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The end of the Merkel era? The astonishing revival of the Social Democrats in Germany

February 28, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Center for Global Studies, University of Victoria

Until recently, Angela Merkel’s grip on power appeared rock solid. As part of the currently ruling grand collation, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) were not able to form a viable alternative to Merkel’s 12-year reign nor did they show any particular eagerness to establish the government after the upcoming September 2017 elections. Many political commentators already predicted the irreversible end of the SPD as Germany’s ‘People’s Party’. Similarly, the rise of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany does not pose a veritable challenge to the supremacy of Chancellor Merkel. There are clear indications that the Party has outlived its hype in the wake of the refugee crisis and that projected electoral support levels are back in the single digits. Until the end of 2016, a fourth term in office for Merkel was almost a fail accomplish more than six months before the elections.

Yet, events over the past few weeks indicate how volatile electoral politics has become in Western liberal democracies. In late January, Germany’s Social Democrats nominated Martin Schulz as their candidate for chancellor, reacting to the sobering realization that Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, simply proved unappealing to the electorate. What has happened over the past month is truly remarkable considering how we normally think about party preferences and loyalty. A party that seemed to be resigned to losing yet another election, deprived of any inspiration, has come to life from one day to the other. The SPD has seen the massive influx of new members; the ‘Martin Schulz fever’ has spread all across the country. While at the beginning of 2017, the SPD was projected to attract somewhat more than 20% of electoral support, most recent surveys put the party above 30%, if not in the lead over Merkel’s Christian Democrats. And, most notably given Angela Merkel’s long standing popularity, Martin Schulz is now leading Merkel as the public’s preferred candidate for the chancellorship.

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Brexit Means Brexit Means What? 

 February 16, 2017 - by George Ross, Jean-Monnet Chair ad personam, Université de Montréal

Brexit began with UK PM David Cameron’s flawed strategy to keep Eurosceptics under control by calling the June, 2016 national referendum whose results cost Cameron his job. What soon  followed showed, in Jeremy Kinsman’s words, that the Brexiters were « …the dog that caught the bus : they hadn’t thought what to do next. » The absence of plans was evident in new PM Teresa May’s puzzling announcement that « Brexit means Brexit. »

There followed months of confusion. May appointed three leading Brexiters (including Boris Johnson, who had proposed that the UK could « …have its cake and eat it too») to top Brexit jobs, in part to keep them inside the government tent, but without knowing what they were to do. The new situation also disorganized the British civil service. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty had to be invoked to negotiate « leaving », but excepting those ready to jump over the Brexit cliff without knowing where they would land, leaving remained to be defined. Among the options were staying in the EU single market without a voice in EU affairs, staying in the EU customs union but jettisoning EU laws, regulations, and practices, « cherry picking » desirable parts of the EU  (protecting the City of London and EU research and development, among others), or cutting EU ties and « going global. » Some even thought that people would return to their senses and overrule the referendum results.

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