Mon Jan 28th, 2008 at 07:16:06 AM EST
In Sunday's regional elections in the German states of Hessen and Lower Saxony, the numerical winner was the CDU (ahead of the SPD by 0.1% even in Hessen). The practical winner was the hard-left Left Party, which now has a foot in three of the ten West German states. The winner on swing vote was Hessen SPD's Andrea Ypsilanti, who levelled her party's 20% lag behind the CDU of Germany's supposedly second-most-powerful conservative, with a markedly leftist campaign.
But, how do the usual suspects in the English-language media react to the news?
The Murdoch media flagship magazine Times comments with the ignorance one expects from Tory Eurosceptics. However, the Financial Times, much better versed in foreign politics (this is the paper of Wolfgang Münchau), already found a good narrative for the economic-liberals.
Read a partial deconstruction of the two articles below the fold.
Both articles interpret the results as a setback for chancellor Angela Merkel. But in the Financial Times article, that's not what's interesting.
FT.com / World - Setback for Merkel in regional elections
The party of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, suffered a setback on Sunday after Roland Koch, the Christian Democratic state premier of Hesse, saw his vote plummet following a closely watched regional election.
Note that while the title speaks about Merkel, the article itself says the party of Merkel [all highlights mine!], which is more correct.
Then the FT immediately shifts the focus from CDU voes, to play up SPD voes:
Yet the Social Democratic party, junior partner to Ms Merkel’s CDU in the “grand coalition” and its main rival in Sunday’s elections, had little to cheer about after the Left party, a radical leftwing grouping, captured a higher than expected share of the vote.
...The Left party’s performance will come as a disappointment to Kurt Beck, SPD chairman, who has steered his party to the left since the summer in an attempt to reverse an exodus of voters to the smaller, more radical grouping.
Here it is: the reader could think that the SPD failed to draw voters back, as they stayed with the Left Party. That because the FT doesn't even mention that the Hessen SPD gained a spectacular 7.6% with its leftist campaign! That's more than the Left Party total (5.1%). Thus also, of course, zero analysis of where those 7.6% voters came back from -- would be inconvenient...
I also note that the Left Party vote in Hessen wasn't "higher than expected" (polls saw them just at 5%), only that in Lower Saxony (7.1% vs the 5% in polls).
Later in the article, they go on speculating about the fallout in the SPD:
The Left party’s good performance is likely to revive a debate in the SPD on Mr Beck’s strategy – and could deepen the divide between pro-market reformists, well represented in the government, the SPD leadership and its parliamentary group, and the party’s left wing.
This is the most dangerous part. Here it is only implicit, but I expect that the tenor will be the inversion of the argument against rightist pandering to the far-right: "centre-left pandering to the left won't thwart, only enbolden the far-left".
But what this leads up to has zip to do with left wing vs. reformists. FT's last paragraph on Hessen is then spin run amok:
Analysts expect the performance of the Left party to encourage the small group of SPD leaders, led by Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's mayor, to call for the formation of ruling coalitions with the radical grouping at the regional level – a scenario Mr Beck has rejected.
This mixes up issues and mis-represents what's going on. Wowereit has an actual coalition with the Left Party in Berlin, and the taboo was long broken in the former East German areas. The real debate is about expanding the viability of such coalitions towards the West and to the federal level. The advocating group characterised as 'small' includes influential SPD leaders mainly from the East (Wowereit himself is a bigshot). One could also read the above paragraph as implying SPD leftists demanding even further shift to the Left -- in truth, Wowereit and others are pragmatists within the market-friendly centrist mainstream of the party!
I should also point at the characterisation of the Left Party, which is at best hard-left (championing many a position formerly held by the SPD), as 'radical group'.
:: :: :: :: ::
Now let's look at some bits of an article Fran quoted in the Salon, as asked for by Metatone.
Disaster for Angela Merkel as ally Roland Koch sunk in big switch to left - Times Online
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was last night dealt a political body-blow after one of her key allies appeared to lose a bitterly contested regional election.
The article starts off with a display of cheerful ignorance on all things Continental one expects from the British Eurosceptics.
Koch is NOT a key ally of Merkel. More like his strongest rival.
Until last Sunday, Koch was the most important member of a mutual-support, no-mutual-criticism power alliance within the CDU, the so-called Andenpakt (Andes Pact, so-called because it was formed by then CDU youth on a plane to visit Pinochet's Chile). Check the list of members on the German Wiki page: four state heads, ministers, and the President of the European Parliament. Throughout her rise and reign as party head and chancellor, Merkel had to fight attempts by the Andenpakt, usually instigated by Koch, to topple her or undercut her comparably moderate policies. They prevented her candidacy for chancellorship in 2002. We mentioned how Koch even got the support of Bush & the neocons in 2003. There was also a move by Koch to put hiself in position when Merkel failed to win majority with traditional partner FDP in 2005. Koch regularly mouthed off on policy without consulting Merkel, who couldn't afford to contradict him in public.
In fact, Koch's current xenophobic 'foreign youth crime' campaign was another example of upstaging Merkel on policy, who felt forced to tag on. (Koch was even made chief of a CDU committee on street crime during the ruckus.) But, as nanne argues, despite her for-show campaigning for Koch, Merkel's position actually strengthened: now she doesn't have to fear rebellion in the own ranks. (That is unless softie Wulff in Lower Saxony is in truth scheming big behind the curtains.)
If we read into the rest of the article, the rivalry is mentioned briefly -- but in past tense, and it only makes the article incoherent (it was obviously re-edited by different authors):
Mr Koch used to be an internal party rival to Mrs Merkel, a conservative who was always suspicious of watering down policy by allying with the Social Democrats. When and if he is formally declared the loser of the election, the best he can hope for, party insiders say, is a Cabinet position under Mrs Merkel, probably as Economics Minister, after a predicted reshuffle. In German politics the move from regional prime minister to federal Cabinet minister is a big demotion. In theory that should please Mrs Merkel – one more potential thorn removed from her side – but, instead, there were nothing but worried faces in party headquarters last night.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was last night dealt a political body blow as one of her key allies struggled to stay in power after a bitterly contested regional election.
As if Merkel supporters will show open happyness before the media or even fellow party leaders... There is also a suggestion about Koch getting the post of federal Economy (not -ics!) Minister. Similar happened to Koch's SPD predecessor as Hessen PM, Hans Eichel, whom Schröder took as finance minister into the federal government. However, the present economy minister is one of two ministers of the Bavarian CSU, Michael Glos, and the CSU is unlikely to take a 'lighter' position. (The only possibility revolves around Defense: currently held by longtime Koch ally Franz-Josef Jung.)
Provisional results seemed to show that Mr Koch had been confirmed in the premiership by a wafer-thin margin: 36.8 per cent for the Christian Democrats, 36.7 per cent for the rival Social Democrats led by Andreas Ypsilanti. Social Democrats were last night considering a call for a recount. In Germany the strongest party has the right to form a governing coalition — but in Mr Koch’s case the ruling line-up would have little legitimacy and be very fickle indeed. If the result is confirmed he will attempt to form a government with the liberal Free Democrats who won 9.3 per cent of the vote.
Multi-party systems see too complicated for the Times author. What the strongest party has the right for is putting up the PM candidate, who then can attempt to form a government -- but that then needs the confirmation vote of the regional parliament. CDU+FDP don't
have majority, so it wouldn't just be fickle, but destined to fail.
Koch or a CDU successor as PM candidate can only attempt to sow enough intrigue that either they can gain a leftist party as coalition partner, or all sides agree to new elections.
...turbulent times as the grand coalition parties begin divorce proceedings before next year’s general election. The gloves are now off, said Jürgen Falter, a leading political scientist from the University of Mainz. “The tensions in the grand coalition in Berlin will increase — the Government will be strained to the very limit.” It is now unlikely that the Government in Berlin will be able to undertake any important reforms.
What's important for the Church of the Free Market, added after a quote from a political scientist, while it's not clear whether it's paraphrasing him.
Times ends the Hessen stuff with more display of superficial knowledge:
“Germany is shifting to the left quicker than anyone realised,” said a senior Christian Democrat adviser, “and we don’t yet have an answer.” The Left party, which includes former communists from East Germany, entered both the Hesse and Lower Saxony parliaments yesterday — their first foothold in western Germany.
Nope, the Left Party is already in the Bremen city parliament.
I also note that they quote a 'senior Christian Democrat adviser', but none from the Left.