May 27. 2024. 9:17

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The Brief — Rebels without a cause


The German conservative CDU snatched a clear victory this weekend in traditionally left-leaning Berlin’s state elections – almost purely based on protest votes. But will the party be able to pull off a purely rebel-based win without a positive cause in the next federal election as well? Unlikely.

The CDU’s lead in Berlin’s rerun election left many onlookers puzzled: A conservative old male lead candidate who prides himself in speaking the local dialect winning in hip, international, almond milk-powered Berlin?

The answer to the puzzle is that the conservatives, who have not led the regional government for more than two decades, won almost exclusively because Berliners sought to vote against the city’s current left-wing coalition government made up of the Social Democrats, Greens, and far-Left Die Linke.

With slogans like “Berlin, vote to renew yourself” and “Berlin needs to function again”, CDU lead candidate Kai Wegner was able to capitalise on citizen’s mounting frustration with an ineffective bureaucracy working at a snail’s pace, insufficient housing, and a chaotic 2021 regional election that was deemed invalid – hence Sunday’s rerun.

“In this election, the CDU profited significantly from the discontent within the city and became a magnet for the politically dissatisfied,” concluded a non-public election analysis conducted for the Social Democrats and cited by T-Online journalist Miriam Hollstein.

In short, the conservatives provided Berliners with an avenue to rebel against the existing government without having to rally them behind a positive cause of their own.

The big question is: Could the conservatives copy this technique to reclaim the top spot in the next federal election as well?

Ever since Angela Merkel left the political stage after 16 years of rule, the CDU has struggled to communicate a positive vision of what being conservative means today. As such, it could be tempting to discard the task completely and base a campaign purely on slamming the current coalition government.

If it worked even in leftist Berlin, it should work for Germany as well, right?

Wrong, for three reasons.

Firstly, the electorate in Berlin is not as left-leaning as one might think. Sure, parts of the city perfectly fit the image of a typical Berliner: cosmopolitan, ecologically-minded, and socially progressive.

But the outskirts of the sprawling city are more like other regions in Eastern Germany, where voters drive cars rather than bikes, live behind picket fences and prioritise law and order.

Secondly, the federal government is more diverse than the acting Berlin one and does not lend itself to being used as a punching bag.

In Berlin, the government is (so far) made up exclusively of left-wing parties, including the far left and a Green regional group that is particularly left-leaning. Meanwhile, the federal “traffic light” government stretches from a Green party that has been acting pragmatically to the liberal FDP and is thus much harder to paint as ideologically deluded.

Finally, an approach based on slamming other parties does not exactly help secure potential coalition partners. This is something the CDU would certainly need, since securing an absolute majority is practically impossible in Germany’s proportional voting system.

In this sense, the Berlin election is also a cautionary tale. As CDU’s lead candidate Wegner explicitly ruled out a coalition with the Greens during the campaign in a bid to distance himself from them, he is now short of coalition options despite his clear lead in the polls.

In a federal election campaign, the situation would be even more difficult.

Since the CDU has categorically ruled out governing with far-left Die Linke or far-right AfD, the “traffic light” coalition contains all three potential coalition partners left for the conservatives. And all of them would risk being alienated by betting on a smear campaign.

As “rebels without a cause”, there is little hope for Germany’s conservatives to emulate their Berlin success on the German level and win federal elections.


The Roundup

The latest EU Council meeting saw the first steps taken towards a European Green Deal Industrial Plan, and discussions are underway on an as-yet-loosely-defined “Buy European Act”. However, not all are welcoming of this new form of green protectionism.

Ahead of the French pension reform bill reaching the Senate on 20 February, EURACTIV France analyses and summarises the text proposed by the government – from special retirement plans to the senior index.

Senior EU lawmakers have called for new transparency laws based on legislation used by the United States Congress in order to monitor the influence and activities of NGOs and third-country actors.

France is calling for “coherence” in the sea of legislative texts related to hydrogen after the European Commission published new rules yesterday recognising the contribution of nuclear-derived hydrogen to the EU’s decarbonisation objectives.

The New York Times is suing the European Commission for failing to make public the text messages exchanged between Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Integrated Pest Management is struggling to gain traction in France, despite being promoted by both the EU and the French authorities and having proven benefits for farmers and the environment.

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Tuesday she will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, putting her at odds with one-time boss Donald Trump, the ex-president also seeking to win back the White House.

Look out for…

  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in European Parliament’s plenary debate ‘One year of Russia’s invasion and war of aggression against Ukraine,’ in Strasbourg.
  • Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič meets with US Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer.
  • Commissioner Nicolas Schmit participates in European Parliament statement “Cross-border adoptions – the need for more transparency and international cooperation.
  • Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen receives CEO of Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Laura Frigenti.