While our eyes have turned to Scotland and the Referendum on Thursday this week, politics across the Channel continues apace. We‘ve noted in passing that the French Eurosceptic party under Marine LePen has been surging in the polls, beating M Hollande, but we haven’t taken much notice of what has happened in Germany, where elections in two of their Länder took place yesterday.
Briefly, this is the background on which these elections take place:
Germany is a federation of “Länder”, i.e. countries based on the former kingdoms and principalities which existed independently before the unification into the German Empire in 1870, and which were re-established after WWII by the Allies along the lines of the states of the USA. They have their own administrations, their own PMs, and their own parliaments. They act as a Second Chamber to the Bundestag. The Länder elections are run like those to the Bundestag, with PR and the 5% Clause, meaning that parties receiving less than 5% of the votes will not be represented In the Bundestag and the Länder Parliament.
The main parties represented in the Bundestag are also represented in the Länder parliaments, with changing majorities. Thus if the majority of Länder are represented by the party in opposition to the government, German legislation can become mired in horse-trading between Bundestag and government on the one hand and Länder government on the other (think Obama’s Democrat Whitehouse vs Republican House of Representatives).
So elections in the Länder do matter – a lot.
The Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) is not unknown here, being a Eurosceptic Party, albeit not as sceptical as we are. They did not want to join our group in the EU parliament. However, their message is ringing bells loudly and clearly in Germany.
In the elections to the Parliament in Saxony on August 31st this year, they gained 10% of the votes and thus, for the first time, moved into a Länder Parliament.
Since one swallow doesn’t make a summer, this result didn’t make many waves except in Germany. The leading parties, being the parties of the current “Grand Coalition” of conservative CDU and social-democrat SPD, were happy to install such a coalition in Saxony.
However, elections were held yesterday to the Länder Parliaments in Thuringia and Brandenburg. The AfD again gained 10% and 11% respectively. Now the leading parties are taking notice, and the commentariat is also trying to explain this aberration. The current interpretation is that these three Länder were part of the former communist DDR – so the voters don’t know much about politics and fall for the ‘populist’ right-wing ‘extremists’, poor things! The people in the Länder in the old Bundesrepublik would of course not fall for that, and the EU election results were just an aberration …
While politicians say the AfD should be made a coalition partner in the Länder Parliament, because then people would see that they are just charlatans, journalists are still aghast at the cheek of the AfD, which is, according to them, acting like poachers in the reserves of the main parties, and ‘hoovering’ up the votes of the discontented.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it!
There’s one difference though from the situation here in the UK: some conservative politicians and journalists in Germany are demanding not to denigrate the AfD, because that would drive more voters into their arms. Personally, I believe this attitude won’t play over here. Tories and their hack pack are far too set in their ‘bash the fruitcakes’-mode.
So things are on the move in politics, with Eurosceptic parties and voters in the biggest EU countries, France and Germany, gaining ground. Personally, I believe that this would not have happened quite so fast without the example set by UKIP. We know, do we not, that the videos of Nigel Farage’s speeches in the EU Parliament tend to go viral, not just in the UK but also in Europe.
By the way, the German Liberal Democrat Party, a long-time coalition partner of the German Conservatives, was kicked out of the Bundestag in the elections last year, falling below the 5% mark. That party has now been kicked out of these Länder Parliaments as well, for the same reason.
Personally, I believe that Mr Clegg is now having many sleepless nights …
Photo by strassenstriche.net