Can a Bavarian Oktoberfest beer indulger bring down the Berlin government?

The heads of state and government of the European Union have agreed on a solution for migration. They are planning reception centres inside and outside the EU – on a voluntary basis. Germany has reached a political agreement with Greece and Spain on the repatriation of migrants.Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann.

In the late hours of last Monday, Horst Seehofer the Bavarian, a right wing politician and standard Oktoberfest beer indulger, who has lately discovered the attractions of anti-immigration rhetoric, finally backed off from his threats to bring down Angela Merkel’s Federal government. He is the President of the right wing Christian Social Union party present only in Bavaria, the little sister party of Angela Merkel’s nationwide Christian Democratic Union and junior partner in her government, holding the portfolio of the Interior Ministry.

In his last capacity, two weeks ago, he tried to overturn Merkel’s moderately open door immigration policy or else threatened to resign and pull CSU out from the government coalition, thus causing its fall. He wanted all asylum seekers to be returned to the country of their first EU registration. On the contrary, Markel has secured an EU common stance by striking relevant deals with the countries of first registration. In this affair Greece and Spain backed Merkel’s options all the way.

Horst the Bavarian

The socialist SPD is also participating in the Merkel government coalition, but its stance on immigration is even more liberal than the Chancellor’s position. Still without the CSU the coalition government doesn’t command a majority in the Federal legislative. Today or tomorrow SPD is expected, not without difficulties, to endorse the Seehofer-Merkel compromise . It’s more than certain the Socialists won’t threaten to bring down the government coalition. Let’s start the story from the beginning.

For the last seventy years, right after the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, the two Christian parties SDU and CSU have been sharing either the government or the opposition benches in the Bundestag, the Federal Parliament. Yet, Seehofer threatened to end this perennial partnership, which has helped Germany become what it is today. Why does he do that? Because next October apart from the Oktoberfest, a vote will be held to elect the 180 members of the Landtag of Bavaria, the regional Parliament. And Horst doesn’t want to be seen as less aggressive than the semi Nazi ‘Alternative for Germany’ party, vis-à-vis Merkel’s open door immigration policy.

Contesting the Chancellor

He went as far as to make his opposition stance a personal feud with the Chancellor, calling her ‘that impossible woman’ whom he ‘cannot stand any more’. As if Horst was the master of the German political universe. He acted as being able to direct the country – this declared Catholic yet father to an illegitimate child – where he chooses, in order to save his Bavarian knighthood. He is the perfect specimen of a cohort of European politicians, who have difficulties in understanding why the extreme right populist parties are so successful.

For decades now the wholesale vote merchants, after having helped demolish working people’s rights, having deregulated the labor market and having decomposed the welfare state, are now bewildered at the easy success of the extreme rightwing populists, who ride the convenience vehicle of anti-immigration. The semi fascist leader of Lega, Matteo Salvini of the governing Italian coalition, rushed to side with Horst. The new extreme rightwing populist Italian leaders fought hard against Merkel’s balanced immigration policy proposals last week at the EU summit in Brussels. It was there where Spain and Greece saved the German Chancellor by offering to take back immigrants from Germany.

Helped by the Italians

As for the Italian extreme rightwing populist Lega party, it proves to be the Trojan horse of the incomes inequality champions. Salvini insists in destroying the constitutional principle of progressive taxation. Tax rates traditionally increase as the incomes ladder goes up and up. This is the democratic foundation of the redistributive character of the government budget, aimed at financing social protection spending with more money from the rich. The new breed of populist politicians of the Trump and Salvini kind, are using the anti-immigration issue to cheat the uneducated masses and steal their votes.

Then they are favoring the rich and the super rich – who have backed them with money and otherwise – by reducing their tax rates making the less affluent majority of their own voters pay for the differential without knowing. That’s why Salvini is adamant that income tax brackets and rates should be reduced to two. He obviously longs to destroy the progressive character of taxation and void the impartial role of the state in general. Every first year student of Political Sciences knows that democratic government has been instated in order to protect the weak from the powerful, and make sure society is coherent and won’t be torn apart by uncontrollable conflicts.

Envying the populists

Horst then, after having for years served social inequality – acknowledgedly in a mild manner – now envies the rightwing populists who so easily threaten his grasp of power, just by riding the Trojan horse of anti-immigration. He must be blaming himself for having taken so long to understand this simple truth. All these years he must have been totally absorbed feasting on the goodies of power.

Finally, what he got from Merkel late last Monday night was exactly the same as what the Chancellor was offering from the beginning. According to Handelsblatt Global, the reliable English language online business news service “The two agreed to set up three transit centers for asylum seekers on the border with Austria, confining them there as their cases are quickly processed. They will be returned to whichever EU country they first registered, provided Germany has a bilateral agreement with that country to return asylum seekers. If that country does not have an arrangement with Germany, Austria has agreed to take them back”.

EU ‘a la carte’?

This is more or less what was decided at the EU Summit of last week. To be noted though, on this occasion the European Union accepted, for the first time, that some member states can evade enforcing the regulations. Mainly the Eastern Europe EU member states – the Visegrad four, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary – are still denying accepting immigrants and refugees on their soil. It must be repeated that it was Greece and Spain that conceded to take back the refugees who have been first registered in these two countries.

The new thing is that Austria accepts to take back asylum seekers, who have crossed to Germany from her soil, if other EU countries refuse to admit them. This was a standard obligation of Austria which the Sebastian Kurtz administration repudiated, but cannot avoid applying it anymore. For this purpose Germany is to set up transit centers on the Austrian borders. Not to forget, Kurtz had aligned with Seehofer last week in opposing Merkel’s moderately open door immigration policy.

All in all, Seehofer was actually obliged to swallow his pride in view of a united CDU – SPD front. It would have been too much for a Bavarian to bring down the Berlin government. Still Chancellor Merkel comes out weaker from this Bavarian affair.

 

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