Economic Weekly

Statesmen, Demagogues and Incumbents

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The weekly column offers a rundown of the most important economic and political news in Germany and beyond.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin torpedoed a statement in which the G20 members would have vowed to oppose all forms of protectionism.
    • The western German state of Saarland will hold elections on Sunday. This will be seen as a litmus test for upcoming federal elections in September.
    • The firey politics of chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats and former chair of the European Parliament, has boosted the SPD in recent polls, putting the party ahead of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.
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    Audio

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G20 Finanzministertreffen
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the G20 meeting in Baden-Baden. Photo: Uwe Anspach/DPA [M]

During the G20 summit last weekend in Baden-Baden, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin prevented the traditional statement of commitment to regulated free trade from being included in the final communiqué of the group’s finance ministers and federal bank chiefs.

But aside from this rather irritating tidbit, the rest of the week was relatively quiet in terms of business news – though it was packed with political headlines. Angela Merkel’s inaugural visit to Washington one week ago reconfirmed widespread suspicions of U.S. President Donald Trump’s general ignorance and rudeness, as well as his particular inexperience regarding foreign and economic policy. What was new, however, was the president’s apparent deafness, revealed to the world after he claimed not have heard Ms. Merkel’s offer to shake hands during the photo op. This left the German chancellor looking somewhat perplexed. But the world continued to turn.

Back across the pond, Martin Schulz continued his meteoric political rise after receiving 100 percent of delegate votes to become the leader and chancellor candidate of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, the SPD. It appears that the popularity of social democracy, known slangily as the “comrade trend” during the explosion of its popularity in Germany between the 50s and the 70s, is back. Big time.

Indeed, Mr. Schulz is the SPD’s first real chance in 10 years of regaining control of the chancellery. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that the SPD is still part of the incumbent ruling coalition together with the Christian Democrats, or CDU, and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU). Which makes the announcement that Mr. Schulz won’t be attending the next committee meeting of the coalition on March 29 understandable, but still an odd move. Instead, he has made public his plans to attend a party thrown by the SPD’s parliamentary faction. Which is a strange excuse, considering Mr. Schulz isn’t even a member of the German parliament.

On account of Mr. Schulz’s candidacy and the resulting surge in the SPD’s poll numbers, regional elections in Germany’s smallest state, Saarland, have now become relevant on the national stage. Until recently, it appeared all but a done deal that the smooth operating CDU governor of Saarland, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – aka AKK – would win. Now things aren’t so clear. This is why the vote in Saarland is widely viewed as a litmus test for the upcoming federal elections in September, and the power of the “Schulz Effect”.  A loss in Saarland could surely take some of the wind out of the SPD’s sails.

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