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Posts tagged with: Angela Merkel

Why 2015 is going to be the beginning of the end for Merkel

Addressing Global and European Challenges: Angela Merkel

I’ve long been fascinated by the German politics, and how German politics is perceived beyond Germany. One aspect of this is how Merkel is described as the strong leader, internationally – a picture that is generally not reflected within Germany itself. For all their fascinating insight, pieces like the long profiles in The New Yorker and The Dish fall somewhat into this trap. Putting this another way, the temptation is to over-estimate the power of Merkel within the German political system, and not pay adequate attention to the other players in her three governments to date.

I’ve however come to the opinion that 2015 is going to be the beginning of the end of the Merkel project (if that’s the right word for it – predominance, perhaps?), even if that seems to be going against the grain of popular opinion.

The first observation is that it is for governments to lose elections, not for oppositions to win them. Merkel, in grand coalition with the SPD, commands 80% of the seats in the Bundestag, rendering this point more important than ever – the opposition can barely land a blow. Merkel is only going to decline if she, and her government, begin to lose their grip…

…which leads me to how this is happening, the second point. A major error has been unfolding these past few days, with extraordinarily patronising comments from Merkel and Schäuble, since tempered somewhat, about Germany preparing to let Greece leave the Euro if that country does not stick to its austerity programmes. That this has been so obviously raised before Greece’s 25th January general election looks like unacceptable pressure on Greece, in addition to years of austerity and years of recession. Sigmar Gabriel has also waded into this debate, saying Germany cannot be blackmailed, when it looks like the blackmailing is going very much in the opposite direction. Hollande may be weak, the UK may be marginal, and Renzi as yet untested, but there is a limit to how much the rest of the EU is going to take – and Austria’s Faymann, it seems, has been quick to express that.

While Germany may be the Eurozone’s economic powerhouse, the motor is nevertheless spluttering a bit – my third point. That 1% growth in 2015 is considered to be progress by Jens Weidmann says a lot, and even The Economist has come to the conclusion that Germany would be better investing in infrastructure than seeking to balance its budget. The danger of deflation remains real. Merkel might be a fine leader for when the economy is doing OK – playing the role of the frugal matron of the country appealing to Baden-Württemberg householders paranoid about debt, but I doubt this can persist if Germany’s own performance stalls, or Germany’s own policies force further woes on the Eurozone, and that drags German economic growth lower still.

The fourth issue is the lack of a political project to really hold the coalition together. Most of the main components of the Koalitionsvertrag (see Die Zeit’s excellent summary in German here) have already been implemented (minimum wage, dual citizenship, rent controls, change to university financing), and the only major outstanding one – tolls for non-German cars on German motorways (the so-called Pkw-Maut) – is fraught with difficulties, as the current plans are contrary to EU law, as Juncker has already warned Merkel.

The problem is that the transport minister (responsible for the Pkw-Maut) is Alexander Dobrindt, and he’s from Merkel’s CDU’s Bavarian ‘partners’, the CSU. They are the ones who have also called for German to be spoken at home, and whose rhetoric has become so populist that they are included in Buzzfeed quizzes. This then is the fifth issue for Merkel to contend with – not only the populism of the CSU, but also the appropriate reaction to Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and Pegida – who have introduced a populist, xenophobic and EU-hostile aspect into German politics, most notably in the traditional heartland of the CDU, Saxony. Merkel has been reasonably tough in her critique of Pegida, but a comprehensive way to deal with these nuisances to the right of her party has so far eluded her and the CDU.

Right then, there you have it: time, Greece, the economy, the lack of a political project, and the rise of populism are going to contribute to the weakening of Merkel. By all means tell me why this is all wrong in the comments!

Reinfeldt, Merkel, Cameron and Rutte in a boat – a roundup

So embattled Swedish PM Reinfeldt invited Merkel, Cameron and Rutte to Harpsund and took them out in a small rowing boat (news summary here), and let photographers take pictures of this. Here’s the original:

The Junckermonster – my own effort

Putin, via @GeneralBoles

Breaking apart, via @Spacexecadet

Sinking, via @JOR_ID

Just the two of them, via @BuschEbba

[UPDATE 10.6.2014, 1220]

Two further contributions…

Beneath the lake, via @Berlaymonster

Cartoon, via @valentinapop

(note: I have no idea who posted these images first, and hence what the rights are – if you are a rights holder please contact me)

BREAKING: first picture of EPP’s winning candidate in Dublin, Jean Claude Juncker


So the European People’s Party has a candidate for Commission President – Jean Claude Juncker. Tweet announcing the result is here.

He’s going to be Merkel’s poodle.

Image above is Creative Commons, Sharealike Licensed – can be used, for free, but must be attributed to Jon Worth, with a link back to this blog or to my Twitter account @jonworth.

Component parts of the image are drawn from other Creative Commons Licensed Images – Il Presidente Enrico Letta, a Berlino, con il Cancelliere, signora Angela Merkel by Palazzo Chigi, poodle pup by chuck_heston and Floor of the Santa Maria della Salute by TracyElaine.

Merkel in London – a case study in political tweeting

Angela Merkel spoke in London earlier today, and – as could have been predicted in advance – it was one of the most interesting political stories of the day in UK and indeed EU and German politics. A BBC story with all the background can be found here.

Such events of course are now accompanied by live commentary on Twitter, today mostly on the hashtag #Merkel. Here are some of the key tweets, and explaining what they each show.

The “the speech in a tweet” tweet
Congratulations to @olafcramme here. This, sent within seconds of Merkel having spoken the words, summed up the whole speech. Nailing it so clearly and so quickly takes skill, and 47 Retweets is the least it deserved.

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The amusing but nevertheless political tweet
Some amusement never goes amiss when you’re trying to maintain your concentration through minutes of impenetrable prose. Here @lukereuters managed the tweet of the day (210 RTs), likening the Cameron and Merkel on the sofa to an IKEA catalogue. Guido Fawkes followed up with analysis of the DVDs behind them.

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The “what does all this mean” tweet
Not all summed up in the tweet itself admittedly, but the title of the piece is neat – this tweet by @kosmopolit drew my attention to this piece from @jeremycliffe at The Economist that, in its short and succinct way, summarised many of the issues at stake in today’s speech.

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The person who’s actually there, providing context
While the speech was live-streamed, the later press conference was not (or at least I was not aware of it). But @DavidCharter was there or somehow watching, providing context on Twitter, and was ready to follow up if you asked him questions.

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Those were my highlights of following the Merkel speech on Twitter. Anything interesting I missed? If so do comment below, or tweet me – @jonworth.

[UPDATE 28.2.2014]
Some of this is also featured in Tweets of the Week from viEUws.

So what did we learn from Merkel in London. Rather little.


I suppose Angela Merkel’s speech today to the members of the House of Commons and House of Lords was what was to be expected. High on vague sounding phrases, and low on commitment. Open Europe put out a table at the start of the week laying out where they saw scope for Anglo-German agreement (original table here) and I have amended the table according to what Merkel actually said.

“Those who hoped my speech will pave the way for fundamental EU reform based on British wishes will be disappointed,” she said, ruling out major changes to the EU Treaties – and probably the only really significant line of her speech. She had a further line on how free movement is vital, but that it must not be abused, and a whole load of pleasant sounding phrases about the competitiveness of Europe’s economy. But if you compare her speech to Open Europe’s table, it does not shape up at all well.

Video excerpts of the speech, and some background, can be found here.

Candidates for President of the European Commission – where we stand in January 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 15.00.34Back in the early summer of 2013 I wrote a detailed series of blog posts about the future President of the European Commission. There were posts about EPP, PES and other candidates. Overall those posts have stood up well over the last 6 months. But with the EP elections just over 4 months away, and with the new Commission to be decided shortly after, and with more and more jostling for top positions being covered by the newspapers (see FT earlier in January and FAZ today for example), it’s time to update the state of play.

Party of European Socialists (PES)
For the moment the PES position is clear: Martin Schulz is the top candidate, and if the PES wins the European elections they will seek to nominate him as Commission President. There were quite some problems with the transparency and democratic credentials of the process to select Schulz (as I analysed for Policy Network) but, for the coming months at least, Schulz’s position will not be challenged, formally at least, within the PES. He also was part of the negotiations to form the Große Koalition in Germany, and it seems Merkel can get on with him. Also as Derk Jan Eppink points out, Schulz can be strategic, has an instinct for power, has nothing to lose and only lacks the experience some other candidates bring.

For reasons I do not altogether understand – perhaps because she’s the only social democrat anyone’s heard of who’s not unpalatable? – the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt keeps on coming back. The UK Labour Party would prefer her, Kinnock’s daughter in law, to Schulz. After all someone who’s been a principle-free, reasonably unsuccessful Prime Minister of Denmark is better than an old fashioned German social democrat, right? I suppose the selfie helped.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Here I must admit I was wrong, for I could not previously foresee how the Liberals would possibly want Olli Rehn, the Economic & Monetary Affairs Commissioner, as a Commission President candidate. But it seems he is in pole position to be their leading candidate. This of course could well be because the other candidate is Guy Verhofstadt, and choosing between those is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Anyway, Euractiv has an update on the state of play, and ALDE will decide which one to go for in a delegate vote from the member parties on 1st February.

As Dario Čepo and I have discussed on Twitter, Rehn could somehow slip between the PES and the EPP in the event of a very closely balanced electoral result. The prospect fills both Dario and I with dread – and we thought Barroso was bad!

The Greens
Maybe because the Greens know they are not actually going to get the Commission President job they have actually designed the best process to select a top candidate. The #GreenPrimary is an online poll, open until 28th January, open to anyone (even non-Greens) to select their two top candidates. There are 4 candidates standing – Rebecca Harms, Ska Keller, Monica Frassoni and José Bové. I have no idea who the favourite is among the four.

European Left
Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA is the candidate. He’s going to bring some fire to debates in the next few months, but he has even less chance of becoming Commission President than a Green.

European People’s Party
The prominent political force in the EU for at least the last decade, and the party of the current Commission President Barroso, it is nevertheless the EPP’s process to choose a candidate that is leading to the most head-scratching in Brussels at the moment. The party is supposed to choose a candidate with a delegate vosting system at its Dublin Congress 7-8 March. Merkel, apparently with some backing from Van Rompuy, is not too keen on a close connection between the EP election result and the Commission President nomination, fearing it will strengthen the Parliament cause inter-institutional conflicts (see the FT). This would only be a particular problem if the PES won the elections, yet the European Council remains dominated by EPP parties.

The challenge here too seems to be how to find a viable candidate. People like Michel Barnier (currently a Commissioner) and Jean Claude Juncker (former Luxembourg PM) have nothing to lose by putting their names forward. Viviane Reding also wants the job, but I think she’s about the only person who wants her to have it. Prime Ministers from the party such as Donald Tusk and Enda Kenny have distanced themselves from the role, not wanting to kill their national political careers by throwing their hats into the ring, only to then find another party wins the EP elections. Others like Jyrki Katainen and Christine Lagarde should not be fully ruled out either. Thankfully a third term for Barroso now seems totally out of the question though.

As the situation changes I will do my best to blog about it.

[UPDATE 15.1.2014, 1000]
I’ve been asked on Twitter about numerous candidates not mentioned in this blog entry – people like Valdis Dombrovskis, Dalia Grybauskaitė and Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This blog entry in no way excludes those people. If they are not mentioned it means I simply have heard no more about them that makes me change my views on them since the original blog entries on the subject of the EU’s top jobs. I was also asked about why there is no mention of the ECR in this blog entry – it’s because I see the future of the group in Brussels as being under some threat, as explained here.

Revisiting politicians and Facebook – what makes a good Facebook page for a politician?

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A few weeks ago in Brussels I had a cup of coffee with Roberta Metsola. Since April 2013 she has been a MEP after the resignation of Simon Busuttil. Roberta and I studied on the same Masters programme, and it was good to chat and catch up. One question she posed me sounded simple enough, but actually rather threw me when I looked into it in more depth: could I find her good examples of politicians using Facebook Pages?

So the first question is: what to include and not include? Pages like Angela MerkelDacian Cioloş or Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen are out, as the leading positions of these people in their respective parties or organisations, plus the additional resources that can be given to their Facebook work as a result, mean they cannot be compared to a regular MP or MEP. All three pages mentioned above are worth looking at though.

The second question then is: what is good? This means making the best use of what Facebook can offer as opposed to what other networks can offer, and not just automating content. This eliminates pages like Peter Hain’s (thanks @AlexWhiteUK for the tip) – it generates discussion, but the content is automated from Twitter. I also eliminate politicians using just personal Profiles, unless they have the Follow function enabled.

What then can Facebook offer that other networks cannot, and hence how can a politician use it? Facebook still has an extraordinary reach – it reaches users that no other social network can get to. See here for an overview of the stats. It is a place to reach voters or activists directly, rather than through intermediaries such as journalists or bloggers. The problem is that while you might be able to theoretically reach thousands of people on Facebook, chances are you will not (because getting to them is hard), and as Facebook needs to make money the main way to drive up numbers of Likes, and the numbers of people seeing your content, is to pay (details here about Likes, and here about content).

Also the type of content is important – Facebook allows combinations of text, pictures and video, and links out to external sites. This multimedia mix is better than, for example, Twitter continuing reliance on text over everything else. Conversely the amount of information that you can post on a Facebook page is lower than the amount of tweets you can send, or news you should put on a website (see here for more analysis).

So who then is actually doing it at all well? Thanks to tips from @AndreasKjeldsen, @tinamellergaard @captain_europe, and my own digging, we have a few reasonable examples. These are: Tim Farron (MP from the UK), Alyn Smith (MEP from Scotland), Dan Jørgensen (MEP from Denmark) and Morten Løkkegaard (MEP from Denmark). Thanks also to Tim Farron himself for taking the time to discuss his experience on Twitter. All of these pages have a relentless focus on the work the politician in question is doing and, particularly in the case of the two Danish MEPs, have managed to build a considerable following as a result. All these examples avoid posting too often, try to craft their messages for Facebook, and make some effort to use photos (esp Jørgensen) and video (esp Løkkegaard). In essence they all cover the main bases reasonably well.

So far this analysis is only starting to scratch the surface of good Facebook use by normal MPs or MEPs. If you have seen good examples then please do leave a comment – there must be better examples out there. While I personally remain a bit of a Facebook-politics-sceptic, the reach of Facebook remains unparalleled, so who is actually making the best use of what it can offer?

(Thanks also to @ylemai, @alessandraBXL, @IPA_thanks and @ellispalmer94 for additional help researching this piece!)

[UPDATE – 26.7.13, 1415]
New examples – French MEP Sylvie Guillaume. A little bit too much this-is-what-a-politician-does, but decent multimedia mix. Tip given on Facebook. Also Deborah Bergamini (suggested by @geekeconomist) – plenty of content, but is it really especially engaging?