The Decline of the German Political Establishment

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: The Decline of the German Political Establishment

DATE: 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm, 17 June 2019

VENUE: House of Commons, Committee Room 12

SPEAKERS: Christos Katsioulis, Eric Kaufmann, and Dr Rakib Ehsan



GREG HANDS MP: I am delighted that we have the opportunity to have a one-hour discussion, so quite short, but hopefully very focused on the direction that German politics is going in. I am Greg Hands, Member of Parliament for Chelsea and Fulham, former government minister in treasury and international trade. Also, I used to live in Germany, which is somewhat unusual among Members of Parliament at the moment. I used to live in West Berlin back in the late 1980s and I first got interested in German politics at that time. And then in the noughties when I got elected here to the House of Commons in 2005, I chaired the joint conservative CDU-CSU working group on the economy and I am also a frequent attender in Germany political events, including in particular CDU-CSU. But you are not here to listen to my views. That is just to set the scene. We are here to have a good discussion entitled the decline of the German political establishment. I know some figures in Germany have been proud of the fact that they have resisted what is happening in France, in Italy, and other major large European democracies, even Spain to some extent with the decline of the two parties system.

But Germany is not immune, I looked at these figures on the way and the very latest Forsa opinion poll in Germany, the so called sonntagsfrage, “which way would you vote if there were an election at the Bundestag this Sunday?”. The extraordinary picture is that the Green party is currently on the lead, at 27%, followed by the CDU-CSU at 24%, the AFD at 13%, the SPD at 11%, the FDP at 9%, the Linke at 8%. Not only do we have the two traditional volkspartijen, the main centre-left and centre-right parties in difficulty, we also have a fracturing of the system which we have seen since particularly the general elections of 2017, the difficulty to form a coalition in a six parties system, or if you count the CSU, a seven parties system. You need to be good at maths as well as diplomacy to put together that coalition. But here to tell us all about it, we have got three speakers today. To my immediate right is Christos Katsioulis who currently heads the office of the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung which is close to the SPD but not part of the SPD. Christos has previously been at the Ebert Stiftung offices in Brussels and Athens and he studied Political Sciences and History in Trier and Thessaloniki. Hopefully not too infused by Karl Marx.

On my left, I have got Eric Kaufmann who is professor of politics at Birkbeck College at the University of London. He is also editor at the journals Nations & Nationalism, he has written for Newsweek International, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines, and blogs at Huffington Post. His currently examining white-working class responses to diversity in the UK. It sounds like an event in its own right. We might have you back here to do that.

And also from the Henry Jackson Society, is Dr Rakib Ehsan who is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, holding a PhD in Political Science and is an expert with anything to do with the centre. He is got the third way, die neue mitte politics, the new labour in the UK and the SPD. His post-graduate dissertation was the cartelisation of British politics and the new David Cameron modern conservatism and orange book liberalism. I think he is potentially the world’s export on the UK centre. It is perhaps the best way of describing him.

Welcome. I am going to ask Rakib to set the scene for five minutes or so. Then our two mains speakers to speak for ten to fifteen minutes which should leave us enough time for perhaps half an hour of questions and points of rising. I am afraid we do have a hard stop at two o clock. I know it is short, but if we use the time well, I think we can have a very very interesting and topical discussion.

So, at this point, I am going to hand over to Rakib.

DR RAKIB EHSAN: Thanks everyone for attending the event on the German political establishment. I am just going to set the scene and give a general overview of current day German politics. I think a good place to start is actually with the recent European Parliament elections where the CDU-CSU block recorder a slight vote share for an EP election. If we are looking at the post-reunification era the highest vote share for the Christian-Democrats and (inaudible)  Christian-social union was 48,7% in 1999. In the most recent elections that dropped to 28,9%. You can see that it is a real drop. And it is a similar story for the German social-democrats. The SPD also recorder its lowest vote share for the European Parliament elections. In the most recent elections, they dropped to 15,8%. The highest percentage was in 1994 with 32,2%. If you look at the combined CDU-CSU-SPD vote share, that dropped from 2014 when it was 62,6%, that is now 44,7%. So a drop of 17,9%.

The benefactors of these changes in German politics are the Greens. They are doing very well in terms of support in Parliament German market place with recent national poll placing Greens first. Now there is (inaudible) let us talk about the rise of populist nationalism across Europe. People saying that if the Alternative für Deutschland was a very modest electoral performance (inaudible), I think there we are missing the larger picture. If you actually look at the results in formerly communist East, Eastern Germany, there, AFD performed very strongly in Saxony and Branderburg where is has actually finished first and in the state of Thuringia it finished very close to second. So you can see that in the formerly communist east, despite huge state investment in the post-reunification era, Eastern Germany continues to suffer from relatively low wages, economic stagnation, high rates of unemployment, and poor living standards.

We must not focus on the economics here, I think that culture feeds in too, nation as well. You see that with Western Germany, even in the pre-reunification era, as early as the sixties, you have a guest-worker programme, the gastarbeiter programme, from places such as North Africa and also Turkey. So you have that exposure to people from different cultural context. This was not so much the case in the formerly communist East. So what I would say, looking at this figures, looking at these shifts in voting preferences in the German context, we see that there is a drowning support for the main establishment parties. And you can always say that if you are looking at the real key ideological battle now in German politics, it is increasingly becoming the German Greens versus the Alternative für Deutschland Alexander Gauland, who is a very big figure in Alternative für Deutschland actually identified the Greens as his fiercest ideological enemies. That is also reflected in voting patterns where the Green party, and the German Greens in the European Parliament they performed exceptionally well amongst young aspirational professionals in those metropolitan city hubs in the West world, the AFD performed particularly well in communities that are suffering from economic stagnation in the formerly communist East.

Christos and Eric will dig into why are these shifts happening, what can the SPD in particular do to potentially reinvent itself and cultivate and rebuilt its electoral support. But also the CDU-CSU. There is also this electoral block stand fall, what is its perspective on issues such as immigration, such as integration, national cohesion, these always (inaudible) particularly for the two establishment parties they will have to tackle as they move forward an increasingly volatile and fragmented German political market place.

GREG HANDS MP: Excellent, thank you Rakib. I am now going to ask Christos. He is going to talk more from a SPD perspective in the rise of the Greens and the challenges that are faced on left in German politics.

CHRISTOS KATSIOULIS: Thank you very much, thanks  for the invitation. Maybe I’ll put a disclaimer first. If I had any idea of rebuilding the SPD I wouldn’t be sitting here. I would be probably be in Berlin in some higher position there. Rakib put you in the context and brought you all the numbers. I’d like to had a few numbers here from the recent Europeans elections. If you look at the SPD, you see that there are problems everywhere. The biggest voter share is in the age group above sixty. Every other age group were below 14% or at 14% approximately. And there is no clear area where the SPD is stronger or less stronger if you look at urban areas or rural areas. The SPD lost in every area. There seems to be a problem in many aspects and I’ll try to put down a few of them and the sources and then have a perspective of what could be the developments. Are we really heading into a Greens versus AFD context or is it a bit more complicated.

If you recall the recent history of Germany since 1998, the 21 years the SPD has been in all but four years in government, which is one part of the problem. It starts with 98 I’d say, when you had these big welfare state reforms, as well as the agenda 2010, leading to a long-term loss of credibility in the population on questions of social justice. If we look at polls through time, Germans always ask which party do you think is competent on which issue. On the question of social justice, the SPD was always the front-runner. That has changed right now, people don’t trust the party any more with social justice. That is due to the fact that if we look at the economy, although the rough numbers are good, you have a rising inequality starting with 98, that lead to a lot of working class voters voting for the SPD.

The second problem of the SPD has a name: Angela Merkel, who is in one person a competitor as well as a copier. In governing together with the SPD, it has been like a kind of a (inaudible) situation. Wherever the SPD was going, Angela Merkel was already there. The two parties, the SPD and the CDU, the centre, have become more and more undistinguished. Both parties ended conscription, one of the cornerstones for conservative policies. They phased out nuclear energy in Germany, introduced same-sex marriage. Three points Angela Merkel was honoured for at Harvard university recently and all three of these issues were SPD policies.

If you look at the two crises that affected Germany in the past years, the euro-crisis on the one hand and the migration crisis on the other hand, the positions of the two parties have been nearly indistinguishable. I have been in Greece for five years with visits from CDU as well as SPD politicians. The wording was nearly the same, the tone was a bit different. For the average voter, it became more and more difficult to say what the differences are between these two parties. So the centrist voters left the SPD during this time, especially female voters who were attracted to the CDU by some of the family policies introduced by Angela Merkel and her family minister Ursula von der Leyen. 

The third point I wanted to mention and I already mentioned in the beginning is the grand coalition. Grand coalitions always lead to a tightening of the centreness, of the margins, not the extremes but the margins. The bigger problem here is for the SPD and we saw it in the numbers. Because some of the issues I mentioned before that have been policies of the SPD from the very beginning like the minimum wage for example, same-sex marriage, but also the whole transition in the energy sector, have been attributed to Angela Merkel. When you ask people in polls “who do you think introduced the minimum wage in Germany?”, for the people, it was Angela Merkel and the CDU, although it was fought through by the SPD, introduced in the coalition agreement and implemented through the Budenstag by a labour minister and former head of the party.

The SPD has shrunk down due to this voter’s losses. And there is a more existential question and the question is “what is the purpose of the party anymore?”. Let me introduce my views with a personal story. We have a family history on my mother’s side of SPD voters since before the second World War. My mother was asked recently to stand in the local elections for the party. She asked me why she couldn’t identify any policy the SPD was standing for, and she is kind of interested. She is not into politics like I am and like you are probably but she is interested and she is reading the newspapers. So there is a clear question about what is the SPD for, for is its role in the German political system.

And if you look at the different competitors, the CDU has a clear role of maintaining the status quo, no experiment like Konrad Adenauer said in the fifties, just stay in the course, that is the role of the CDU. The Greens, who were promoted a lot by the whole climate emergency debate, which was a major motive in the recent European elections and have also brought a lot of urban middle class well-off voters into the Greens party. They represent now the new middle-class and have a clear role in representing these views concerning climate change. You have the AFD, the  Alternative für Deutschland, a revisionist party, voted for by people who feel threatened by globalisation, who feel somehow left out or perceive themselves to be losers of past transitions.  So when right now the Green party is arguing for  a transition into a more climate friendly economy and the SPD is doing something like that as well, these people may be tempted to go further to the AFD. They tend to be more in the East of Germany.

The SPD, in the words of a former chairman, is kind of the repairman of the welfare state. Whenever there is something wrong, fixing it here, pulling some screws there. It is rather difficult to name a clear purpose of the party. If you look at what the SPD brought into the recent coalition agreement, it is a wide array of measures and policies to be introduced over time. But if you put these pieces together, the puzzle doesn’t create any picture at all. We’re coming back to the purpose.

The idea of the SPD in this government, and they want in this government very reluctantly to be honest, because of the effects of the former grand coalitions and the cooperation with Angela Merkel. The idea before 2017, was “we’re spending for good governance, we’re implementing things that are good for the people”, for example the minimum wage, but that didn’t pay off for the party at all. In the current government since 2017, the (inaudible) of the party was “let’s do good governance as well as  good communications”, so now we have better names for our laws. But we still have a problem of attribution of somehow paying off of some of these measures we implemented, like a bill on kindergarden, on child care, on pension reform, it still doesn’t pay off. What is missing is a kind of overall narrative an overall purpose of where to go.

Last point, the strength the strategies implemented right now at the party, that is kind of difficult of you look at the numbers. If you have shrunken down like that in past years and months, it is hard to avoid panique reactions. The idea in 2017 was to renew the party and be in the government at the same time. That seems to be, at least from an outsider‘s point of view, and I am in London and they are in Berlin, kind of difficult because you do need to put people into government, the best people into the job, and you need to do the renewal of the party as well. Facing a membership that is 60+ years old.

Let me end with a more hopeful point of view. We talked about the results of the European elections, we talked about the results at the Bundestag elections, but when we look at the local level, at the regional level, there are still a lot of strongholds inside Germany, hold by SPD mayors. There are many bigger cities, Munich for example, and no one would think that, but the SPD is governing in Berlin as well. So there seems to be a potential in these urban areas by people on the ground doing something good for the population. The question is how this relates to the whole party narrative, how we can build something coherent again, making clear that there is still a purpose for the party combining not only ideas of climate change and securing business, but on the other hand introducing some kind of ideal social justice in the whole process.

GREG HANDS MP: Thank you Christos. Eric, who is going to talk about the AFD populism and immigration. Eric.

ERIC KAUFMANN: Despite my last name, I am not a German expert. I will be trying to put this into a bigger context, about the rise of right wing populism in the West and also the effects of that in terms of value polarisation which I think are restructuring our politics away from the old left-right economic divide about taxing and redistributing more versus free market low-tax towards what some have called open versus closed values divide between those who want more immigration, cultural diversity, and those who prefer slower rate of cultural change.

In my book White Shift which talks about populism, immigration and the future of white majorities, I argue that the context for this is the decline in the white majority share of Western countries populations through global demographics. It is in this context that all of the open/closed values dimensions are becoming more and more and more important, there is a mass of academic data on this. Experiment in the US that say that the US is going to lose its white majority in 2050. Or immigration has increased in the last of couple of years tends to make responders more conservative more likely to support Donald Trump, to take a harder position on immigration, I have done something of the same here in Britain and you get similar results.

This is an identity-threat response, it is not about the economy, not about income. I think it is a mistake to think about the rise of populism in terms of the left-behind, people who feel they have economically lost out in globalisation. There is actually very very limited evidence for that in large scale surveys. It is a small fact, but much bigger a fact is this difference between people. Some people are disposed to white diversity and change. Psychologically, some are disposed to prefer continuity and order and those dispositions are becoming more important drivers of voting and politics. Not so much the economic left/right, haves/have nots, etc. Yes, for left-wing populism, economic inequalities are important, but not for right-wing populism. If you look at the question of who voted leave or who voted for Donal Trump, inequalities are an extremely low priority for those voters, where immigration is a very high priority.

We can see some of this in German electoral results, for example the Bavarian elections, AFD, they got about ten percent of the votes. Question was asked “do you agree with this statement: Germany is gradually losing its culture?”. Not fifty, not eighty, but one hundred percent of the AFD voters agree with that statement compared to only twenty percent of Green voters. So, I think that tells us a lot about what is important for the AFD vote. This is the kind of findings we see when we are looking at Brexit voters, Trump voters, other kinds of populist right voters. It is much more the values dimension.

In terms of timing, why now, the first thing to note is that the 2007-2008 economic crisis had essentially no impact on populist right voting. The migrant crisis in 2015 had a massive impact. I think that is good natural experiment comparing two explanations for the rise of the populist right. So it is very much a migration and values linked vote. A paper by James Dennison and his colleagues at the European University Institute looked at ten Western European countries and found that between 2005 and 2016, migration numbers and what is called migration salience, and that is a question asked on the European barometer “what is the most important issue facing your country, or one of the top two issues. The number of people saying immigration rose consistently over this period as net migration numbers rise. It is not the case that people who formerly thought immigration levels were fine, suddenly said “oh no we got to reduce immigration”. It is the majority of the public had said immigration should be reduced, but immigration was the number five issue after healthcare and the economy. With the rise of migration numbers to that 2015 peak, a larger and larger percentage are saying no immigration is the number one issue facing the country. And once that happens, the populist right rises on the back of that. In nine out of ten West European countries, that has been the pattern. Since 2015, the numbers have come down and actually populist right support has come down slightly as well with that.

But now of course that is just the beginning. So now what you get is the left-liberal response to that. And this is where I want to talk a little bit about the Greens for example. You get a response to the rise of the populist right, we see this in the US as well. This is where we start to get each side playing off of each other. First populist right rises, the central or the mainstream parties such as the CDU-CSU or even to some degree the social-democrats start to say “yes we’ve got to talk about the immigration”. Whereas prior to this point, prior to 2015, this was a bit of a taboo, as it was in Sweden, as it was in the US. Because of the value shift that has taken place since the 1960s, which some scholars refer to as post-material value change, since the 1960s, those value changes occurred largely in the West of Germany along with other Western countries, but not in the East of Germany. And that is the very important distinction. East Germany doesn’t go through this post-materialist, post-1960s value shift that you see strongly in Western countries. So we see interesting patterns, say when it comes to AFD voting. You can see this if you look at mentions of the term ‘racist’ in English language publications. Take post 1945, there is a big rise in the use of this term in the late 1960s, then it plateaus, then in the late 80s – early 90s, there is another rise, then there has been another rise since about 2012-2013. We don’t see this in the East European languages, like Polish, Hungarian. Again, that is just an indication that discourse around race, sex, gender, that shift away from class to identity didn’t occur in the East in any way as it did in the West.

There are some papers that are just starting to look at the AFD vote in more detail, one by Philip Manow and Hanna Schwander on the 2017 German federal elections. It is interesting, one thing they see is that university-educated people are less likely to vote for the AFD, but only in West Germany. That pattern only holds in West Germany. In East Germany it doesn’t hold because you haven’t had the same post-material liberal value shift in the East, post sixties value shift. So education is less of a differentiator.

Similarly, if you look at support for the AFD, percentage of foreigners is important. More foreigners, more support for the AFD, but again, only in the West of Germany and not in the East. And again this is partly because a lot of the shifts have occurred, these values changes have occurred in the West and you see more of a splitting and polarising in value publics in the West. West Germany just reflects that more than the East. The East is more about being more culturally conservative, less politically correct in their value system. In the West, there is more of a sort of split based on education.

What does this then mean in terms of politics and electoral outcomes? What I would argue again, is that this cultural open-close dimension is emerging under the impetus of demographic change as different elements in the public respond differently to rising ethnic diversity and migration. What we might expect therefore is that we might expect to see voters switching to the AFD who are culturally conservative whether they are in the CDU or in the SPD. I think we have seen some of that. But we would also expect to see Green voters or people moving to the Green party who are cosmopolitan in values but where the CDU-CSU or SPD is becoming more conservative on immigration issues, that may, for some liberal-minded voters be seen as a violation of their sacred anti-racist values, so they respond by maybe moving to the Greens. The other pattern we see a lot for the AFD as with other populist parties is non-voters are very important parts of their voting base, that is people switching from non-voting to voting for the populist right. We saw that for the leave vote, for the UKIP vote, for the Trump vote to some extent as well. So that is an important part of this. It is not just about looking at which party switched to the Greens or the AFD, this election from last election. We have got to go back multiple elections. If you look at Britain, you see that you have multiple voters who switched from labour to the Tories and that is the kind of voters that tended to go to UKIP. So we have to actually go back a number of elections to really see what is happening with this pattern.

Part of this is again the mainstream parties moving more conservative on immigration and that alienated some of their left-liberal voters who then go to the Greens.

I am really going to wrap up now just to say what does this pattern mean? One of the things it might mean is growing value polarisation that is between the sort of open and closed or cosmopolitan-globalist and more nationalist parts of the electorate on cultural lines and that is fracturing the parties, as it is in Britain. We have seen with the Brexit issue fracturing both Labour and the Tories. Similar sort of dynamics is occurring as it is in the United States, the Republican party is also fracturing between the kind of elite-republican focused on low tax and the Trumpist sort of Republicans focused on immigration more. The question there then becomes, as Germany becomes more ethnically diverse, a lot of questions will turn around immigration rates and levels I think, as if we were talking about populist right. And then what is the response to this new cohort of younger millennials who are maybe more liberal and cosmopolite, who are rising up as the activists, to the extent they push the left-wing parties even further in this direction of cosmopolitanism and that would spur this kind of polarising dynamic.


GREG HANDS MP: Fantastic, thank you Eric. We are bang on time; we’ve used half the time of our presentation. That gives our half an hour for a really good discussion. I am only going to set one rule for this discussion; keep contributions short and please, by all means reference other countries but if anybody wants to bang on about Brexit I will take you downstairs and I will sit you in the House of Commons chamber from now until October. I will see if you’ve had your fill by then. So, this is very much a formal lecture on foreign policy. I am going to slightly abuse my chairman’s position to ask a first question, really to Christos. The SPD is very important in the current coalition and with Andrea Nahles’ pulling out, herself wanting to pull out of the coalition last week, is this leading to an early general election in Germany and what do we think the early general election might mean? It seems to me that the Green Party is in a very strong position but they’re not going to want the former coalition when they’ve only got, what, about 9% of the seats when they think they might get 25% of the seats. Where do you think things are heading; a near-term prognosis for German Bundestag politics between now and the end of the year.

CHRISTOS KATSIOULIS: I’m sorry, I left my crystal ball at home. The problem is right now is that we have a dynamic inside the party that could lead, of course, to answering the revision clause that is in the coalition agreement negatively. Meaning, we’re going into reelections or snap elections. That was one of the strategies introduced in 2017; the SPD said, “After two years of this coalition, we want to have a revision, we want to look at what we have achieved. Is it worth to continue for the next two years?” This two years will come up by the end of 2019. So, there is already this point in time clear for looking at this coalition agreement. What we probably will have inside the party is kind of a membership vote for the leadership. It could be one of the solutions to somehow get out of the difficulties we’re in, and in this membership vote people who would go for the leadership of the party would bring forth their ideas also on the coalition agreement. This was the most contentious issue for the party in 2018. We had a membership vote; 66% of the members voted for being part of this grand coalition but we had a very vocal opposition to that. So, the point is that right now SPD, as well CDU, are afraid of elections. The Greens, as far as I know, are rather happy about the numbers but fear that they might be fragile. So, I don’t have the feeling (I’ve been ten days ago in Berlin) that there’s a real mood for new elections. That might be a similarity to the UK without naming the B-Word. However, I can’t say to be honest. Presuming that the membership showed a rather conservative vote last time on the grand coalition, it could be that we continue but that depends probably on the new leader or the new leadership tandem.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok excellent, thank you. Right, I think I saw a question here at the front. Sir, yes. If you could perhaps just say who you are, if you’re from an organisation, etc. very, very briefly beforehand as well.

First Question: My name is Euan Grant, (inaudible), independent, (inaudible), former law enforcement, (inaudible). My question is about the (inaudible) and the elements of the East-West divide, which you’ve pointed out (inaudible). Germany clearly is obviously still much more industrialised. How is it (inaudible) with the rise of China and where does it see itself coping with digitalisation, (inaudible), and regarding a possible economic downturn?

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, maybe I’ll take three questions and then I’ll invite each of our panellists to respond to each of the three questions. I think I saw Richard Balfe, Lord Balfe, next. Richard?

Second Question: My question is really about the SPD. It does seem to keep sacrificing responsibility in many ways by (inaudible). I just wonder to what extent you think the politics of Martin Schulz have a future in the SPD. Also, you will have noticed that the SPD is probably in line to lose the leadership of the Socialist group in the European Parliament. (Inaudible) in severe trouble there. My feeling is that social democracy in Europe is dividing itself into two categories: the losers, who are basically trying to follow social democracy as it was in the period up to 1989 and the winners. The winners, and I’m sorry to say Jeremy Corbyn is one of these, are actually turning towards populist social democracy not unlike that practiced by Erdogan or Viktor Orban whom, of course, started off on the socialist ticket. So, I’m wondering do you think that the SPD in its present, very respectful role has a future in German politics? Or, is that future going to be taken over by the Greens?

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, thank you and a third question right at the front, sir?

Third Question: I am a former MP in Germany from a constituency of West Berlin –

GREG HANDS MP: Ah, you might have been my MP.

Third Question: – during the 70s, 80s, until 1994.

GREG HANDS MP: I lived in Moabit, Mitte, and Wedding. Probably wasn’t in the CDU area.

Third Question: Yes, Berlin during the time of Richard von Weizsäcker, (inaudible), and, (inaudible). Back through 25 years of politics, the (inaudible) was much simpler because its a question of leadership and communication. If you look at the SPD phase, (inaudible), the SPD has been occupied to remove one chair after another one. So, who is really responsible? Who wants to speak down on the SPD? Because if you don’t have a strong personality, like Richard von Weizsäcker, (inaudible). We had fierce discussions. Nobody would joke about it; it’s a situational thing. Richard von Weizsäcker and (inaudible), simply due to the fact of leadership and strong personality. That doesn’t mean that you say away at democracy. No, certainly not. You need a strong leadership on both sides. That’s a problem here, if I may say so since I’ve got a bit of (inaudible) so I may say that. That’s a problem here as well, you haven’t got the strong leadership on your side, unfortunately.

GREG HANDS MP: We’re looking at the moment.

Third Question: You haven’t got it on the Labour side. The second remark is communication. I had to use, for example, canvassing during the 70s in my constituency (inaudible). Forget about it today, I mean we can all have our opinion about the guy in the White House but certainly he is most effective in using social media and being in contact with his voters (inaudible) daily. Not only a couple of thousand but millions. One thing that the AfD [Alternative für Deutschland] has done; the AfD is most effective with constantly using social media and if I remember the disaster of the chair of the CDU after the European election talking about digital systems and some kind of protection, forget about it. I mean, if those grand parties never learn really to use the modern communications then there will be a time, I’m talking against (inaudible) the crisis yes, but there will be the time that we don’t learn. This is because you have to look on yourself and to improve yourself. Of course you can learn from different competitors but the first thing: improve your position by yourself.

GREG HANDS MP: Fantastic set of questions. So, we’ve got questions around the East-West divide, industrialisation and digitalisation, a question about the future of the SPD itself, and the final question about leadership and communication. If I take on speakers in turn; I think that the middle question is probably very much directed at Christos but I’ll ask Rakib to comment on each of those or as many of those questions as possible. As you wish.

DR RAKIB EHSAN: Let’s look at the distinction between European social democracy and at those distinctions between winners and losers. Just to refrain that a little bit, I think the real tension within European social democracy is that they’re looking to sustain voter coalitions which are increasingly unsustainable. I think that we can see that with the German Social Democrats as well as with the Labour Party to an extent where, if we’re looking more at within southern England but also particularly in London. There, you have this young cosmopolitan network who emphasise the environment and sustainability. are generally very supportive of Remaining in the European Union, and tended to vote Remain in the June 2016 referendum on EU membership. Whereas, if you look in the traditional Labour heartlands in the provincial Midlands, in the industrial North but also parts of Wales as well, i.e. a mixture of rural and industrial, these are entities that are generally opposed to EU freedom of movement, they were more likely to vote Leave in the referendum, and they are generally have quite socially conservative ideas about nation and community. I think, and Christos may be able to comment on this a bit further, that that sort of tension, that sort of electoral tension within the European social democratic movement, has affected Labour and is also affecting the German Social Democrats as well. How they move forward, that’s a very difficult electoral challenge. I do think, perhaps, if we’re looking at broader European social democracy maybe the Danish Social Democrats, who’ve experienced recently electoral success, provide a good example. Talking about the idea of a collective Danish identity based on mutual obligations, shared identities, and common good but also talking about the need for greater national cohesion and more robust integration framework when it comes to the successful social and economic integration of newcomers and immigrant communities. I think these are discussions that need to be had in the broader European social democratic movement.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, thank you. Eric, planning to get your teeth into there?

ERIC KAUFMANN: Sure, sure. I am interested in the question about the industrialisation. I mean the one thing I’d say is that certainly if you talk about economic downturns; economic downturns tend to mean that people are talking about the economy. When people are talking about the economy, that disadvantages the populist right. So, with the Eurobarometer, when we were in an economic slump, immigration was a low priority and the populist right was not able to rise. Once the economy improved, actually immigration became a higher priority and the economy became a lower priority because it was doing well. So, I don’t think that a downturn actually is going to benefit the populist right, I think quite the opposite. There is a point there about deindustrialisation that the regions of Germany with a higher unemployment rate have a lower populist right vote but regions with a higher manufacturing industrial base have a somewhat higher AfD vote. So, there may be something in that; that threat from globalisation to manual workers, for example. Last point on social media, I think the jury is still out on this. So, social media is definitely connected to the rise of the post-modern left Greens. I would certainly guess that that would be a relationship, but I haven’t yet seen any studies showing that people who use social media more are more likely to vote for a populist right party. Tends often to be older voters, so it’s not clear to me that social media is playing the key role for the populist right. Even though you’re right, Trump is very effective on social media, etc. But, in terms of voters we don’t see the high social media users going to the populist right. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not important.

GREG HANDS MP: I think I’m right to say that the CDU suffered in the recent European election by this one YouTube, which got something like 10 million views before anybody really noticed within the CDU HQ. But to you Christos, particularly the questions about the SPD, Schulz’s future, as well as the other questions?

CHRISTOS KATSIOULIS: Always these crystal ball questions. Just one point on the East-West divide; I think it’s a problem if we always try to look at this as it would be part of one country. If you look at how both sides compare to different other countries, the East of Germany does compare a lot more with Czech Republic, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe whereas West Germany is clearly part of Western Europe. So, you have these different voting patterns due to the history there, that’s clear. On the question of the future of the SPD, we are holding seminars on that if you’d like to join us. There is a point that you put in there, absolutely rightly, which is sacrificing ideology for responsibility. But, if you look at these different constituencies as I’ve mentioned that have left the party; the working class, that as gone partly to the AfD and partly to the CDU, and the urban middle class that have left to the Greens. There is a question if the SPD still has a role. Martin Schulz; the rise of the numbers of the SPD in early 2017 until 30% is still a signal of hope inside the SPD headquarters. This is because there is a belief that these 30% show a potential for the party in a different message; something that is different from Angela Merkel, who was brilliant in her time I totally agree, but maybe her time might be over. That is at least the hope inside the SPD headquarters, a bit like that. For a different role of the party, that can be seen and is being shown by functioners in bigger cities as well as in some other Länder. So, the problem right now is from my point of view the SPD and most social democratic parties in Europe have been borne out of specific circumstances of history, of economy, of society, and so forth. You had this milieu, you had the trade unions, you had the workers’ clubs, etc. all these things that brought people together and there was a sense of community there. This changes right now, and the question is how does a party that is rooted in this milieu, in these traditions, change? Can it adapt or not? I think the CDU showed very, very nicely how not to respond to a YouTube video with a 12-page PDF. That is just one very, very funny sign of how not to adapt to new times, and the SPD is in a far more existential problem of showing them. Leadership is therefore an issue because if you ask what the party is standing for, you won’t find anybody who can summarise that in three sentences. I was driving with an MP through Ireland and it took him one and a half hours explaining everything to me. That’s not good for the voters.

GREG HANDS MP: I think Rakib wanted a final word on this.

DR RAKIB EHSAN: So, I just wanted to touch upon the gentleman’s point on, you know, Angela Merkel’s general efficiency. I think, just to take the heat off Christos for a little bit, as we’re talking about the CDU/CSU that Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis, though it is something that is unfortunately of a sensitive nature, needs to be talked about. I could imagine that allowing up to one million refugees from, I would say, Muslim-majority societies may not have gone down too well with people who have traditionally supported the CDU and CSU. I’ve made that point, so I think that perhaps for the future journey it might have to think a bit more about its refugee policy and, more broadly, the effects that it has in a broader integration perspective.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, and Christos wanted to come back on that. You are provoking each other nicely. So, Christos?

CHRISTOS KATSIOULIS: Yes, sorry. Eric mentioned that the euro crisis had no effect on the right-wing populist parties as the migration crisis did. I believe it’s a combination and in Germany you can see it very well. You have these years of austerity where you told people that, “We can’t spend anything on kindergarten, school”, and so on and so forth but when the migration crisis hit, there was money available and people were reacting angrily to that. I think that is one of the issues where I’m (inaudible) most upon.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, a further round of questions? The gentleman second along here, yes sir with the glasses, yes.

Fourth Question: I’m Mark (inaudible), former Deputy Chief of Writers and former correspondent actually with (inaudible) in East Berlin, actually, for about four years.

GREG HANDS MP: Fantastic.

Fourth Question: Probably the same time you were in West Berlin –


Fourth Question: – so, I know the East very well. My question was actually just to pick up something that doesn’t come up very much, which is the CDU feature. This is because it seems quite clear that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is losing popularity and does not look like a convincing successor for Merkel. So, does that mean that the CDU is going to face a leadership battle or does it mean that actually (inaudible).

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, that’s a very, very good question. Next door sir, yes.

Fifth Question: No one mentioned the –

GREG HANDS MP: Sorry, who are you?

Fifth Question: – Sorry, my name is Alex Ratsinger. I am a technology consultant and investor and I travel frequently between Vietnam and London. No one mentioned the FDP. It was almost the government; is it now irrelevant? Second question is if there is any pool of voters that would on the one hand be anti-immigration but on the other hand be pro-action against climate change? Does that combination actually exist?

GREG HANDS MP: Yeah, very interesting question. The third question, yes sir?

Sixth Question: Yes, my name is David Birkin. I’m self-employed. First question; would the Germany of today have supported the Greek bailout? Secondly, I think that it begs the question (inaudible), does Germany as champion of the concept of Europe as embodied in the EU still hold true?

GREG HANDS MP: Wow, some huge questions here. So, is there a future for the CDU, what is the future of the FDP, is there a future for an anti-immigration but pro-climate change strand; bare in mind because you only have to get 5% in Germany to be in the Bundestag, I guess your question is is there more than 5% for that kind of strand? Finally, would Germany today support the Greek bailouts of 2010, 2011, and 2012 and is Germany still the champion of the EU? Wow, a lot there. Eric?

ERIC KAUFMANN: Wow, ok! Interesting, yes. CDU; what’s interesting is that Karrenbauer’s gone a bit stricter on immigration than Merkel. But of course charisma and talent really does matter, so if you have somebody who hasn’t got that then they’re not going to do well regardless of policy. So, I don’t think we can read too much into the effect of different policies when we’re dealing with vastly different talent levels and ability to connect with voters. So, that’s a separate variable. FDP; again, interesting to see Lindner having that tighter view on migration and them doing well. Again, these are just new parties that are emerging and it’s just so interesting to me to see that some of these mainstream parties are talking about migration. Where it used to be a taboo to talk about reducing migration and controlling it, it now seems to be mainstream amongst a set of these different parties, which is one of the reasons why you’re getting defections to the Green amongst voters who don’t like that approach. You mention; is there a group of voters that are in favour of tackling climate change who are anti-immigration? I am sure almost invariably the answer is yes. I haven’t been into the data to see how large that group is. It’s just interesting though if you look at other countries; a poll was done in Canada, which is where I’m originally from, recently where Green voters were considerably more anti-immigration than voters for the what’s called New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, which are more sort of mainstream parties. What that means I’m not exactly sure, but you can see where there are desires to not to let the population grow and reduce migration. There is potential there. I don’t know of any parties that have exploited that. Very quickly on the EU; it is just important to say that part of the progressive narrative of Germany being post-national and leading the EU might be under some kind of challenge, I think, given the ethno-demographic shifts that we’re seeing. It also seems to be contested more, because the EU’s identity is very much tied up with, “Never again, never again, the Holocaust, never again, World War II”, and maybe if there’s a challenge to that progressive narrative then we could see again this value splitting.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok. I think Christos next.

CHRISTOS KATSIOULIS: Yes, on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer I think we’ll see something similar as in the SPD. Maybe not the numbers, but there’s also the question of purpose and what’s (inaudible) extending for. The transition from Angela Merkel will be really difficult, but at least the pool that has been shown in the last leadership elections seems to be a bit broader than inside the SPD where nobody has put forward any candidacy. I didn’t mention the FDP because I think they’ve put themselves somehow into irrelevancy after getting out of the coalition talks in 2017. They’re going back and forth on many issues but making no difference at all. The idea of Lindner on becoming a bit more tight on migration was to gain more votes, but to be honest migration is not an issue right now in Germany. Climate issue was the biggest issue in these last elections, then you have issues like housing, social issues that are very high on the agenda, and the FDP is offering to be honest absolutely nothing on that. On the voter coalition, I can’t say. Eric answered that. Would the Germany of today support the Greek bailout? I’d say yes, because you saw alternatively in the European elections a huge surge, you had I think 15% more voters voting in the European elections. Most of them are supporting pro-European parties, and the idea of championing Europe and somehow supporting this union of nations as the next step in the development of Germany is still very much on the agenda in most mainstream parties. The Greens, SPD, CDU, CSU, even the FDP and Die Linke. Also, if you remember that the AfD took the so called ‘Dexit’ off the agenda because they were afraid of losing votes. I think there is still this very general idea on the table, although Eric, if you’re talking about this post-nationalist, progressive narrative about Europe, that’s not the case since 98′. Gerhard Schröder was the first Chancellor who was talking about strong German interests in Brussels. So, you have a very, maybe not an open support of German interests in Brussels; but if you look at the economic agenda, if you look at the rules that have been passed in Brussels in the last years, if you look at the Dublin 2 agreement, that was in fact an agreement to protect Germany from migrants. So, German interests have been represented very well in Europe and it is in the interest, not only ideologically but also economically and for many other reasons, for Germany to support this union.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, a quick word from Rakib and then maybe we’ve got time for one or two more questions.

DR RAKIB EHSAN: I think I’ll touch upon the FDP. In particular, I think I completely agree with Christos’ comments that the way they approached the coalition negotiations, which was a potential Jamaica Coalition between the CDU/CSU bloc, the Greens, and the SPD, damaged their political credibility somewhat. If you actually look at the European Parliament elections, there the FDP actually finished sixth. So, I think that they probably received, more than anything, a bit too much attention in this event potentially based on that. I think looking at the comments regarding the leadership issues of the CDU/CSU, Angela Merkel is a very tough act to follow and I think that unfortunately whoever was going to follow in her footsteps was going to struggle and I think that’s very much the case.

GREG HANDS MP: If I could just add one word to that going back to what I said at the beginning, I think one of the problems in Germany going forward for the next period is going to be the experience of junior coalition parties. Their experience has been very bad in recent years; the SPD in 2009, the FDP in 2013, the SPD again in 2017. The junior coalition parties, a bit like when we had our coalition from 2010-2015, get a raw deal from the voters at the end of the coalition period. Now, with the maths such as they are, you’re now talking about a viable coalition needing three parties. So, you’re going to have two junior coalition parties and you’re going to have twice as many parties as before wanting to take the wrap to be a junior coalition party. I worry if that is good for the long-term stability of German politics. I think we’ve got perhaps time for a last question. Yes sir, here at the front.

Seventh Question: (Inaudible) Schubaker, (inaudible) dual nationality and Chairman of the (inaudible). On the question of coalitions, (inaudible) voting system more than it is about (inaudible). Could we see at some point the AfD being part of that coalition, (inaudible), about immigration, (inaudible).

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, could the AfD be part of or, if you don’t mind I’m going to double up, could Die Linke also be part of a coalition? I think that would be the reflective. Christos, what do you think? Can either of those parties be in a coalition?

CHRISTOS KATSIOULIS: I think it’s a bit difficult to answer and to put the two parties in the same basket. I think with Die Linke there is a discussion about a federal coalition with Die Linke, including Die Linke, SPD, and the Greens because they have shown at a regional level that they can govern responsibly. The crazy people inside the Die Linke party have mostly left and others can be sidelined, so there is a feeling that they can govern in a sensible way. Concerning the AfD, we don’t have this experience. It depends first of all very much on the CDU, if they open the door. It also depends on the AfD as well, if they close the door to some of the weird people inside the party which are racists and extremists and are supporting violence against people. It probably will take time as it is with Die Linke. We will see now the elections in the eastern German länders, where the AfD might become the strongest party and it might be the case that there is no government formable without the AfD. We had yesterday reelections in Görlitz where an all-party alliance went against the AfD candidate and therefore brought forward a CDU candidate. I don’t know how long that will hold in some parts of Germany, but I don’t think it can be in the next 12 to 15 years. That’s going to be really difficult on the federal level.

GREG HANDS MP: Thank you, Christos. Eric, last word on this?

ERIC KAUFMANN: Yes, briefly. In a lot of countries you’ve seen initially this, what is called, ‘cordon sanitaire’, where they don’t want to admit the populist right into a coalition. That’s broken down, beginning in Austria. Again, the problem in a way is that if these parties start to do better, let’s say get into the 20 some odd percent range and you keep them out, the narrative will be, “It’s us against the establishment conspiring against us”, and that helps them even more. So, it just depends but I think if the party continues to gain votes it will, at some point, enter a coalition.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, and Rakib? That’s the last word and then I’ll close up.

DR RAKIB EHSAN: I think the last point focuses on the AfD in particular. It’d be really interesting to look at how the regional elections in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Thuringia, which are coming up in the autumn, will pan out. The AfD is predicted to perform very strongly and it will be interesting to see how the other parties react to that and whether we might just see the other parties, in some way shape or form, patch up a coalition to prevent the AfD from gaining power in those parts of Germany.

GREG HANDS MP: Ok, well thank you very much indeed. A big thank you to our panellists. If I could perhaps apologise, it was a little bit short at about one hour. I think we compressed a lot into the one hour. I mentioned the possibility of an election; I shouldn’t do that directly but I was at the Wirschaftstag, which is the big CDU-linked economic conference, last week and one of the leading figures in the CDU thought that an election later this year was inevitable on the basis that the SPD would leave the coalition, the Greens wouldn’t want to join one. Thus, it all leads to a general election. I’m not best placed to comment on that, but do think about that in relation to perhaps UK politics elsewhere in the world if Germany is effectively out of action for a period of time due to holding themselves an election. So, that’s one of the reasons why German politics could end up being incredibly important for the rest of the year. Now, thank you all very much indeed, thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for hosting us, and thank you for coming all to the House of Commons. Enjoy the rest of your day, thank you.


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here