Political Overview: De Maiziére pushes “Leitkultur”, Merkel in Brussels, Russia, Middle East, FDP Convention

Federal Minister for Interior Affairs Thomas de Maiziére has published 10 theses on German “Leitkultur” (dominant or guiding culture), calling on immigrants to assimilate to German culture and observe local customs such as “shaking hands when greeting”. Neither the ideas nor the following debate is new, reflecting Germany’s slow awakening of being an immigration-society. CDU Vice Chairmen Thomas Strobl and Armin Laschet reacted with praise. CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer agreed: “It’s about time that this discussion happens in Berlin as well.”

SPD and FDP chairmen Martin Schulz and Christian Lindner both insisted that no theses on Leitkultur were necessary, referring to the German constitution instead, while Green party leader Simone Peters criticised that instead of culture debates, Government should work on an improved security policy.

Overall, integration of immigrants reemerges as a campaign issue: Following the Turkish constitutional referendum, which was supported by 60% of cast votes in Germany, some CDU members had called for an end of dual citizenship — a step Ms Merkel has ruled out. In a later interview, Mr Schulz extended his criticism, arguing that the debate was used to distract from the case of a presumed Nazi-terrorist within the German Army, a matter which also puts the German Minister of Defense Ursual von der Leyen under pressure.

After a visit to Brussels, Chancellor Angela Merkel went to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi to talk about human rights, economic and security cooperation, G20 and regional conflicts. On return, she also met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sotchi to discuss conflicts from Ukraine and Syria to Yemen. Germany’s foreign policy establishment welcomed the talks.

At the FDP’s party conference over the weekend, the Liberals passed their manifesto for September’s general election and confirmed Christian Lindner as lead candidate with 91%. The manifesto focuses on education and digitisation, including investment into the digital infrastructure of schools and digital education of teachers. Beyond education, the manifesto seeks to create more accommodative conditions for entrepreneurs and to give consumers more control over their data. The manifesto also covers civil rights, foreign policy, and taxation.

Mr Schulz meanwhile has come under scrutiny for his personnel policy when back as EP President. Polling gives even less good news for the Social Democrats, they dropped by 8 points, scoring 28% now, with the CDU/CSU scoring 41% (+4), the Left 8% (+2), the Greens 8% (+1), FDP 7% (+3), and the AfD 6% (+/- 0). Also on personnel, the CDU has regained her support hand: Half of all respondents would vote for Ms Merkel 50%, while Mr Schulz would only get 37%. In Saarland, CDU and SPD agreed to renew their grand coalition.

Political Overview: First reactions to Turkey, UK — SPD ahead in North-Rhine Westphalia, CDU on federal level

After an official victory for the constitutional referendum in Turkey, first reactions of Germany’s political elite came quickly. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) stated “the Federal Government expects that the Turkish government enters a respectful dialogue with all political and societal forces in its country.” Opposition and Bundestag members were harsher: FDP vice-chairman Wolfgang Kubicki argued the referendum “meant the end of accession negotiations, an end to pre-accession assistance of billions of Euro”. Wolfgang Bosbach, speaker for interior policy of the CDU Bundestag group agreed. Green lead candidate Cem Özdemir disagreed to cancel financial support for civil rights actors in Turkey but added: “Keep the accession negotiations frozen”.

Reacting to the British snap election Mr Gabriel stated: “Predictability and reliability are more important than ever since the Brexit vote in the UK. Any prolonged uncertainty is surely not to the benefit of political and economic relations between Europe and the UK. I hope that the early general election announced by Prime Minister May today will lend the negotiations with the European Union greater clarity and predictability.” On the french election, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned the French electorate of voting for Marine le Pen, who he claims is out to destroy the EU. The Union, Mr Steinmeier called a “gain for all of us, including France”.

Although only two were lightly injured, last week’s bombing in Dortmund in North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), which targeted the bus of a popular soccer team, caused public uproar. After Islamist and left-wing extremist letters of confession were exposed as hoaxes, the newest trace leads to the Neo-nazi scene. Already prior to the attack, Ms Merkel had called for stronger intelligence and policing on state level. The case adds to recent failures by NRW’s security services, imperilling the SPD’s campaign for state election on 14 May. Nevertheless, SPD chairman Martin Schulz’s popularity seems to outweigh policy failure, with his party polling 37% (CDU 30%, Greens 6 %, FDP 9 %, Left 5 %, AfD 9 %) in Germany’s largest state.

In federal polls, Ms Merkel received a 62% approval rate (+2) while Mr Schulz dropped to 48% (-4). Voters are split in their judgement on the Government as a whole, with a slim majority of 52% approving its work. Especially positive are CDU voters (73%), and, surprisingly, the followers of the Green opposition party (60%). SPD and FDP, as well as undecided voters, are roughly split. Followers of the Left (62%) and especially the far right AfD (98%) mostly reject the government.

The nearing party convention of the AfD has caused uproar: Party chairwomen Frauke Petry announced she will not run for leading the party into the election. Observers judge her move less as a retreat but as a tactical manoeuvre. Ms Petry is blamed to have created the conflict between “conservatives” and extremists for her own gain. Many expect her to continue this fight by pushing for a “conservative” programme this weekend.

Political Overview Merkel and Schulz disagree on Syria, agree on Greece, polls stable, Obama in Berlin

Chancellor Angela Merkel called US President Donald Trump in support of the recent US strikes in Syria. A day later, Ms Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, added that its was Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons to blame for the escalation. Germany would use all its resources to support UN efforts to solve the conflict. Also Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) voiced support for a diplomatic solution, calling the US strikes “comprehensible”. The SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz chose harsher words. In an op-ed, he warned of a “confrontation between superpowers” resulting from the US strikes; the EU should involve herself more. Most voters side with Mr Schulz: only 26% of respondents supported the strikes. Also on Eurozone economics, Mr Schulz aims to align with voters, suddenly calling Grexit a possible option, and refusing to promise an end of Ms Merkel’s authority policy. Meanwhile the fiscal hawk and Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble embraced French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.


Greece’s membership in the Eurozone is dependent on “the extent that reforms will be implemented” by Athens. “We also have to ask ourselves, which mistakes we — as the so called free west — have done in the past. … Now a military confrontation between the super-powers Russia and the US is looming.”

On 6 April, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny visited Ms Merkel, discussing economic cooperation and Brexit. Ms Kenny called peace in North-Ireland “fragile”; German voters worry less: 76% (+20) believe the economic damage for Germany will be little, only 18% (-16) that it will be large. On 10 April, Ms Merkel met the heads of OECD, IMF, World Bank, WTO and ILO in Berlin for the 9th time. Together, they discussed the global economy, trade and Germany’s G20 Presidency.

National polls see Ms Merkel in the lead again by eight points compared to Mr Schulz (48% to 40%). Party-polls are stable: The SPD scores 32% (+/-0), CDU 35% (+1), the far right AfD 9% (+/-0), The Left 8% (+/-0), the Greens 7% (+/-0) and the FDP 5% (+/-0). When asked about favoured coalitions, most favour a continuation of the current grand coalition (49%), second comes CDU/CDU/Greens (31%), third an SPD/Greens/Left option (24%), with the options including the FDP scoring 21-23%. On policy, 47% of respondents find migration to be the most pressing issue, while social justice ranks second, scoring 13%. Problematically for the SPD, only 17% of respondents think the party is competent on migration, while the CDU scores 39%. On social justice it’s the opposite case, with the SPD scoring 39%, and the CDU 20%.

On campaign personnel, Minister of the Chancellory Peter Altmaier (CDU) will be responsible that his party profits from that: By volunteering for the election campaign, he will support his party’s General Secretary Peter Tauber. Mr Altmaier will mostly be responsible for drafting and strategy tasks, while Mr Tauber will remain head of organisational issues. FDP vice chair Wolfgang Kubicki nevertheless saw a constitutional breach: A member of the executive would not be allowed to do party politics. Ms Merkel meanwhile landed the first campaign scoop: On the occasion of reformation’s 500 year anniversary, she will discuss democracy and civil engagement with President Barack Obama in Berlin on the same day as Mr Trump begins his Europe tour. Ms Merkel and Mr Trump will meet shortly after at NATO and G7 respectively.

German reactions to Brexit: EU loses an important member, chief goal in negotiations is to preserve unity of EU

With the United Kingdom official triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union on Wednesday, the EU of 28 members states now has an expiration date. The European Commission under chief negotiation Michel Barnier and the British Government now have two years to strike a deal on the terms of the impending Brexit. Any hopes of striking a deal on the future relationship of both partners that PM Theresa May  might have had, by now should be crushed, though.

Chancellor Merkel voiced her regret for the UK leaving the EU, saying that the union „is losing a strong and important member state“. At the same time, she stressed that no talks on future arrangements between the United Kingdom and the European Union would begin before both sides have agreed on the terms of the UK’s exit. Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel blew the same horn, saying  the EU member states had found a „strong“ position for the negotiations that Germany would „wholeheartedly“ support.

The parliamentary groups in the German Bundestag mostly reacted in similar fashion, calling for European unity in the Brexit negotiations while emphasizing the many achievements of the bloc and pointing to the many challenges that the EU and an independent UK will likely face „in the spirit of friendship“ in the future.

These reactions should not have come unexpected. While the German Government has shown no inclination to „punish“ the UK for leaving the Union, Theresa May should not hope for a favourable deal. The Berlin-Paris axis is bent on forging a tighter European Union and Chancellor Angela Merkel has the support of all German parties in this endeavour. Even German business associations, have assured Merkel their support, even if a „hard Brexit“ would lead to them losing money over their investments in the UK.

Any deviation from the planned negotiation procedures – no parallel negotiation of exit terms and future relationship – is completely out of question and potential plans by the UK to exploit differences in opinion of the members of the EU at this point seem unlikely to be successful.

The EU of 27 now will take about a month to agree on a concrete negotiation position which they will finalise in a meeting on April 29. The first outlook does not bode well for the UK and particularly for the Treasury. Chancellor Merkel has already indicated in private that she will support demanding a €60bn exit bill.

Chancellor Merkel reacted to the triggering of Article 50 during a speech in Berlin, saying that the UK should remain „an important partner“ of the EU after Brexit’s conclusion. At the same time, she remained adamant about starting talks about future relations between the UK and the EU only after Brexit negotiations have been conluded.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel: Bundesregierung will „wholeheartedly“ support Barnier and his team, wants to „stay friends after the break-up“. Says preserving EU unity is vital.

Deputy parliamentary chairman Hans-Peter Friedrich MdB and spokesman on European Affairs Michael Stübgen MdB: negotiations will be complex, difficult. However, Britain and EU will continue to share many interests, e.g. in security policy and trade. The negotiations will strengthen the unity of the remaining member states.

Deputy parliamentary chairman Axel Schäfer MdB and spokesman on European Affairs Norbert Spinrath MdB: chief goal is to preserve the unity of the EU after the Brexit. Special attention needs to be paid to the EU citizens planning to stay in the UK after Brexit and their rights. One-off competitive advantage in the negotiation period post-Brexit must be prevented. Reaffirm pride in, commitment to EU.

Parliamentary Chairman Dietmar Bartsch MdB: negotiations will be marked by egoism and a wish to perpetuate an unjust status quo in the EU and the UK alike. Expects separation to be „dirty“, consequences of the negotiations to be „harmful“ to Germany and the EU at large.

Deputy parliamentary chairman Frithjof Schmidt MdB and spokesman on European Affairs Manuel Sarrazin MdB: EU now needs a clear negotiation position for the Brexit negotiations. UK cannot be allowed to cherry-pick advantages of EU membership outside the bloc. Demand a clear Bundesregierung commitment to a strong and united EU.

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