Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Election Aftermath: SPD About to Implode?

by Saturday Wed Nov 2nd, 2005 at 11:00:50 AM EST

How can one pass up quotes from Goethe in political discourse?? From the front page ~ whataboutbob

In the midst of coalition-building negotiations between SPD and CDU, SPD chairman and designated vice chancellor Franz Müntefering has announced his resignation from party chair by mid-November. Today, Münteferings choice for party secretary, Kajo Wasserhövel, was defeated 23-14 in a vote against Andrea Nahles by the SPD executive council. Nahles, a new member of parliament but despite her young age already a seasoned politician, is a well-known figure of the SPD's left wing.

The following verses are taken from Goethes' "Sorcerer's Apprentice" ("Der Zauberlehrling"), and they fit the situation quite well:

See him, toward the shore he's racing
There, he's at the stream already,
Back like lightning he is chasing,
Pouring water fast and steady.
Once again he hastens!
How the water spills,
How the water basins
Brimming full he fills!

Stop now, hear me!
Ample measure
Of your treasure
We have gotten!
Ah, I see it, dear me, dear me.
Master's word I have forgotten!


Off they run, till wet and wetter
Hall and steps immersed are Iying.
What a flood that naught can fetter!
Lord and master, hear me crying! -
Ah, he comes excited.
Sir, my need is sore.
Spirits that I've cited
My commands ignore.

Wanna read the poem in German?

Why is Müntefering the sorcerer's apprentice?

- Read below the fold!

Seht, er läuft zum Ufer nieder!
Wahrlich! ist schon an dem Flusse,
Und mit Blitzesschnelle wieder
Ist er hier mit raschem Gusse.
Schon zum zweiten Male!
Wie das Becken schwillt!
Wie sich jede Schale
Voll mit Wasser füllt!

Stehe! stehe!
Denn wir haben
Deiner Gaben
Vollgemessen! -
Ach, ich merk es! Wehe! wehe!
Hab ich doch das Wort vergessen!


Und sie laufen! Naß und nässer
Wirds im Saal und auf den Stufen:
Welch entsetzliches Gewässer!
Herr und Meister, hör mich rufen! -
Ach, da kommt der Meister!
Herr, die Not ist groß!
Die ich rief, die Geister,
Werd ich nun nicht los.

While his master has gone, the sorcerer's apprentice, supposed to clean the house, tries to ease his work by using magic. He enchants the buckets and the brooms, and they begin to do the work. But when they are finished, they do not stop: The apprentice has forgotten the magic words to stop the spell. The house drowns in water until the master returns to spike the spook.

"Spirits that I've cited
My commands ignore":

In German, the sorcerer's apprentice's exclamation from Goethe's poem is a proverb. It is a proverb that fits Müntefering's situation quite well. The spirits he summoned to win the election (or, at least, to prevent a miserable defeat) have been succesful. By staging a lefty campaign, Müntefering and Schröder hadf an amazing rush in the polls, resulting in the SPD remaining in government. Müntefering, now on his own, does not need the lefty spirits any more. Quite the contrary: What use are they when negotiating bitter reform packages with the CDU? But he is unable to disenchant them, in the word's literal meaning. Because in the current coalition negotiations, the SPD's left wing was disenchanted (now in the common meaning of the word) by policy measures like raising the VAT from 16 to 18 or even 20 percent (categorically excluded by Müntefering before the elections) and raising the retirement age to 67 (massive opposition by the unions here).

By this vote, the left and even parts of the centrist "Seeheimer Kreis" within the SPD says: "If you are going to become vice chancellor on our social-policy-coattails, you will have to pay for it!" Since the price has not been payed in the currency of policy, the majority of the executive council took its refuge to personal politics: Now, the important position of party secretary will be filled by a representative of the left wing. To understand the scope of Müntefering's defeat, it is important to know that traditionally, the party secretary is only formally elected; in fact it is the party chairman who chooses him or her.

So, what about the consequences?

First of all, it is a major blow to Müntefering's position as chief negotiator with Angela Merkel. But moreover, it puts the whole coalition-building in jeopardy: What if Müntefering, ripped of his party's support, negotiates policy measures which will not be supported by the majority of the Social Democrats? If Müntefering's retreat is for real, who could possibly succeed him? Platzek from Brandenburg? - Too early. Beck from Rheinland-Pfalz? - Too regional. Steinbrück from Nordrhein-Westfalen? - Maybe the most likely alternative.

By announcing his retreat (or is he only threatening? - hard to tell), Müntefering exposes himself as Schröder's disciple. He wants to establish a "so far and no further" against the party's opposition against his negotiation results. In a worst case scenario, this could result again in a cleavage between Social Democrats. But I am tempted to turn the mountain back into the molehill: Electing Nahles served as a valve for disenchanted party exectutives; working together with Nahles in a grand coalition situation might not be easy for Müntefering, but it is by no means impossible. Nahles is not a desperado. She is a pro who knows knows the ropes and is aware of the necessity of keeping the party together. And having discharged the steam, the left wing on the party executive level might return to peaceful cohabitation with Müntefering.

But nevertheless, the house is getting real wet right now.

Oh my gawd, you're quoting Goethe!!!...how can I keep my diary up now?? I'm glad to see you back, by the way, and you answered my request for clarification of what is going on...so my post is his-to-ree.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 03:16:02 PM EST
Hey, you don't have to draw back your diary just because I am quoting Goethe :) It just fitted the situation so well...
by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 03:32:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
here's Fran's post from my diary:

From Spiegel Online: German Social Democrat Head Franz Müntefering Abruptly Resigns

Six weeks after general elections and still without a government, Germany's political landscape became even more chaotic on Monday. Franz Müntefering, head of Germany's second largest political party, the Social Democrats, stepped down on Monday after losing an inner-party battle. The future of the party is now uncertain.

Germany's long and stony road from general elections to functioning government took another hairpin turn on Monday.

With coalition negotiations between the Christian Democrats (CDU) under Angela Merkel and the Social Democrats (SPD) under Franz Müntefering scheduled to enter their fourth round on Monday evening in Berlin, the SPD head announced that he would not seek re-election as party leader in November. Even worse for the SPD, Müntefering -- tapped to be Germany's vice chancellor and labor minister in a grand coalition under soon-to-be-chancellor Merkel -- said he is leaving his participation in Merkel's cabinet open.

"Under the current conditions," Müntefering said, "I can no longer be party chairman."

The "conditions" Müntefering was referring to was a vote by the party leadership earlier in the day for the position of party general secretary. Whereas Müntefering had favored Kajo Wasserhövel for the post, the 45-member leadership circle instead chose 35-year-old Andrea Nahles. Traditionally the party chairman expects his choice to be voted in. Nahles is a leading figure among the left wing of the SPD and a vocal critic of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's reform package Agenda 2010. Indeed, Schröder himself had participated in the debate leading up to the vote and had urged his fellow party members to do nothing to damage Müntefering's authority, given the ongoing coalition negotiations.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 03:18:39 PM EST
What is the likelyhood of this situation resulting in new elections?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 03:27:17 PM EST
Of course, the current conflict within the SPD poses serious questions to the stability of a grand coalition. It does not even exist, and the head of the Social Democratic Party already has to resign. There is much talk about new election right now, but I do not see this happen in the near furture. I still see the rejection of Wasserhövel as a warning shot which has been turned into real warfare by Müntefering.

Even if Müntefering resigns, it would be suicidal for the SPD to opt for new elections. And Merkel might first try to make the best out of her suddenly enhanced bargaining position within the framework of a grand coalition.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 03:44:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So the SPD has to get its act together quickly, sounds to me...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 03:54:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The whole mess seems to be borne out of a misunderstanding. Müntefering did not say "I mean it" before, but he meant it and he thought the other party executives knew. But they did not. This is becoming clearer as more and more of their statements are published. They only wanted to fire a warning shot, but this warning shot turned out to be more like the "warning shots" by London police officers on Jean Charles de Menezes. The whole party is in a shock now. You can be sure that there were no contingency plans for this eventuality. If Müntefering does not draw back his resignation, it will be difficult to piece everything back together again quickly.

I am curious about Merkel's strategic reaction.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 05:56:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tell me a blog where you can read Goethe's poetry about the Sorcerer's Apprentice, while getting an update about inside German politics? I love this place!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 03:30:43 PM EST
Stoiber, it is said, doesn't want anymore to participate in the new "Bundeskabinett" either, because Müntefering has resigned.

And for those ghosts (spirits) we have cited ... it's like Halloween - German style - all ghost and no sweets.

by mimi on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 05:10:26 PM EST
my god, I didn't think about Halloween. But you are right: It is kind of a scary night, politically. A lot of trick, no treat.
by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 05:22:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given Müntefering's "Locust" fame I would have expected him to be to the left of Schröder. I'm a little surprised.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 06:03:55 PM EST
He is. Schröder, the chancellor, making "Realpolitik" and Müntefering, as party chairman, caring for the social soul of the party. But without Schröder, Müntefering has to stretch out to the right in order to negotiate successfully with Merkel. And if you stretch something out too far, it has the tendency to get thin. That is what happened to Müntefering now.
by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 03:51:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose if the SPD had had a chancellor-in-waiting other than Muentefuring they could have let him/her lead the negotiations. As it turned out, it seems that Muentefuring got forced into a role he didn't want.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 05:46:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]

German grand coalition plan in turmoil

Efforts to build Germany's grand coalition government descended into chaos on Tuesday as Edmund Stoiber, Bavarian premier, said he was no longer willing to join the cabinet of Angela Merkel, the chancellor-in-waiting.

Mr Stoiber's surprise decision not to become economics and technology minister means that Germany's unprecedented political crisis has now spread to the conservative parties following the unexpected resignation earlier this week of Franz Müntefering, leader of the Social Democrats, over an internal party power struggle.

Ms Merkel said on Tuesday night that she "accepted and respected" Mr Stoiber's decision, but could do little to hide fears in the Christian Democratic Union, her own party, that plans to form a coalition with the SPD could be falling apart.

Dieter Althaus, CDU premier of the state of Thuringia and a close Merkel ally, admitted that the coalition negotiations "are in a serious crisis".

In a statement in Munich, Mr Stoiber, chair of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, said Mr Müntefering's resignation as SPD chairman had led to his decision to remain Bavarian premier.

He said that, as SPD chairman and designated vice-chancellor, Mr Müntefering "would have acted as a pillar in the cabinet". But Mr Stoiber said the SPD leader's resignation "altered the political composition" of the planned government.

In a sign that he was distancing himself from the proposed coalition, he said "the direction and predictability of the SPD is no longer so clear", adding that this meant the basis on which he had planned to enter the cabinet "had changed".

Mr Stoiber was also annoyed that his proposals for a "super economics ministry", encompassing aspects of the economics, technology and finance portfolios, had been watered down by Ms Merkel, analysts said. There are now fears in the CDU that Mr Stoiber, who failed in the 2002 election to become chancellor and has strained relations with Ms Merkel, will attack the coalition from his Bavarian power base.

Adding to the political confusion in Berlin, SPD officials confirmed on Tuesday night that it was likely despite suggestions to the contrary that Mr Müntefering would still join the cabinet as vice-chancellor to Ms Merkel.

Officials close to Mr Stoiber said this would not affect his decision to remain in Bavaria. Mr Stoiber said that Michael Glos, the CSU's veteran parliamentary leader, would become economics minister. A decision on who will replace Mr Müntefering as party leader is expected today at an emergency meeting of the SPD's executive.

Ms Merkel used a live press conference on Tuesday to reassure Germans that the grand coalition would "fulfil the voters' mandate" arising from the September 18 election, in which the CDU/CSU emerged as the largest party in a hung parliament, narrowly ahead of the SPD.

Business leaders urged Germany's two largest parties to form a government as quickly as possible and criticised the SPD executive committee for triggering Mr Müntefering's resignation.

SPD and CDU leaders said they still aimed to conclude a coalition agreement by their self-imposed deadline of November 12, but would continue negotiating if this target was not met.

If they fail to reach an agreement, then both parties could try to form alliances with other, smaller parties. Fresh elections would be called if no coalition is formed.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 05:03:01 PM EST
Somehow...I have a feeling this is all going to sort out...let's see if I am right or not.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Nov 2nd, 2005 at 12:39:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]