In elections in both France and the German state of Schleswig-Holstein on Sunday, the winner was: youth. Daniel Günther, the Northern German hero of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is only 43, while 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron has become the youngest French president of all time. But can youthful daring and insouciance wrest us from today’s political stalemates? Sunday was also a victory for the opinion pollsters, whose forecasts this time were largely spot on. After their fiasco with Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, perhaps we can start counting on the numbers again.
Thankfully for Europe, the French have stepped back from the abyss to which Marine Le Pen had smilingly led them. Instead, they have chosen in Macron a social liberal who ran on a pro-European ticket while simultaneously calling for a political “revolution”. A heady mix, indeed. Before yesterday, an explicitly pro-EU election platform was thought to be toxic in many member states. For Macron, however, European progress means a new euro zone with a joint finance minister, a common budget and bold investment policy. Angela Merkel will surely find out more today about the plans of the young man in the Elysee when outgoing French president Francois Hollande comes to Berlin to bid her au revoir.
Macron’s first real test will be the parliamentary elections in June. He needs to quickly sober up from yesterday’s champagne soaked celebration and get down to the nitty-gritty of consensus building. In France, 25 percent of the population didn’t cast a ballot, while some 11 million votes went to the increasingly bourgeois Front National. Over four million citizens invalidated their ballots out of protest, and many of those remaining voted for Macron simply because he wasn’t Le Pen. While the fact that 66 percent chose an open society is cause for cautious optimism, in the margins of society, money and jobs are in short supply. Democratic revolution will need a bigger base.
While Macron’s year-old political party, En Marche, already has a coherent political program, Germany’s Martin Schulz, chancellor candidate for the 154-year-old Social Democrats, has relied more on the power of suggestion. Schulz is a lefty populist in the mold of former German chancellor Willy Brandt and initially raised all kinds of expectations. But he followed up mainly with run-of-the-mill factory visits and speeches about justice in the abstract – which have done little to help the SPD in regional elections in Saarland or Schleswig-Holstein. In the latter they received a catastrophic 27 percent of the vote, allegedly making Schulz “mad as hell.” These days, the former president of the EU parliament is looking less and less like a messiah. Sunday’s regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia will be an important test before for the Judgement Day of September’s federal elections.
For the SPD’s Torsten Albig, Minister President of Schleswig-Holstein, a series of verbal faux pas contributed to yesterday’s defeat at the polls. Before claiming that Hamburg’s mayor Olaf Scholz was more important to his campaign than SPD head Martin Schulz, Albig told national tabloid Bunte that he left his ex-wife because she was no longer “on his level.” Now it seems it was Albig who wasn’t on the level of rival Daniel Günther of the CDU, who took 32 percent of the vote. The regional election has given Günther’s CDU a clear mandate for a coalition with the Greens and the FDP. As Albig has shown, pride has once again come before the fall. Now let’s see what happens this fall.
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