. German firm BioNTech won the race to develop a vaccine, but this has not prevented crippling supply shortages, which has forced states including North Rhine-Westphalia, in the west of the country, to suspend jabs.  German health minister Jens Spahn has come under fire and his insistence that ‘the vaccine is a scarce product worldwide’ rings hollow when Germans look at the speed of the vaccine rollout in Britain. Now, to make matters worse, German’s health ministry has found itself caught in a fresh row: over the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. German newspaper Handelsblatt reported

Why Merkel and Putin are cooperating on the Sputnik vaccine

Churchill, FDR and Stalin could cooperate against Hitler, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that even amidst talk of a new Cold War, sanctions and more than a little sanctimony, people in the West are willing to make deals with Moscow in the name of fighting the new global threat, Covid-19. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine may have been rushed through its certification at home and been the subject of some overblown nationalist hype (not that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been entirely free of the latter), but so far it appears to be a serious and effective jab, with a potential 91.4 per cent efficacy. Although based on a different

Spain and Italy have been abandoned by the EU

If ever there was a time for the EU to show the benefit of belonging to an economic bloc with coherent cross-border cooperation you would think it would be now. But that is not quite how things are working out. On the contrary, the EU has erupted into open warfare between north and south. The rifts caused by the 2008/09 financial crisis have been torn open again, with Italy and Spain desperately pleading for help from a reluctant Germany and other northern countries. If anyone thought harmony would reign once troublesome Britain was out of the EU, there was not much evidence of it at a virtual summit held last week