Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Can Angela Merkel make it 3 in a row and Peer Steinbrüeck avoid another gaffe

The German federal elections in September 2013 will determine significantly the future direction of any Eurozone assistance, bailouts and general funding. A change of government in Berlin could see a massive alteration in not only the way in which Eurozone aid funds are spent, but what criteria need to be met to gain access to it.

Currently, there is a ruling coalition in Berlin comprising of “the Union” which includes both Chancellor Merkel’s CDU and their Bavarian sister party the CSU, and the pro-business FDP who together were able to form a centre-right government. Since the 2009 elections though, there has been a significant change in fortune for Chancellor Merkel’s coalition and if elections were to be held today, they would not gain enough seats in the lower house of the German Parliament (the Bundestag) to form government again.

One of the largest obstacles to the CDU-CSU forming government is the theoretical electoral performance FDP who have been described by various segments of the German press media as nothing more than a “Zombie Party”. This is due to the fact that the FDP currently have a projected total vote at an insignificant 4% -down from 14% at the previous federal election. If this trend continues until the election it would be disastrous for the CDU-CSU not only because their coalition partners’ total vote has decreased by 10%, but also because in federal elections, any party which receives fewer than 5% of the total vote does not receive any seats in the Bundestag.

If we look at polling from the 2009 elections, we can see that that 10% or so of former FDP voters who have said that they would not vote for the FDP at the next election have most likely changed their preference to the SPD. If this was to continue until the September elections, there will be most probably be a SPD-Green coalition like the one that existed under the Gerhard Schröder governments.

Although current polling and forecasts suggest that an SPD-Green coalition will be able to form a government, there remains one erratic and uncontrollable factor in the race for the Chancellery and that is SPD leader Peer Steinbrüeck himself. The worst ailment for any politician to have in a political sense is something I like to refer to as simply “foot in mouth disease”. Mr Steinbrüeck – the man who has been chosen to lead his party in the upcoming federal election, is unfortunately suffering from a severe case of such an ailment.

Since being chosen to lead the SPD Steinbrüeck has had two major blunders which have – and will continue to, hurt and haunt his campaign until the election. These were his declaring that he believed the Chancellors salary was too low, and that Chancellor Merkel enjoyed a “female electorate bonus”.

What many people outside of Germany (and apparently the leader of the SPD) do not realise is that although the German economy as a whole is one of the better performing economies in Europe, there is a clearly visible difference in wealth between those Germans from the former East Germany and their Western counterparts. After more than 20 years since unification East Germans continue to work for lower wages, have less accumulated wealth and have had to deal with an increase in hours worked per week.

Those residents of Länder which constitute the former East Germany are concerned that the Eurozone crisis will one day come to Germany and that they will be put into a position comparable to what the Greeks are currently facing. They are also fearful of austerity potentially being implemented and their being driven further into economic inequality. The last thing these Germans want to be told by any prospective future Chancellor who would have the power to implement austerity and potentially drive them into poverty is that he wants a pay increase.

A politician should never use the insulting of the opposite sex either intentionally or unintentionally as a campaigning tool. Simple logic should set off the proverbial internal alarm bells and Steinbrüeck should have realised that by insulting women, he is alienate approximately 52% of the German population and may even help convince undecided female voters to vote for the CDU or CSU. What makes Steinbrüeck move even more suicidal is the fact that the incumbent Chancellor, Angela Merkel is a woman.

Normally, the incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel would have to be careful about what she spoke of whilst on the campaign trail with the Eurocrisis and Germanys role within it being a topic of much debate. Thankfully for her, Mr Steinbrüeck is diverting all the attention away from the Chancellor and onto his and the SPD’s deteriorating campaign.

Although the SPD’s approval rating is at approximately 30% in current polls, there was not a significant spike when Peer Steinbrüeck was chosen as party leader and in point of fact, their approval has not noticeably increased since Steinbrüeck’s election. With 8 months to go, perhaps Peer Steinbrüeck’s “foot in mouth” gaffes will sway voters back to the CDU, CSU or FDP and give Chancellor Merkel her third term as Chancellor of Germany.

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