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

"Koch must go. Period. End. Off."

by DoDo Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 03:35:17 AM EST

In January this year, the German state of Hessen held regional elections. Back then, I emphasized its special importance far beyond its borders in several diaries.

The outcome was an impasse: five parties came into parliament, but strong animosities prevented any combination with a parliamentary majority. Then attempts to form a minority government led to a crisis of the entire SPD (Social Democrats).

However, after almost nine months (and as many points lost in opinion polls), it seems that the minority government option will get the green light at last: in secret test ballots, there were enough votes. What's more: for once, I can quote some fair reporting on the Hessen SPD.

At last a happy ending for her: Hessen SPD leader and PM-to-be Andrea Ypsilanti. Photo from SPIEGEL.

To recap the precendents (skip it if you remember)

The diaries heralding the Hessen elections in January were:

To recap the importance of this election: this was a face-off between the most successful at elections, most heavyweight, most macho regional leader of the CDU; and a dwarfed SPD led by an oft-dismissed woman from the party left-wing who won the internal contest against the wishes of her federal leadership, and campaigned decidedly on the left. In other words, a test for an unconventional strategy against a previously successful one: The German version of the invicible right-driving conservatism known from the USA or from Sarko vs. an antithesis of the worldwide centre-left dogma of triangulating and pulling to the centre.

Ypsilanti's strategy was successful enough for everyone to talk of a left swing, as covered in these diaries:

However, hardline PM Roland Koch's CDU still got marginally more votes than challenger Ypsilanti's SPD. Worse for them, neither had majority, not even with the traditional coalition partners (the liberal FDP resp. the Greens): the Left Party's entry into parliament blocked both options.

After the failure of attempts by both big parties to get both the FDP and the Greens into a triple coalition, only two choices remained: new elections, or an SPD-Greens minority government with Left Party outside support.

Now many in the traditional West German parties have trouble with not seeing the Left Party as anything but a bunch of evil commies - and some troubles in the new Left Party regional parliament factions played into that.

When Ypsilanti decided to lead the Hessen SPD in the minority government direction, thereby abandoning election promises of no cooperation in any form with the Left Party, discontent within and outside the party rattled and damaged the entire SPD across Germany, ultimately leading to the resignation of its boss.

In Hessen itself, the appearance of one SPD rebel put an end to the first attempts, and strong attacks from the media and negative public reception drove poll numbers into the basement.

Some diaries (or their comment threads) that covered these developments:

New government on the horizon

Ypsilanti never gave up on the minority government option. After marathon talks with members within the Hessen SPD, Ypsilanti's supporters initiated a long step-by-step process (which they should have had done six months ago): getting formal approvals of various party bodies, talks with the Greens and the Left party, approvals by their bodies too.

As the last and most important step, at the explicit request of the Greens, all three parties held secret test ballots yesterday. The result: the one MP from the SPD's right wing who earlier declared her dissent abstained, everyone else voted for Ypsilanti -- so she seems to have secured a one-vote majority to be elected PM. I note her weakness was her strength: no Hessen SPD MP wants new elections now...

The actual vote in the Hessen parliament will be only in November.

Such a position of influence for the Left Party was unthinkable for West German politicians until now, so it will be a 'test run'. But Ypsilanti's government (if there'll be no backstabber) will definitely face an uphill struggle, with the present low poll numbers, and polls showing heavy discontent with their choice even among SPD voters.

Some sympathetic reporting

In the last few months, the German MSM was not simply hostile, but used the narrative of "Miss Ypsilanti's lust for power", and played up the broken election promise theme (see this and this comment).

For my partisan self, it seemed obvious that other election promises must be more important for the SPD and Greens. Above all, ending Koch's government (which would likely continue if they had thrown in the towel and new elections would have been held: Koch had enough lust for power to not resign).

Now at last I find SPIEGEL asking an actual Hessen SPD MP in support of the minority government option, so that we hear their actual motivations:

Linksbündnis in Hessen: Die gefühlte Ministerpräsidentin - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten - Politik Left Alliance in Hesse: The felt-to-be prime minister - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - Politics
Wer die Situation der hessischen SPD verstehen will, muss etwa mit dem Abgeordneten Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel sprechen. Der 39-Jährige ist einer von Ypsilantis Leuten. Dennoch will er kein negatives Wort über ihren Gegenspieler Jürgen Walter verlieren. Nach der Fraktionssitzung lädt Schäfer-Gümbel zum Gespräch in sein winziges Büro. Er trinkt Kaffee aus einer roten SPD-Kanne und redet sich sofort in Rage.If one wants to understand the situation of the Hessian SPD, he needs to talk to, say, MP Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel. The 39-year-old is one of Ypsilanti's people. Yet he doesn't want to lose a negative word about her opponent Jürgen Walter [the centrist Hessen SPD faction leader she defeated for leadership]. After the faction meeting, Schäfer-Gümbel invites us for an interview in his tiny office. He is drinking coffee from a red SPD pot and talks himself immediately into a rage.
Er ärgere sich über die "holzschnittartige Berichterstattung" der Journalisten, sagt er. Keinesfalls gehe es bei der hessischen Entscheidung alleine um den "Karrierewillen einer einzelnen Frau". Eine sehr große Mehrheit der Partei in Hessen unterstützt die Entscheidung für eine rot-grüne Minderheitsregierung. "Eine Entscheidung, die keinem von uns leicht fällt", gibt Schäfer-Gümbel zu.He is annoyed about the "woodcut-like reporting" of journalists, he says. The Hessian decision is not at all only about the "career wish of a single woman". A very large majority of the party in Hessen supported the decision for a Red-Green minority government. "A decision that wasn't easy for any of us," Schäfer-Gümbel admits.
Aber bei allen Bauchschmerzen, was die Linken angeht - niemand habe ihm bisher erklären können, wie die Alternative aussehe. Eine Große Koalition mit Koch oder Bouffier? Für Schäfer-Gümbel unvorstellbar. "Ich bin 2003 in den Landtag gekommen und habe unter Kochs Alleinregierung gelitten wie ein Hund. Alles Fortschrittliche wurde umgemäht, das Ziel war und ist, uns und unsere Themen kaputt zu machen." Ebenso gehe es den meisten in Fraktion und Partei. Koch müsse weg. Punkt. Schluss. Aus.But for all the bellyache, concerning the Left Party - no one had been able to explain to him what's the alternative. A Grand Coalition with Koch or [current CDU interior minister] Bouffier? For Schäfer-Gümbel unimaginable. "I arrived in the regional parliament in 2003, and I suffered under Koch's solo government like a dog. Everything that was progressive was mowed down, the goal has been and is to destroy us and our issues." Most people in the faction and the party feel the same. Koch must go. Period. End. Off.

I have a feeling that the way things work out in Hessen will have more influence on the outcome of the 2009 federal elections (and, to somewhat lesser extent, the European Parliament elections) than the Bavarian election of last week.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Sep 30th, 2008 at 06:19:39 PM EST
There was another article on SPIEGEL which is noteworthy for more than its content: Liebe Leute ( = Dear People) is a report on an open meeting of the Hessen parliamentary faction of the Left Party.

The tone of the article is cynical and ridiculing. It tries to paint the Left Party members as buffoons -- however, at the same time, in contrast with the MSM tenor for six months, it shows them explicitely as 'not scary at all'. I guess that can be called progress. The article ends with:

Dann bittet der Willi die Gäste doch noch, den Saal zu verlassen, weil man noch ein paar vertrauliche Dinge zu besprechen habe. Und dann steht man mit dem guten Gefühl vor Saal 118 S, nichts zu verpassen, weil da drinnen alles Mögliche geplant wird, aber sicher keine Revolution.[Faction leader] Willi [van Ooyen] then still asks the guests to leave the room, because a few confidential things remain to be discussed. And then one stands in front of Hall 118 S with the good feeling of not missing anything, because whatever is planned indoors, it is certainly not a revolution.
Man versteht jetzt auch besser, warum Politiker normalerweise immer hinter verschlossenen Türen tagen. Vielleicht ist es eine Maßnahme zum Schutz der Demokratie.One also gets a better understanding of why politicians normally always meet behind closed doors. Perhaps it is a measure to protect democracy.

There is one small detail in the article I want to flag, one of the silly points used to paint the Left Party MPs as 'unserious':

"Ehm, äh, Willi, ich weiß jetzt nicht, ob das so richtig rum ist", sagt jemand, er hält den Flyer aufgeklappt in die Luft. Leider hat der Willi den Text spiegelverkehrt in seinen Flyer kopiert. Der Willi heißt eigentlich Willi van Ooyen, aber in diesem Kreis hier spricht man sich nur beim Vornamen an, wie auf dem Schulhof."Ehm, uh, Willi, I don't know whether this is aligned the right way," says one of them, as he holds the flipped-open flyer into the air. Unfortunately, Willi copied the text mirror-inverted onto the flyer. Willi is actually Willi van Ooyen, but in this circle, one addresses each other only using given names, lie on the schoolyard.

It appears the author of the article was born at least not before 1980, and his politically awareness must date from not before 2005 -- that, or he is all too deeply embedded in an upper-class/neo-yuppie culture to not continue the culture war by mocking it. For, to ditch formal language and address comrades in an informal fashion was the default for the progressive Left from the sixties, and even during the Schröder years, the name usage of newly suit-donning foreign minister Joseph "Joschka" Fischer of the Greens was prominent enough to remind of this custom.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 04:05:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It appears the author of the article was born at least not before 1980, and his politically awareness must date from not before 2005

BTW: can someone right this trainwreck of a sentence? (Striked through: that's just something I forgot to change after several attempts to re-write the sentence.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 01:08:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It appears that the author wasn't born before 1980, and that his political schooling didn't begin until 2005, at the earliest.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 02:53:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently, the strange CDU-Greens coalition in the city-state of Hamburg produced its first decision that shall be self-destructive to the Greens: the approval to the new coal power plant the Greens steadfastly opposed in the campaign, even if approval with strict conditions. More details if I have the stomach to read up on it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Sep 30th, 2008 at 06:22:13 PM EST
Hehe, the Vattenfall one?

My tax kronor at work, bringing down the German anti-nukes. ;)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Sep 30th, 2008 at 07:25:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It doesn't make inspiring reading:

Hamburg sagt Ja zur KohleHamburg says yes to coal
[...] Der Energiekonzern Vattenfall darf das umstrittene Steinkohlekraftwerk Hamburg-Moorburg bauen. Allerdings mit Einschränkungen, wie die von Grünen-Umweltsenatorin Anja Hajduk geleitete Stadtentwicklungsbehörde bekannt gab. Die für den Betrieb erforderliche wasserrechtliche Erlaubnis wurde demnach teilweise versagt: Zum Schutz der Elbe wird das Kraftwerk voraussichtlich im Durchschnitt an 250 Tagen im Jahr mit gedrosselter Leistung betrieben werden müssen.[...] The electrical power corporation Vattenfall may build the controversial pit-coal power plant at Hamburg-Moorburg, but with restrictions, according to the city development authority headed by the Green Senator for Environmental Affairs, Anja Hajduk. The water use permits for necessary for the operation of the power plant were granted only in part: to protect the Elbe, the plant will likely be forced to operate at less than full capacity on 250 days per year on average.
Gegenüber dem Tagesspiegel sagte die Vorsitzende der Grünen in Hamburg, Katharina Fegebank: ,,Da gibt es nichts schönzureden: Dass unsere grüne Umweltsenatorin heute ein Kohlekraftwerk genehmigen musste, ist für uns alle eine krachende Niederlage. Wir haben bis zuletzt gegen das inakzeptable Klimamonster in Moorburg gekämpft und verloren - auch wenn die wasserrechtliche Erlaubnis teilweise verweigert wurde." Hajduk selbst betonte, die Entscheidung stehe ihrer persönlichen Ansicht entgegen. Um ein Gleichgewicht zum Monopolisten Vattenfall herzustellen, werde die Hansestadt einen eigenen Versorger gründen. Er werde den Namen ,,Hamburg Energie" tragen. Außerdem werde die Stadt einen eigenständigen Netzbetreiber suchen.Katharina Fegebank, Chairperson of the Greens in Hamburg, told the Tagesspiegel: "There's no way to spin this: The fact that our Green Environmental Senator was forced to approve a coal-fired power plant today is a resounding defeat. We fought this unacceptable climate monster in Moorsburg to the bitter end and lost - even though the water rights permit was partially withheld." Hajduk herself stressed that the decision is in opposition to her personal views. She added that the city would found its own utility company, to be named "Hamburg Energie". The city would also seek an independent grid operator.
Im Oktober 2006 hatte der Energiekonzern den Antrag für den 1640-Megawatt-Meiler mit 650 Megawatt Fernwärmeauskopplung eingereicht. Gegen das Projekt hat es daraufhin rund 1700 schriftliche Einwendungen gegeben, die in einer fünftägigen Erörterung mündeten. Den vorläufigen Baustart hatte im November 2007 noch der allein regierende CDU-Senat unter Vorbehalt der wasser- und emissionsrechtlichen Genehmigung bewilligt, aber immer betont, Vattenfall handele damit auf eigenes Risiko. Seitdem hat das Unternehmen nach eigenen Angaben 300 Millionen Euro in das Objekt investiert und dazu Auftragsbestellungen in Höhe von 1,6 Milliarden Euro getätigt.The energy company submitted an application for a 1640 MW plant with 650 MW of distance heating in October 2006. This move generated around 1700 written objections to the project, which resulted in five days of hearings. The previous CDU-majority Senate approved the provisional start of construction in November 2007 with reservation of permits under water and emission law, but repeatedly emphasized that Vattenfall was acting at its own risk. Since than, the company says it has invested EUR 300 million in this project and placed orders totaling EUR 1.6 billion.

Other sources say the water restriction means that the plant could only operate at half capacity, but they don't seem authoritative.

I'm having a hard time understanding why Hajduk felt her hand was forced. But presumably the CDU is not all that upset to see their junior coalition partner become damaged goods so soon after the election.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 04:05:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From the language, it appears it was a formal approval decision based on criteria, and she failed to find criteria to prevent it.

The capacity restriction seems a final ray of hope: maybe it can turn the project unprofitable.

I'll soon post another Green reaction.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 04:09:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hamburgs Grüne vor der Zerreißprobe - Politik - Deutschland - Handelsblatt.com Endurance Test awaits Hamburg's Greens - Politics - Germany - Handelsblatt.com
...Damit nicht zu viel Kühlwasser aus der Elbe entnommen wird, müsse das Kraftwerk aber voraussichtlich an 250 Tagen im Jahr mit gedrosselter Leistung gefahren werden. Im Schnitt könne es damit nur zu zwei Drittel seiner Kapazität genutzt werden.... To not take too much water from the Elbe river, the plant has to be run at reduced capacity for an expected 250 days a year. On average, it could be used at only two-thirds of its capacity.
Hajduk begründete die Genehmigung damit, dass der Klimaschutz nach geltender Rechtslage kein Kriterium für das Votum sein konnte, sondern nur der Gewässerschutz. Zudem muss Vattenfall das Werk mit der CCS-Technologie, die die CO2-Abscheidung ermöglicht, nachrüsten, "sobald dies technisch, rechtlich und wirtschaftlich möglich ist".[New Hamburg environment minister Anja] Hajduk justified the approval by saying thatclimate protection cannot be a criterion for the decision on the basis of existing law, only the water pollution can. Furthermore, Vattenfall has to retrofit the plant with CCS technology, which allows CO2 capture, "as soon as technically, legally and economically feasible."

So far the details on conditions, though there are enough weasel words under the second to make it questionable. Now an interesting comment from the federal leadership:

Der Vize-Fraktionschef der Grünen im Bundestag, Jürgen Trittin, hat die Genehmigung derweil verteidigt. Die grüne Umweltsenatorin in Hamburg, Anja Hajduk, "hat ihren Spielraum voll genutzt", sagte er dem Handelsblatt. Zugleich sagte der designierte Spitzenkandidat der Grünen für die Bundestagswahl 2009 voraus, dass die Genehmigung dem Betreiber Vattenfall "nicht nur Freude machen wird". Nach der Genehmigung darf der Konzern das Kraftwerk nur zu zwei Dritteln nutzen. Das sei aber noch nicht alles, sagte Trittin: "Wenn weitere Ansiedler auf das Elbwasser zugreifen sind auch weitere Einschränkungen des Betriebs bei Vattenfall möglich. Das heißt, der Konzern hat für seine Investitionen nur eine sehr relative Investitionssicherheit."Meanwhile, the vice-chief of the Greens group in the Bundestag, Jürgen Trittin, has defended the approval. The green environmental senator in Hamburg, Anja Hajduk, "fully exploited her leeway," he told the Handelsblatt. At the same time, the selected top candidate of the Greens for the 2009 federal elections predicted that the approval "won't bring only joy" for operator Vattenfall. After the approval, the company will be allowed to use the power plant only at two-thirds capacity. And that's not all, Trittin said: "If more local inhabitants access the water of the Elbe, Vattenfall may be faced with further operating restrictions. This means that the company has only a very relative investment security for its investments."
Trittin zeigte sich zuversichtlich, dass Hajduk auch die grüne Basis davon überzeugen könne, dass sie das rechtlich Machbare erreicht habe. "Die Alternative wäre ein rechtswidriges Verhalten gewesen." Der frühere Umweltminister verwies auf "das rechtliche Problem, dass wir heute keine Anlage allein durch den Hinweis auf Klimaschutz juristisch verhindern können". Damit stehe auch die erste schwarz-grüne Koalition nicht zur Disposition, denn es habe sich bei Moorburg nicht um eine Streitfrage mit der CDU gehandelt. "Auch eine grüne Alleinregierung hätte das nicht anders entscheiden können." Trittin expressed his confidence that Hajduk will also convince the Green base that she achieved the legally feasible. "The alternative would have been an illegal practice." The former [federal] Environment Minister pointed to "the legal problem that we can't prevent a facility on the basis of climate protection alone". For this reason, the first Black-Green coalition is not up for disposal, either, because the issue of [the power plant at] Moorburg was not a contentious issue with the CDU. "Even a sole Green government could not have decided otherwise."

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 04:34:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
German media just reported that Bavarian PM Beckstein is resigning in the wake of election losses, too. (It's not yet official but a leak.)

So now the way is open for a full takeover by Horst Seehofer.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 06:24:37 AM EST
The SZ's confirmed it.

Wonder if they'll give Beckstein an opportunity to save face by offering him Agriculture?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 07:10:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Beckstein, agriculture, LOL...

(Then again, it was a jump to the side for social expert Seehofer, too)

In the meantime, I realised that Wulff's call on Merkel to include a "wide range in the Union, also in personnel" was probably a face-saving (and career-saving) measure for Koch, now that the end of his rule seems close. Let's remember there were calls for giving Koch a federal government post just after the Hessen elections.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 07:45:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I imagine the CSU has an informal claim to a 2nd cabinet-level post, and if Merkel is like Kohl she won't mind having damaged goods in her cabinet.

Or maybe they'll bring Stoiber home from Brussels?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 02:30:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From what I read at SPIEGEL and Handelsblatttt earlier, and now in the above SZ article, it's apparent that the Greens are up for a concerted attack on the CSU, including the coming man Seehofer (whom they are in clynch with, over Seehofer's U-turn and hypocrisy regarding GMO corn). I wonder if there is more behind this.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 07:51:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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