Political Overview: Merkel doubtful about Trump’s reliability, major SPD government reshuffle, government consultations with Indian and Chinese leadership

Chancellor Merkel has reaped positive critics from around the globe for her speech on the new importance of European self-reliance as a reaction to U.S. President Trump’s aggressive stance towards multilateral partnerships. At a rally last Sunday she stated that „the times when we could fully rely on others are partly over.“ Merkel’s remarks signal a departure from the historically close transatlantic relationship towards a more self-assertive, united European Union. Among those siding with the chancellor in her rebuke of Trump’s reluctance to compromise were not only newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron but also Merkel’s prime challenger for the September 2017 Federal Elections, SPD lead candidate Martin Schulz who labeled Trump’s conduct as being „not acceptable“. The G7 summit’s final communique also reflected the estrangement between the U.S. and its international partners with frustrated member states calling out the U.S’s unwillingness to cooperate, especially on climate change. Now that Trump has publicly announced to unilaterally withdraw from the Paris agreement, political tensions are expected to increase further.

Due to health issues, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s long-time Minister-President Erwin Sellering has surprisingly resigned from his position, recommending Minister of Family Affairs Manuela Schwesig as his successor and thus causing a large-scale government reshuffle within the SPD. The party’s secretary general Katharina Barley was chose to assume Schwesig’s cabinet position passing her own job to MP Hubertus Heil. It is the second time Heil will serve his party as secretary general having seen his first spell abruptly ending after the SPD’s historic election defeat in 2009.

While the SPD is personally reorganizing itself, Chancellor Merkel has held meetings with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese colleague Li Keqiang in the context of the German-Indian and German-Chinese government consultations. Talking about the upcoming G20 meeting and further possibilities to deepen economic exchange, Merkel und Modi agreed on more than €1bn development support for India, more cooperation in the field of renewable energies and a resumption of the stalled free trade negotiations between India and the European Union. The discussions with Keqiang were similarly productive and included a wide range of fields, particularly the issue of climate change and how to counter the U.S.’s latest policy shift.

Political Overview: Hasty presentation of SPD draft election program, Coalition negotiations in Schleswig-Holstein can be opened between Greens, CDU and FDP

After two rough weeks following the elections in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, the Social Democrats wanted to present the core issues of Martin Schulz‘ election campaign: social justice and equality, to initiate the needed turnaround.

Originally the draft was supposed to be passed by the SPD’s executive board on Monday morning and presented shortly after. Instead, the vote on the board and the subsequent presentation was first called off on Sunday. After public criticism in newspapers, the original plan was re-instated Monday morning. Instead of an adequate presentation the program was presented by Katarina Barley, the SPD’s Secretary General, in a less than 10 minutes press-conference. Martin Schulz, who was criticised for his lack of involvement in the campaigns for the regional elections, also was not involved in the presentation. Other than expected, all of the key details on social security and taxation were missing in the presentation, as the Executive Board had not found a consensus on the matter.

Developments in Schleswig Holstein may be another reason for Martin Schulz becoming awkwardly silent, as the Greens decided to enter coalition negotiations with the CDU and FDP.

In current polls Ms Merkel (49%, +3) is ahead of Mr Schulz (36%, -4). Regarding party polls, the CDU scores 38% (+1). The SPD loses 1 point, dropping to 26%. The FDP, in its best result since 2010, would receive 9% (+1) if elections were held this week. Greens (8%) and the Left (6%) stagnate. The far right AfD  is at 9% (-1).


Like the two previous state elections in the Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) are a bad omen for the  Social Democrat’s: The CDU received 33% of the votes (+6.7), bringing the SPD’s rule of a traditional stronghold and Germany’s most populous state to an end. The SPD dropped to 31.2% (-8). The liberal FDP got 12.6% (+4), delivering its strongest performance in the state ever. The Greens’ share of the vote almost halved to 6.4% (-4.9). The Left missed the threshold with 4,9% (+2,4). The far right AfD won 7.4% and is now represented in 13 state assemblies. The SPD already excluded the possibility to form a grand coalition in NRW. That makes a CDU-FDP coalition the most likely option: negotiations however will be slowed by Christian Linder, the party’s state and federal leader having ambitions for the federal level — it is unlikely that he will remain in NRW for long.

Hannelore Kraft (SPD), head of the deselected state government, already announced her withdrawal from her party posts on the evening of the election day. SPD party leader Martin Schulz tried to deflect the blame to NRW’s Hannelore Kraft, and promised to fight ever harder. In an interview, he outlined three not so new themes: Solidarity, “future” (meaning, mostly, education and digitisation) and Europe. While Ms Merkel already moved on to other issues, her Chancellor Minister Peter Altmaier pointed out the SPD’s weakness: “What is this party standing for?” The Social Democrats reacted hastily, and published their first draft for an election program, with little public notice. Perhaps thought as a test balloon, the paper outlines more taxation, education and welfare policies as well as strengthened security services but still has gaps regarding the most contentious issues.

Current polls show Ms Merkel (49%, +3) is ahead of Mr Schulz (36%, -4). Regarding party polls, the CDU scores 37% (+3). The SPD loses 4 points, dropping to 27%. The FDP, in its best result since 2010, would receive 8% (+2) if elections were this week. Greens (8%) and the Left (7%) stagnate. The far right AfD  is at 10% (-1).

On EU affairs, Ms Merkel warned that Germany could move its soldiers from a Turkish army base if MPs aren’t allowed to visit. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel  agreed, warning the Turkish Government of “blackmailing”.


Martin Schulz, the SPD’s chancellor candidate, was hardly happy about outcome of the state elections in Schleswig-Holstein. The CDU scored 32% (+1,2) while the SPD went down to 27,2% (-3,2). Greens (12,9%, -0,3) and Liberals (11,5%, +3,3) did comparatively well. The AfD managed to enter Parliament, albeit with a low 5,9% (+5,9) while the Pirate party, scoring 1,2% (-7) decisively missed the threshold. Possible explanations were quick to be found: SPD General Secretary Katarina Barley dismissed her party’s loss as being mainly caused by an unfortunate home-story interview which the SPD’s lead candidate Thorsten Albig gave, although he did well in polls. In any way, Mr Schulz’s image as saviour of the Social Democrats is lost.

The last test whether Mr Schulz’s arguments resonate comes this weekend, when North-Rhine Westphalia’s 14 million voters elect a new parliament: The state’s incumbent premier, Hannelore Kraft (SPD), has so far failed to stop the CDU’s momentum in the state, leading to a stalemate in the polls after months of SPD domination.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s dealing with right-wing extremism within the German Bundeswehr is another focus of public debate this week. While testimonies about Nazi rituals and souvenirs mount, a second supporter of the alleged terrorist Franco A. has been arrested.

On European politics, Ms Merkel welcomed Emmanuel Macron’s victory: Ms Merkel expressed that she looks forward to work confidentially together. Mr Schulz expressed hope that Mr Macron will have to work with a similarly “convinced European,” in Berlin, probably referring to himself. Mr Schulz, in his speech outlined above, however also defended the German trade surplus, which had been criticised by Mr Macron. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) was milder: In his new book, he demands to allow France (and others) to break budget deficit rules in order to invest.

Ms Merkel’s Press Secretary Steffen Seibert, in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, stated that a (still hypothetical) Turkish referendum on the death penalty in Germany would be banned.

POLITICAL OVERVIEW: Congratulations to Macron, AfD holds party convention

Except for The Left and the far-right AfD, all parties had endorsed Emanuel Macron prior to Sundays vote in France — so their relieve over his first round election success came to no surprise. SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz even congratulated Mr Macron personally and later called on “all Europeans” to fight for Mr Macron, as did Peter Altmaier (CDU), Head of the Chancellery.

On transatlantic relations, Chancellor Angela Merkel was apparently successful negotiating trade policy: Reportedly, in her tenth attempt she managed to convince US President Trump that trade is EU competence, and no separate national deals would be possible. He now supposedly considers to prioritise TTIP over a trade deal with the UK. Nevertheless, Mr Trump’s top trade official warned that the EU would have to compete with China and Japan on the President’s priority list. On Tuesday, Ms Merkel met Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump on stage when attending the W20 conference as part of the German G20 presidency. While no matters of trade policy were discussed, Merkel made it a point to sit right next to Ms Trump at the gala dinner held on occasion of the conference. According to press reports, Merkel, who was irritated when seated to Ms Trump during a session at her recent visit to the White House, now considers it a priority to forge a relationship to the President’s daughter.

At the AfD party convention, Chairwoman Frauke Petry had pinned her political future to a motion which expressed the centrist will to enter government as soon as possible — but party delegates said no. Like the party’s founder Bernd Lucke, whom she herself had toppled, Ms Petry now sees ever more openly extreme candidates representing the AfD for the election: Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland will campaign on a programme that covers the right fringe’s best of: closed borders to immigrants, no Euro, no women’s rights. On global affairs the positions are confusing: The US may be „Germany’s foremost partner“ but only on „a relationship at eye level that is based on shared interests“. WTO deals are welcomed, but CETA, TISA, and TTIP despised for the sake of „German jobs“.

Following Bavaria’s state-election in 2013, Prime Minister and CSU party chief Horst Seehofer announced he would end his political career after this term in 2018. He changed his mind: This week he announced plans to lead his party once more into state elections. The party, never critical of its leaders, welcomed the move. For this year’s federal campaign, Bavaria’s current Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann is to become lead candidate, as well as the CSU’s candidate for Federal Minister of Interior Affairs.