Commentary parties and the hesse election: the desire for doom

CDU and SPD lose percentage points again. Perhaps it would be best to openly admit that they can no longer reach all voters.

Thorsten, Willy and Andrea: There is hardly any hope left for the formerly proud SPD Photo: dpa

So, so, the result of the Hesse election is solely due to the federal trend. At first glance, there is a lot to be said for it: both governing parties lost, all opposition parties won. The losers are now pointing to Berlin, where they are contrite and praising better policies. And even the winners, including the Greens, hardly dare to beat their chests with confidence. However, if the major parties in Bavaria and Hesse lose to the left and right to a similar extent, this points to a structural problem.

If the federal trend is not responsible, why do the CDU, CSU and SPD lose about ten percentage points evenly in two successive state elections? Because it is not the federal trend, but the trend as such that is swinging against the CDU/CSU and SPD. This explains why the CDU and CSU lost in Bavaria and Hesse, even though their positions on the federal government in general and Angela Merkel in particular were at most different.

When the SPD also points to government responsibility in Berlin, that sounds a little bit cheap. After all, the comrades in Hesse have been opposed for 19 long years and should have had enough opportunity to suck a little honey from the failures of the black-green coalition.

The Berlin coalition paints a desolate picture, even though it is getting substantial projects off the ground. Why is that? No, it is not only due to Merkel’s late phase, now officially heralded by her resignation from the party chairmanship. After all, the SPD only knows early and late phases of its chairpersons. The crisis behind the crisis is rooted in the fact that the CDU/CSU and SPD can do little with the major contentious issues of our time (migration, climate protection) because the lines run right through them.

This in turn explains why the CDU/CSU and SPD are so hopelessly at odds. That’s why the decision on Agenda 20 hangs around the SPD’s neck like a millstone. That’s why the Union parties are arguing so relentlessly about Merkel’s "opening of the borders" (which wasn’t). And that is why the dispute over immigration between the CDU and CSU has escalated to grotesque proportions.

Admitting the truth

The desire for decline in the former people’s parties stems from the fact that today’s political conflicts have so little to do with the goals out of which the Union and SPD were actually founded. The SPD did not have to worry about rating agencies in the first decades of its existence, and the Union formed at a time when immigration to Germany from outside Europe seemed unthinkable. After 2003, the SPD had to learn painfully that socialist dreams can only be realized to a limited extent under the conditions of globalization. The Left Party could care less about such subtleties.

The Union – or at least the CDU – knows that border closures endanger the Schengen system and thus the single market in the EU, of which Germany is the biggest beneficiary. These, in turn, are subtleties that the AfD couldn’t care less about. The parallels between the Hartz IV legislation and the admission of refugees in September 2015 are evident.

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Both times, in an act of self-sacrifice that was heroic or paranoid, depending on your point of view, the SPD and the CDU/CSU made one last big decision that they have been chafing at ever since. Now the SPD and the CDU/CSU are behaving like the proverbial plumber who can’t find the cause of the dripping pipe and keeps turning it tighter and tighter. With the consequence that the mishap takes its course.

So what can be done? It would probably be best for the SPD and the CDU/CSU to openly admit that they can no longer reach all voters – at least to themselves. That would also tone down the aggressive dealings with each other. If the grand coalition takes up the SPD proposal of a timetable, it still has a chance that is better for the CDU/CSU and SPD than any new election scenario. Two conditions are necessary for this to happen: the timetable has to be feasible and adhered to, and there has to be a willingness to give each other something in return. Preconditional, yes, but doable.

Green fear of trend reversal

Let’s move on to the other parties. The big election winners, the Greens, are afraid that the trend could turn against them again, especially if the party assumes government responsibility. This concern is quite unfounded, because the recent past gives no reason to suspect that far-reaching political reform (or its failure) in the near future will be blamed primarily on the Greens. The image of their fellow competitors is too bad.

This brings us to the FDP: Christian Lindner’s statement on election night that his party was caught between those who wanted to let everyone into the country and those who wanted to let no one in, knocks all the competitors on the head and thus underscores that the FDP is not available for constructive cooperation at the federal level. That’s enough for six to eight percent, and we’ve actually dealt with the Left Party right away.

The AfD can continue to build on its image as a bulwark against migration and has not yet had to explain to anyone how a border closure is actually compatible with the EU’s internal market. That this question will one day arise is the hope of the CDU/CSU. For the SPD, there is none.

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