Turning the tide? German Elections 2017: TV Debate Merkel vs. Schulz

The German federal election is held on the 24th of September, with its results highly anticipated in the European Union Member States, due to Germany’s significant influence on collective decisions. Recent polls, before the debate, suggest a win by Angela Merkels Christian Conservative party (CDU) over the Social Democrats (SPD), led by Martin Schulz, the former President of the EU Parliament, with a sizeable margin (CDU 38%; SPD 24%). Her fourth consecutive win, would extend her reign, since 2005, for another four years term and then match in length only with former chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU, 1982-1998). The debate was therefore referred to as a possible turning point or even the last chance for Martin Schulz to maintain a viable chance in winning the upcoming election.

No-one less than the ‘new Leader of the Free World’ is sought

Former US President Barack Obamas last call in office was dedicated to Angela Merkel, which led the Independent and subsequently other media outlets to conclude, that she is the ‘new Leader of the Free World’. At least it might be so in the opinion of Obama, who praised her leadership frequently after the election of Donald Trump. However, several experts and pundits across the world aligned with these remarks. Especially fostered through Trump, often as reckless or childish proclaimed, policy decisions and manners, which deteriorated the image of the President of the United States in an unprecedented way.
If this claim to the honorary title is not only to understand as a personalized one, to Merkel’s often as prudent described leadership skill, but in a broader sense related to Germanys position as a leading state, boosted by a solid and strong economy, which provides effective leverage on multilateral decisions made in Europe and beyond, this title travels ex officio to the next chancellor in charge. This truly would justify a huge attention to the contest for power in the central European state. On the contrary, the campaign so far and its non-producing of exciting theme complexes, nor contested arguments about anything is widely perceived in the public as ‘boring as usual’. For the electorate it seems hard to distinguish between the positions of the biggest parties in German politics. They are wildly observed as alike, which might be explained through the reoccurring of a ‘big coalition government’ by the same in the past. This apparently makes it hard for politicians to single-out their very own achievements in the past and alleged difference policy approach pursued in the future.

Strategic restraint vs. a whiff of populism

A TV debate between the two most promising candidate for chancellorship in Germany is already a fixture in an election year. Angela Merkel (CDU), is infamously known for her very slow reaction to breaking news and non-surprisingly therefore refused again, after 2005, 2009 and 2013, to contest in more than merely one TV debate. Martin Schulz (SPD) appeared in the campaign once in a while willing to put some populist twist into his approach of challenging Merkel and by this unsuccessfully tried to win over public support. Infamously he accused Merkel to be ‘anti-democratic’, in the understanding that she more or less purposely refuses to make clear policy statements and campaign pledges, which would foster a lively debate in Germany about different pathways, on which society and state could evolve. Furthermore, brought up by observers, Merkel strategically avoided to name Schulz in any regard, which helps her to appear actually uncontested. Several direct confrontations are therefore seen as an advantage for the contender Schulz from the Social Democrats. Anyhow, as this is not happening, the debate on last Sunday shall have attracted an even higher attention. It was viewed live by more than 16 million people. In regard of general given attention, Merkel’s tactic admittedly works, in 2013 17,4 million and 2009 even 21 million Germans followed the Live TV Debate.

Debate topics vs. interest of the public

The most disappointing participants at the debate have certainly been the four interviewers by the various German TV channels and their highly selective questions. It was quite astonishing to realize that about two thirds of the 90 minutes debate time was used up for the topic migration and Islam. Additionally was the last third overshadowed by a huge portion spend on the relation to Turkey and even the international tensions around North Korea and the handling of it through US President Trump. How all this lays at the heart of interest of the general public and not only of right-wing driven factions is questionable. Media critics said it seems the interviewers have apparently feared criticism of being not harsh enough on the contestants with controversial topics and therefore showed predisposed obedience.

The integration of slightly more than one million asylum seekers is certainly a challenge posed to the German society and state, even though a well-balanced perspective shall be maintained. Germany has a population of 82 million people, faces a looming demographic crisis due to constant low reproduction rates paired with a constant growing demand for labor, boosted by a solid and strong economy.
The debate constantly circulated around questions about how to deport people who have been denied asylum and furthermore, how to thwart the influence of foreign powers and especially the ones with Islamist interests onto migrants living in Germany. From here the debate drifted apparently seamless also to the four million Muslims currently living in Germany. The positions here did not differ at all. Both contestants tried to show their decisiveness, in combating extremism and deny those adherents any foothold in Germany, while expressing that respect towards all citizens is crucial. Merkel repeated a former German President’s famous sentence that Islam is a part of German society, she stressed that these citizens as well form the base for economic prosperity.

Schulz tried to expose Merkel with his bold statement of canceling completely the EU-Membership negotiations with Turkey. Merkel responded, arguing on technical matters, that this decision can be taken only unanimously among all EU member states. She added, a bit contradicting herself and therefore confusing, that she wants to state clearly that she has opposed Turkish membership from the very beginning.

Well, all these more or less petty fights made it easy to overlook that education and infrastructure have not been mentioned at all. While the unsustainable retirement and social system, rising social inequality and prevalent low-paid jobs got devoted only one sentence each – in the final ‘do you agree with this statement’- round. Quite a shame if we consider that there are more than 8,3 million pupils and 2,8 million students in Germany, who, and their respective families, would like to had their issues addressed. On Schulz side, this would certainly had gave him the chance to repeat his campaign promise to increase the federal student grant and increase state spending on educational infrastructure. While for the car driving population Schulz at least managed to sneak in his position to repeal the already parliamentary approved, bi-partisan as Merkel pointed out, Autobahn toll system.

The lack of addressing a wide range of topics and problems which many Germans might experience more on a daily basis caused a public outcry through social media channels, which led to severe criticism of the four interviewers.

Foreign policy, statesmanship and Europe

In its final moments the debate ran bizarre, when questions circled around the North Korean crisis, what Germany is doing and say could be in it and how to keep the western world on track in opposition to Donald Trump lack of leadership skills. Merkel keenly recalled all the foreign state leaders she is in constant contact with, to avoid any military escalation, which she as well as Schulz firmly opposes. On this, both candidates knew the general public in Germany decidedly agrees. In his regard Schulz, as experts claimed, failed to keep up with Merkel’s foreign policy experience. However, it has to be mentioned that across the debate he repeatedly called for European approaches to problems. He strongly condemned eastern European states and their lack of solidarity and support to foster those solutions. He declared himself in favor of tighten the grip on fellow member states that benefitted for years from the EU and now sabotage its common efforts. However, he blames Merkel and her unilateral moves in the heat of the 2015 migration crisis to be the origin of current misunderstandings and lack of coherence within the EU. Even though Schulz would have acted doubtless similar, for instant he declared it unfeasible and undesirable to close down any borders. Anyhow, Schulz condemned therefore Merkels statement, given to a newspaper, that she ‘would do everything again as she did in 2015’.

Still undecided

The debate was followed up by immediate polls, to declare as soon as possible a winner of the debate. The results named Merkel as winner, because she came across more experienced and less excited than her opponent. However, before the debate every second German voters declared to be still undecided, who to vote for. New polls show now, this debate has not changed much on that fact. It can be concluded that the clear trend to a re-election of Angela Merkel however remains unbroken.

Schulz needs to start a momentum to keep a win a viable possibility and end Merkel’s drowsy approach to politics. To do so he needs to find a way in attracting the attention of the electorate and convince them of a necessary change. A way would be to make them aware that Merkel has effectively over the last ten years not once accurately tackled systemic problems of the German economy and tax laws, which only reinforce the strong trend of a growing social inequality and financial unsustainability in the health care and pension scheme. Through the complex German election process and the wide variety of possible governing coalitions the German Election 2017 nonetheless stays a promising political event to follow.

 

(An analysis how the left might argue to win over public support and what preconditions have to be met, also electoral results wise, to achieve a parliamentary majority for a Leftist-Coalition has the author published at an earlier date.)

Sebastian Stölting studied Political Science in Dreden and Cairo and currently follows the Research Master in Social Science: Specialization in Comparative & International Politics at the University of Amsterdam.

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion. Picture Screengrab by Reuters

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The Budget of Fear and Individualism

An overview

Trump’s first budget proposal is out, one of the most expected budgets ever in american history that symbolizes Trump’s campaign motto: “Make America Great Again”. In case people doubt about it he made sure people would really see that on this budget by labeling it as “America First: A budget blueprint to make America great again”. As promised during his whole campaign he will do everything in his capabilities to shift priorities in Washington to make the American society safer, stronger and prosper while making other nations fear his administration. Does this budget represents this?

Yes, the most absorbing fact of this budget proposal is the fact that there will be a $54Bn. increase in the defense department with the goal to buy more jets, warships, and boost the military activity against ISIS. That will also be of the like of the Defense Industry that has ties to the Republican party. To balance the budget this massive increase in defense and military will be offset by a huge decrease across all others departments

Captura de ecrã 2017-03-18, às 15.20.22

(US Gov Departments expenditure, source: Washington post)

As we can clearly, Trump’s administration represents an inversion in what has been American policies in the last 8 years during Obama presidency. Cuts for almost every department except the Defense, the Homeland Security and Veteran Affairs departments. This ultra conservative and anti government intervention is clearly emphasized in this budget, specially when looking at the EPA department that will be the most affected one (in %) according to this administration hardline stance on global warming. Another way to look at this is seeing the decrease of nearly $10.1 Billion at the State Department which goes along the isolationist mindset that is reshaping american politics.

Proposals and a new paradigm in American policy

As we can see in the table above, Trump administration will do several large cuts in some key departments like the State, Labour and Education departments.

Among the major program cuts implemented by Donald Trump we have:

-The elimination of the USDA Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, a reduction of $498 million.

-The reduction or elimination of 20 programs within the Department of Education including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership and Impact Aid support payment for federal property and international education programs.

-Cuts FEMA state and local grant funding by $667 million, including the Pre-disaster Mitigation Grant Program and Homeland Security Grant Program.

-Eliminates funds for Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing.

-Ceases payments to the United Nations’ climate change programs for the Green Climate Fund and other funds.

-Scales back funding for the World Bank and other international development banks by $650 million over three years.

-Shrinks the Treasury Workforce by an unspecified amount

-Stops funding for the Clean Power Plan.

These measures like the elimination of funds for affordable houses and education show that Trump will do major cuts in several traditional welfare sectors contradicting his electoral promises of giving better living conditions to the American people being not so different of many traditional Republican proposals that refuse the government intervention in these key sectors. Another sector in which this can be seen is in health with the removal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which will mean that many Americans will become unable to pay health insurance meaning they cannot be assisted if they have an emergency health problem and will also become unable to pay treatment for oncological and chronic illnesses. Despite Trump’s promises that Obamacare will be replaced by something better until now, no concrete proposal was made.

Less surprising is the decrease in funds for Climate, Development and Migration issues. On these subjects Trump presents a populist evolution of the Republican stances by ignoring or in some cases, even denying the existence of some of World’s major problems, in a contrast with a more internationalist and interventionist position taken by the Obama administration.

As it is typical in a nationalist budget proposal this also marks a shift is the balance of the United States policy that will give now less importance to Global Affairs and more importance to Internal Affairs following the concern of many Americans that worry about their living conditions and jobs but not about a war in some Middle East country or a big natural disaster in Asia.

In the limit this could mark the return of an isolationist America. This can appear surprising if we consider the United States policy after the Second World War but in fact if the US was quite isolationist and protectionist during the XIX century and most of the first half of the XX century. However unlike in the XIX century this position is now much more irresponsible because some problems like the Climate Change, Islamic terrorism and the Migration crisis are global and require agreements between the World’s most powerful nations, among which is included the United States, in order to overcome them. There is also a moral imperative because the United States has responsibilities in some of this problems specially in Climate Change and in the instability in the Middle East.

Economic prospect

Above we’ve seen how the budget might be for the next year, but numbers alone don’t mean anything, however if we take into consideration its implications for the american economy now that’s something even more interesting to think and look at.

One of the most famous economists ever, that is still a reference in our days, John Maynard Keynes said that Aggregate demand, in other words, a country GDP is represented by the below equation:

Y= C+G+I+Nx, where Y is the country output (we refer it as GDP most of the times), C is private consumption, G government spending, I is Investment and Nx is Net Exports ( Exports – Imports).

Taking into consideration the proposed budget G will decrease in 2018 due to government slashing some expenditure on social programs, as a consequence many poor families will lose their subsidies which will make them poorer, and since Investment is divided between private and public, we see that it might have a negative variation (seeing for example the Transport Department projected expenditure variation). With this in mind we could already see that, all things remaining constant, American 2018 GDP might degrow a bit, however there is still one thing to take into consideration, which is Net Exports, for that we need to take into consideration the effect of the Interest Rate and Exchange Rate.

Last week, we saw an announcement by FED’s president Janet Yellen stating that FED interest rate will rise from 0,75% to 1%, which has its economic consequences.

fig32

(Exchange Rate, Rate of Return, source:University of Colorado Boulder)

Represented in the image above, we have the vertical line which is the domestic interest rate, the horizontal line the foreign interest rate, the vertical Axis the Exchange Rate level and the horizontal Axis the expected rate of return. We see that an increase in the american interest rate (From left to right) will mean an higher expected rate of return of american investments. This means that the dollar will be more desirable and demanded which will trigger it’s value, that is to say, it’s exchange rate goes up, a dollar now is worth more Euros, Kwanzas, etc.

This interest rate hike and consequently Dollar appreciation might deteriorate American Net Exports, since the dollar is now more expensive and so are the american products.

This combination of raising interest rate while cutting government expenditure can lead to a deceleration of the american economy in 2018.

In the end, we should bear in mind that this is just a budget proposal and needs congress approval to become a reality. Even though it is creating some divisions among republicans this proposal seems a plausible budget and it seems likely to be approved by a congress in which Republicans have the majority of the seats. This is a budget proposal that represents fear, individualism and isolationism focusing on military activity, instead of supporting social, education and healthcare programs that can be a social uplift for many poor families and improve the living conditions of many americans. Sectors like the environment are also ignored by this budget proposal. These measures will not only be negative for the economy because it lacks enough of a stimulus, but will have the likely result of dividing and polarising even more the American society which can create more social unrest special among the poor and minorities.

 

Luís Carvalho, economics student and proud 2015 graduate of democracy

Pedro Diogo, economics graduate

Disclaimer: This Post reflects solely the author’s opinion it does not represent the whole platform

How Neoliberalism Influences Immigration Policies in Modern Western States

In nowadays’ society, governments and political elites are influenced by the neoliberal thought: The influx of public money into banking industry, the collaborations between national governments and private corporations, the divergence of public funds into the private sector, accumulation of capital, and the dominance of corporate sectors, are typical attributes of a neoliberal behaviour1 . Governments often act according to this ideology: They emulate corporations and work according to the market logic of efficiency, competitiveness and profitability.2 Continue reading “How Neoliberalism Influences Immigration Policies in Modern Western States”

The Dilemma of our Solidaric Values

It is very common in this day and age to talk about immigration and refugees. These are the two terms I will consequently use in this article even though sometimes in papers and in common speech other terms are used. In addition to this I would also like to clearly state that I am in favour of letting refugees into our countries, also making the statement to be very proud of my country Sweden and it’s consistent proud tradition of taking in refugees, which has benefits on a daily basis in various ways. Many of my closest friends are foreigners and it has been extremely beneficial for me to be a part of a multicultural society.

Continue reading “The Dilemma of our Solidaric Values”

Marginalised and Disenfranchised: The Post-Brexit Fate of EU Migrants?

Nearly 3 million EU migrants in the UK face losing the rights and privileges of EU citizens in the UK

Brexit is looming. With some recent polls UK_Border,_Heathrowsuggesting a momentum towards Leave, and the Brexiteers in buoyant spirits, the UK is closer than ever before to drifting off into the Atlantic. Though most commentators still believe Remain will eventually prevail, it is now time to consider what the consequences of Brexit might be for those Europeans living in the UK, who, like me, have not acquired British citizenship.

Continue reading “Marginalised and Disenfranchised: The Post-Brexit Fate of EU Migrants?”

In Defense of Europe’s Freedom of Movement

It is when I cross a border far away from Free movement 2home, in Asia or in the Middle East, that I am reminded of one of the biggest achievements of the European Union: free movement within the Schengen countries. Indeed, traveling freely across borders is possibly the most practical benefit many Europeans enjoy for being part of a European community. Schengen and the free movement principles are at the core essence of the European Union, and many European Millennials that have never lived in a Europe with borders cannot even imagine a Europe with internal borders.

Continue reading “In Defense of Europe’s Freedom of Movement”

The migrant Exodus: Slovenia on the Refugee road

Slovenian has been facing an influx of migrants for weeks now. Although the government claimed it has been prepared for the larger amounts, however reality turned out to be the other way around. Thus Continue reading “The migrant Exodus: Slovenia on the Refugee road”