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Home | 2017 | November

No change, please – we're not Jamaicans

Posted by Mad Mitch on UTC 2017-11-20 10:14.

The soap drama that is German politics lumbers on from episode to episode. Each episode has been slightly amusing in Mark Twain's sense that 'a German joke is no laughing matter', but the long term plotline is that nothing ever really changes.

A few episodes back we had the plot climax of the federal election. In that episode, just to remind you, most of the stalwarts (CDU, CSU, SPD) lost a few percent of their vote share, some minor characters gained a few more percent (FDP, AfD) and for others (Greens and commies) there was almost no change. The SPD fell out with its former governing partners, the CDU/CSU, and flounced off, stage left.

In the next episode we learned that no one could ever be friends with the AfD, so all the people who voted for it would now have no say in anything. The party had been unfriended a long time ago. They had actually wanted to change things. Outrageous. That 'landslide to the right' at the election – do you remember that? – therefore had no effect and nothing at all has changed.

The next episode came round. The SPD was still in a huff, the AfD ostracised, so a government would have to be formed from a coalition of CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens, the now infamous 'Jamaica' coalition: black, yellow and green.

The next few episodes followed the course of this strange German political process: the Sondierungsgespräche, the 'sounding-out talks', followed by the coalition negotiations that would then produce the coalition agreement which would set out the policies on which the parties would govern.

Except they didn't. The stunning plot twist that made us spill our cocoa and sent us to bed worrying for the future of Germany was the news from yesterday's episode that the parties involved never even managed to get beyond sounding each other out.

The FDP was the actor that ultimately tossed the cold water of reality over the Jamaica project scriptline, a project which, when first mooted, had raised the eyebrows of commentators as much as Heston Blumenthal's snail porridge had upset diners all those years ago: ingredients that in their nature do not belong together. Jamaica? Nein danke!

The Greens – Trotskyites the lot of 'em – are so ideologically rigid that substantial compromise was quite impossible; the FDP had been almost destroyed in the previous election when it had sold out on its free-market principles and had been punished by its electoral base, meaning that this time round would be a very different story.

In last night's episode we found that of all the many crunches that had come over energy and finance, the final crunch had been the issue of asylum, specifically the granting of a right to those asylum seekers who were not fleeing a direct existential threat to bring their spouses and children to join them in their new country. The Greens, models of conciliation, had offered to cap this flood of relatives at 200,000 a year. Agreeing to this would have meant electoral obliteration for the CSU and the FDP.

So, after that bombshell, what can we look forward to in coming episodes?

Well, Mrs Merkel might decide to run a minority government of CDU/CSU for the next four years and try to put together her parliamentary majorities as best she can. Result: muddling down the nondescript middle way – in other words, nothing will change.

Or the sulky SPD might be persuaded to cuddle up to her again after all – let's not forget all those ministerial perks on offer. Result: 'Grand Coalition' just as before – in other words, nothing will change.

Or she might ask the President to call a new election. Let's call this 'German Roulette' – it's a bit like the Russian variety but with rounds in all but one of the chambers. No one has any idea how the voters will vote this time round: will the AfD – numerically significant but politically pointless – flourish or be destroyed? The CSU may change its unpopular leader for someone with a backbone and thus gain votes, or not, in which case it may lose even more. Will the FDP flourish or be punished? Will the CDU continue its decline? Will the SPD begin to flourish once more? And so on and so forth.

So tense. Well, not really, because after another election and another sounding out and another coalition agreement everything will be just as before – in other words, nothing will change. The soap episodes will keep coming, the actors will move on and off the familiar set with its familiar props, but nothing will change.

So drink up your cocoa and go to bed to sleep soundly and, hopefully, dream happy, Brexit dreams. If sleep will not come, you could always try counting the sheep they call German voters, who jump over gates every four years to no purpose whatsoever.