Monday, September 19, 2011

The noose tightens

After the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania electoral humiliation for Frau Merkel at the beginning of this month, cruel fate has struck again, knocking the German chancellor back once more – this time in Berlin. Amusingly, though, the forever objective BBC chooses to report this as a setback (above). Even the Financial Times takes a tougher line, telling us that Merkel has been "rocked" by this event.

The proximate cause for her grief is that her coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), have once again been wiped out, plunging to 1.8 percent from 7.6 percent in 2006. This is the fifth time this has happened in seven of the Lander votes, fatally destabilising the ruling coalition.

Having not cleared the five percent hurdle, the FDP will not gain any seats at all, a result that has not been affected by the party's desperate attempt to acquire a "eurosceptic" mantle, by opposing the bailouts.

The Social Democrats have come out the winners, as expected, but with a reduced poll, down to 29.3 percent from the 30.8 percent gained in 2006. Merkel's Christian Democrats are slightly up at 23.3 percent, from 21.3 percent in 2006. This, though, is well below the 40 percent the party used to win in Berlin in the 1980s and 1990s.

Strong performers have been the Greens, who won 17.6 percent, up from 13.1 percent in 2006. The Left party fell to 11.7 percent from 13.4 percent. But the other big winner is the Pirate Party which was set up to fight against internet restrictions – the Access Impediment Act, or ZugErschwG, but has since blossomed into a full-blown eurosceptic party. It has gained a stunning 8.5 percent and is set to enter parliament for the first time.

Why this is particularly important at this juncture is that, on 29 September, Merkel faces a vote in the Bundestag on the bailout, giving the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) more powers. On current form, she may not actually win the vote.

Even more seriously for her, some pundits are suggesting that the ruling coalition will collapse before then, and Germany could face a general election two years early – leaving the EU hanging while German electoral politics take over.

Life, as they say, starts to get very interesting.