How Far Can the Bundestag Kick the Can Down the Road?

Here’s another German news extravaganza from JLH, with musical accompaniment.

ALLE ALLE AUCH SIND FREI (alley, alley oxen free)
How far can the Bundestag kick the can down the road?

Another musical survey of the AfD and its less-than-friendly opposition

Click on the performer’s name to hear the song

by JLH

I. The socialist decline in Germany

Die Welt

The Sound of Silence
Simon and Garfunkel

Germany: “Political Barometer”: Losses for GroKo — Greens and AfD as Strong as the FDP

by Kevin Knauer
February 2, 2018

The SPD has slipped below 20% in the ZDF (Second German TV) “Political Barometer” — only 19%. Their GROKO (Grand Coalition) partners fared even worse. The Union slides to 31%, as Martin Schulz’s party slides deeper and deeper.

In contrast, the AfD and the Greens have each added two points to reach 14%. The Linke (the Left) improves by one point to 11%.

On ZDF’s “Morning Magazine”, Saarland Governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) explained the losses as a result of how long it is taking to form the government. The poll, she said, was a “sign that people are losing their patience.” People wanted to finally have a government.

Public opinion in the poll on the new version of the government is divided. 43% would welcome a Union/SPD government, 35% don’t like it; the rest are undecided or gave no opinion. Among Union supporters, that is 70%, and with SPD supporters it is almost 60%. However, 39% of SPD supporters would prefer their party to go into opposition.

II. Outflanking the majority

Der Tagesspiegel

There’s no business like show business
Ethel Merman

Rightist Populists in the Bundestag

How the AfD intends to show all the other parties up

by Maria Fiedler
January 28, 2018

For three months, the AfD has been trying to “hound Mrs. Merkel.” Their presence in parliament presents a number of dilemmas for the other parties — but is also an opportunity.

Beatrix von Storch has a question. The wiry AfD politician in a checked blazer raises her hand, leans forward in her seat and speaks. “Are you of the opinion,” she asks the CDU politician Nadine Schön standing at the podium, “that minors about whom there is doubt that they are minors should be re-examined?” In the AfD’s motion being discussed, this re-examination is called for. “Yes,” says Schön, that is the Union’s opinion.

It becomes noisy in the ranks of the AfD; Storch grins and applauds. Her colleague Alexander Gauland adds, “Then do it! All you have to do is vote for it! Good God! This is more CDU hooey!” And Beatrix von Storch says briefly, “So you agree to our motion?” “No,” answers Schön, with a friendly smile. “Your motion is very polemical in its choice of words and in its content. The word ‘help’ does not even appear.” It sounds like an excuse.

It has been three months since the 92 AfD representatives first took their place. Three months in which the plenary hall has heard sentences like “Merkel must go” or “Islam is the elephant in the room.” Three months in which the other factions did have an opportunity to examine the AfD’s strategy. But also three months to see that there is no simple answer to the question of how to handle a rightist populist party in the Bundestag. It will not get any easier. Especially not if/when the party becomes the strongest opposition to a renewed grand coalition.

What Are They Saying — “We’re Showing Them”

The AfD will not be doing any particularly impressive parliamentary work. Their motions hardly extend beyond the AfD core themes: permanent stop of family reunion immigration, comprehensive border control, a demand to protest buying European Central Bank bonds. Some speeches and written comments would not stand up to fact-checking. And the AfD are often subject to criticism of technical defects in their motions. The party intended to “hound Mrs. Merkel.” There is no sign of that.

But what the AfD is accomplishing is using the Bundestag as a stage. They are casting themselves: one time as the true opposition; another time as the party of the simple folk; another as the victim of exclusion. There are always other playlets, always with the same message given out by the AfD under the Reichstag dome: We are showing the others — those, as the AfD likes to say, “who have been sitting here longer.” The AfD and its supporters propagate the recorded speeches on the internet. By the hundred thousand they are seen on YouTube, shared on Twitter, liked on Facebook. “Bundestag AfD gives Merkel a brutal shellacking,” says one video. Or: “Beatrix von Storch causes an uproar in the Bundestag.” In this counter-public realm, the AfD has interpretational sovereignty over what happens in the plenary chamber.

How do you counter that? There is this debate of the middle of December, and there was a feeling — this could work out. Just then AfD politician Stefan Keuter asked the Union, Greens, SPD and FDP: “Aren’t you embarrassed?” They had wanted to pass the yearly automatic expense raises. Keuter acts indignant. In a gray top and matching scarf, Britte Haßelmann, Greens parliamentary floor manager, steps to the lectern. “If I were AfD floor manager, I would sink into the ground!” she shouts. The change in the accommodation mechanism for the expenses had been discussed at the special pre-session meeting. There is a murmuring in the Bundestag.

Haßelmann leans forward at the podium. In the circle of the floor managers, she says, it was agreed to take this in hand in the Bundestag. “And now all this excitement! How hypocritical is that?” Everyone but the AfD applauds. Haßelmann adds: “They haven’t even made an application for debate. That came fro the CDU/CSU. Anyone who wants to fool us here in parliament will have to get up earlier.” When have so many recently been interested in what is going in the Bundestag? It has become exciting here under the Reichstag dome.

The fact that the AfD is sitting in the Bundestag also signifies a chance for democracy. Their presence has filled a lacuna in representation. The election results have shown that it is not only populistic nationalists who voted for this party. There are people so disappointed by the CDU and other parties that they voted for the AfD, despite its racist diatribes during the election. People who didn’t care whom they voted for, because they just wanted to avoid the other parties. People who wanted to give them the message: Can you hear us now?

This is the group the AfD represents in the Bundestag — their frustrations, their fears, their ideas of what Germany should be. Now the other parties can engage with that directly. They can reply to allegedly simple solutions, populist demands, false facts and biases. By taking seriously the problems this party is addressing here, they can send AfD supporters the message: Yes, we hear you now. At least that is the theory.

It doesn’t work that way in reality. At least not yet. In reality, there are 92 AfD representatives who are usually all there. At the beginning of every speech by their party colleagues, they jump up and applaud. 92 AfD representatives, who proudly tweet selfies from the plenary chamber and party caucuses. Who also seek every opportunity to embarrass the other parties, sometimes by trickery. For instance, posting pictures of comparatively empty rows of seats — but twenty minutes before the session begins. That suffices for a short-lived Twitter success. They may no longer tweet during sessions, since Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble imposed a Twitter ban on all parties.

Mistakes have been made in dealing with the AfD. It is understandable that people wanted to do without a seniority president by the name of Wilhelm von Gottberg who regards the genocide of European Jews as still being “an effective instrument for criminalizing Germans and their history.” But altering the rules in the previous legislative session so that the oldest-in-service representative[1] is the seniority president was so easy to expose as “the AfD rule,” that they could have spared themselves the trouble of offering alternate reasons. It was the first opportunity for the AfD to complain of exclusion by the other parties. And German democracy should have easily withstood the speech of the 77-year-old Gottberg.

Everyone Knows Exclusion Helps the AfD

To be sure, the other parties are now against changing rules because of the AfD. Naturally, the AfD will apply for available positions. But when it comes to electing the party’s nominees, it will become difficult. The AfD candidate for Bundestag vice-president, Albrecht Glaser, failed three times because of his comments on Islam. Then Roman Reusch was not elected to the intelligence supervisory committee. There was no reason for that. He had been executive state’s attorney in Berlin. To be sure, he attracted attention because of his ideas on foreigner criminality. But he was completely qualified for the committee. The AfD candidates for available committee posts are once again a challenge that will be difficult for the other parties to accept.

It is a dilemma. No one wants to let the work of the committees be destroyed, but neither do they want to allow the AfD the role of victim. It is no secret that excluding them is ultimately to their benefit.

So how to get a hold on them? It is not hard, when the AfD behaves badly, as when Boris Becker’s son was racially insulted on the Twitter account of AfD representative Jens Maier. It is difficult when the AfD offers motions and takes positions shared by other parties. That can happen to Union, FDP and even Linke. It is the second great dilemma. Agreeing to an AfD motion is thus far unthinkable. Very few want to reject a motion on the grounds that it comes from the AfD. So there must be a convincing explanation. And that isn’t always possible. That was evident in CDU representative Schön in the debate on determining the age of refugees.

The AfD’s motion was “polemic,” full of “xenophobic prose,” she said. Reading the text, it is clear that the tone is sharp. It says, for instance, that false statements on age are to a “grave extent, socially damaging,” because they lead to high costs and “faulty sentencing of criminal foreigners according to juvenile instead of adult laws.” But is choice of words enough? It does not seem convincing. The SPD, which also rejected the content of the motion, probably because it includes genital inspection, had it easier in that case.

The Other Parties are Being Challenged. They Have to be on Their Game

This complex of dilemmas will not dissolve in the future. The only thing to do is keep on, be prepared, command details, know more, and resist. The AfD’s presence should spur the other parties to their best efforts. They must continue to seek debate on matters. And they must not tire of contradicting the party’s claims when they are false.

As they are doing already. For example, when Bavarian AfD representative Stephen Protschka claimed that the Greens dropped resistance to glyphosate in probes “so that more refugees can be accepted.” Green representative Renate Künast corrected him promptly: It was agreed in the probe discussions that the EU Commission glyphosate decision would be awaited and, in case of prolongation, measure would be taken to reduce the amount. “Didn’t you read that anywhere?” Künast asked Protschka sternly. And he had to answer, “Yes, in the press.”

Sitting up in the press seats, it seems doubtful that this will be enough. No matter how passionately the speakers down there debate, no matter how good the arguments and responses are — much of it echoes unheard into the distance. What happens here is not an end in itself. It ought to reach the citizens, the potential voters. Thus far, the AfD is the only party that sends its speeches and oral arguments over the social media on such a massive scale. Newspapers and radio/TV cannot report exhaustively on all debates. Perhaps the other parties should try harder than previously to make their representatives’ responses to the AfD better known than before — market them on the internet. And, now and then, even in capital letters.

Instead of the longstanding rule of simply the oldest representative.

III. Driving them crazy

Die Welt

Beep, Beep
The Playmates

“Shame on You,” Hofreiter Shouts at the AfD Speaker

by Kevin Knauer

There was vigorous debate on dual citizenship on Friday in the Bundestag. AfD representative Gottfried Curio said: “A routinely degraded double passport undermines the state and democracy.” He called the Integration Officer, Ayden Özoguz “a classic example of failed integration.”

The German-Turkish Özoguz had already been attacked last summer during the election by AfD’s Alexander Gauland, who said she should be “disposed of [by being sent] to Anatolia.”

In his speech, Curio warned against a “Little Anatolia in Germany.” Dual citizenship had “put the fox in charge of the henhouse,” as far as integration was concerned. The Green politician Anton Hofreiter blew up. Red-faced, he shouted throughout Curio’s speech. “Shame on you!” and “Have you no decency?” he roared.

Curio’s comments caused indignation and protest among the other parties. The AfD’s motion for a return to the so-called obligation to decide was “deeply xenophobic,” said FDP representative Jürgen Martens. He accused Curio of “defamatory speech” and “populist clichés.”

The Linke (Left) representative Niema Movassat said that the proposal was “hard to put up with” and a compendium of “populist ideas.” The Green politician Filiz Polat said that she was “extremely shocked” at the reasons for the AfD’s proposed law. The bill was referred to the domestic committee.

IV. Socialism’s European slide

Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung

I’m so lonely
Kim Jong-il

Not Just a German Path

The social democratic crisis is not a national but a European phenomenon

By Peter Entinger
February 2, 2018

As early as last year on German radio/TV, the political scientist Wolfgang Merkel took up the subject: “European Social Democracy: On the Way to Insignificance — or is there still something there?” And this year in an interview with ARD [German Broadcasting] in Brussels, the European parliamentary representative Jakob von Weizsäcker commented on the crisis of social democracy in Europe.

In the Federal Republic, social democrats are on the point of falling into the third rank in voter preference. “Representation of social democratic partisan governments has probably not been this thin in three decades,” declared Merkel, Director of Science Center Berlin and a non-partisan member of the SPD core values commission. In countries like Portugal, Malta or Albania right now, social democrats are the heads of state. The last remaining stronghold, he says, is Sweden. But even in Scandinavia, the golden age is over. “Scandinavia was always the Valhalla for post-war social democracy. Social democrats were able to govern for a long time, but these large parties have shrunk to medium size. They can no longer form a government alone, and very seldom as a minority government. They need coalitions, which dilutes social democratic policy. So in Scandinavia, too, social democracy has shrunk to medium size,” he explains.

Wherever you look, the mood is not good. In Austria, the social democrats were voted out; in France and the Netherlands, they were brought to power by unique circumstances, and departed into insignificance.

The SPD politician Jakob von Weizsäcker sees a European trend toward the fall of social democracy. In an interview with ARD Brussels, he warns: “That is an indicator that in Germany, too, there should be no assumption that this is an unfortunate occupational hazard, and in four years it will all look better.” Von Weizsäcker sees long-term social upheaval at work: The classic German working class no longer exists — rather, a segment of the population that the SPD calls “the fearful ones.” “Those are the ones who see themselves threatened by globalization. Immigration, technological development. They are actually classic social democratic voters.”

In Italy, Spain and Portugal, in the first decade of this century, social democratic parties had election results of over 40%. They are far from that today. The Spanish PSOE last reached 22%, and it doesn’t look much better in Italy. There, Matteo Renzi — one of the last wunderkinds of European social democracy, took himself out with a failed constitutional reform.

Taking the place of the classic workers’ parties are new, modern protest movements with their strongholds in the “ordinary people’s districts.” In Italy and Spain, the resistance to the establishment comes with movements like Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement) or Podemos (We Can) — leftish. In other countries, rightist parties like Front National in France or the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) have penetrated deep into the traditional red voters’ groups.

Political experts speak of change in the work environment, new working conditions such rapidly growing services and digitalization, which have jumbled everything up. Those classic milieus from which social democrats have always drawn their clientele no longer exist — neither in the Ruhr nor in the French coal regions.

Almost longingly, the election losers of past years seek proximity to French President Emanuel Macron. He whose breaking away had absolutely pulverized the previously ruling Parti Socialiste. And is the young ruling chief even a social democrat? “It is hardly possible to interpret policy worse,” said Wolfgang Merkel to German Broadcasting. “If someone’s pro-European, he is seen as a leftist, a progressive. Macron is not a leftist, rather he is in the middle. In political science matters, he is more a neoliberal — that is unmistakable.” In fact, he contravenes classic social democratic taboos such as deconstructing workers’ rights. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is held responsible by many social democrats for the fall of the SPD. By reforming social legislation in the context of Agenda 2010, he did reform the employment market, but also split the party. Oskar Lafontaine, then finance minister, betook himself with companions to the Linke party.

Macron is more Schröder than Lafontaine, says the expert Merkel. He could hardly qualify as the great hope for the ailing SPD.

V. Muslim go home!


We’re Through
The Hollies

Höcke Wants to Cut Refugees to Zero

The controversial head of Thuringia’s AfD, Björn Höcke is against accepting any further refugees in Germany. “It’s not about agreeing to an upper limit on illegal economic immigrants,” said Höcke on Saturday at a state party convention in Arnstadt, with an eye on the coalition negotiations to form a new government in Berlin. Rather, he said, it was about keeping the number per year to zero. “And it is about making those already living here ‘fit for return’.” He stated emphatically that he was not interested in making any compromises with the “old parties.”

In his opinion, Islam should be forced back out of Europe. “To me, Turkey just does not belong in Europe,” Höcke said, and referred to his controversial speech of January 20th in Eisieben in Saxony-Anhalt. But there he also said he was not an enemy of Islam. “A Muslim who lives here peacefully and keeps the rule of law without condition must be tolerated,” he quoted himself. “All others have no future and no home here.”

In the provincial elections of 2019, according to Höcke, the AfD intends to become the strongest political power. In 2014, it became the fourth-strongest. He sees it as the future populist party with a possibility of taking power. This week, the Linke had already declared its intention to become the strongest party in the Free State [Thuringia].

At this time the CDU has the most representatives in the legislature. By its own estimates, the AfD has 1,000 members and is, according to Höcke, with Brandenburg, the fastest growing AfD legislative contingent. Thuringia is governed by the Linke, the SPD and the Greens.

VI. Who are you gonna believe?

Compact Online

If I only had a brain
Ray Bolger

Germany’s “Free Press”


By Marc Dassen
February 3, 2018

Germany’s mass media are critical, balanced and fair, absolutely! A representative collection of headlines proves this. Not a trace of partisanship!…

While the old party politicians are desperately trying to stand up against the pressure from their new AfD colleagues, and fraternizing across party lines — the establishment journalists are writing until their fingers bleed… A hit parade of the most shameless mainstream headlines show that, while we officially have freedom of the press, we do not have a free press!

The “victim” category

Why the Rightists Like the Role of Victim

— Berliner Zeitung

Muslim Central Council Warns Against AfD in Role of Victim

— Zeit

“AfD Tries to Present Itself as Victim” — Press Judges von Storch Tweet

— Stern

The “cool response” category

AfD Politician Irritates With Comment on “colored” — Oppermann Counters Coolly

— Huffingtonpost

AfD Wants to Unseat Claudia Roth — Her Riposte is Ice-Cold

— Merkur

Indignation and scandal-mongering category

While Everyone is Watching GroKo, the AfD is Planning an Uproar

— Focus

Like a Neo-Nazi”: Speech of Albrecht Glaser Causes Concern

— Huffingtonpost

Teachers and unmaskers category

Teaching the AfD Parliamentary Manners

— Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Greens Representative Hasselman Exposes AfD Hypocrisy in Debate

— Stern

Aiman Mazyek: Unmasking the AfD in the Bundestag

— Stimme

Alexander Gauland Gives Himself Away Again

— t-online

…The result as seen in these headlines is clear. The Blues (AfD), as Trump in the USA, do not do well. But exactly as with the US president, here too, bad press will not halt the rise of the opposition — on the contrary. It is tempting to call out to the resistance-and-indignation journalists: Keep it up!

4 thoughts on “How Far Can the Bundestag Kick the Can Down the Road?

  1. Aaaargh! I must disagree with the commenters above:

    1) I’ve loved the poetry of TS Eliot since school, but resent his insertion of quotes from, eg, ancient Greek or medieval Italian without translation; I’m usually wary of accusations of elitism, but these seem to me a perfect illustration.

    2) I struggled through James Joyce’s “Ulysses” some years back; I got some sense of the sructure, which is quite musical, but again would have liked footnotes explaining the references to, eg, Irish legends.

    I’m surprised the Baron hasn’t reminded JLH that this is an English language blog, and this should include links.

  2. If I didn’t already know it was an English language blog, I would have been forcefully reminded by this elegant demonstration of obscurantism.

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