The Decline of the German Political Establishment
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The Decline of the German Political Establishment
17 June @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Germany, like many countries in the West, is witnessing decline in support for long-standing establishment parties. The CDU/CSU and SPD recently recorded their lowest vote shares for a European Parliament Election, with the Greens and Alternative für Deutschland making electoral advances. Indeed, with the Greens quickly establishing itself as the leading progressive political party in Germany and the AfD enjoying high levels of electoral popularity in the formerly communist East, are we witnessing a fundamental rearrangement of German party politics? And what can the beleaguered establishment parties do to arrest their electoral decline?
By kind invitation of Greg Hands MP, the Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to this fascinating event on what is driving these seismic changes in German party politics, and how this fits into the broader European political context.
Christos Katsioulis currently heads the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) London office. Previously, he was director of the FES office in Brussels and Athens and worked as expert on foreign affairs and security questions at FES headquarters in Berlin. He studied political science and history in Trier and Thessaloniki.
Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is also an editor of the journal Nations & Nationalism, he has written for Newsweek International, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines, and blogs at Huffington Post. His current ESRC grant, affiliated with the think tank Demos, examines white working-class responses to diversity in the UK.
Dr Rakib Ehsan is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. Holding a PhD in Political Science, his undergraduate dissertation examined the politico-economic consequences of Third Way/Die Neue Mitte politics under New Labour in the UK and SPD Chancellor Schröder in Germany. His postgraduate dissertation discussed the “cartelisation” of British politics under New Labour, David Cameron’s “modern Conservatism” and Orange Book Liberalism.
Greg Hands MP is an MP for Chelsea and Fulham. In July 2016, under new Prime Minister Theresa May, Greg was appointed Minister of State in the new Department of International Trade, serving as number two to Secretary of State Liam Fox, a position he resigned from in 2018 in order to meet his election commitments of voting against a third runway at Heathrow airport. Greg’s main interests in national politics are economics, foreign affairs and counter-terrorism, housing policy and local government, and the criminal justice system. In terms of foreign affairs, Greg takes a particularly strong interest in Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.
On the 17th of June, the Henry Jackson Society hosted an event on The Decline of the German Political Establishment. The discussion focussed on the reasons behind the decline of Germany’s traditional political parties and the gains made by insurgent parties such as the Greens and the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), hearing contributions from Christos Katsioulis, Professor Eric Kaufmann, and Dr. Rakib Ehsan from the Henry Jackson Society. The event was chaired by Greg Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham.
Greg Hands opened the discussion and highlighted that he had lived in West Berlin many years ago and still monitors political events in Germany. Greg said that Germany generally took great pride in the endurance and stability of its political environment but that the traditional parties are encountering real difficulties.
Dr Ehsan started by highlighting the recent European Union (EU) elections and the low vote share secured by traditional parties across the spectrum, with the CDU/CSU and SPD all suffering historic drops. Dr Ehsan outlined how these falls in vote share have benefited the Greens, who are now polling first and also referred to the success that AfD had in East Germany. He outlined the problems that remain in that area with regard to wage growth, in spite of government investment. He explained that there is greater cultural variation in West Germany than in East Germany and confirmed that the drain of support from traditional parties meant the political contest was shaping up as the Greens vs AfD.
Christos Katsioulis referred to the SPD’s wide-ranging problems – their biggest vote share is among the over-60s and they are below 14% in all other segments. He highlighted that the SPD has been in government for all but four years since 1998 but has lost credibility on questions of social justice. The SPD has also struggled against Angela Merkel due to the similarities in their approach; both parties were in favour of ending conscription, phasing out nuclear power, and introducing gay marriage. Likewise, the positions of the CDU/CSU and the SPD on the Eurozone’s financial and immigration crises were too similar.
Christos Katsioulis said this homogeneity raises the question of what the SPD stands for and what its role in German politics is; the CDU maintains the status quo, the Greens represent the new middle classes, while the AfD are a revisionist party for those that feel threatened. The severity of the problems the SPD faces make it hard to avoid drastic reactions but it does have some strongholds at local levels but the struggle is how to relate these to the broader narrative.
Professor Eric Kaufmann explained that this is a conversation which needs to be situated in the context of rising populism – the classic contest of left vs right is now an issue of open vs closed, reflecting views on cultural change and immigration. Professor Kaufmann disputed that the success of the AfD in East Germany is principally a result of economic factors and more due to the fact that some people are more disposed to change and others to continuity. Immigration becomes a greater concern as levels rise and as this occurs the populist right tends to do well off the back of those worries.
While value changes that inhibited the discussion of the impacts of immigration had occurred in West Germany these did not occur in the East – a discourse around sex, race, and gender did not take place and this is reflected in the EU election results. Professor Kaufmann made the point that those who are university educated are less likely to vote for the AfD except in East Germany.
The discussion finished with a round of questions from the audience.
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