Exit Interview with Christiane Lemke


You are the outgoing Max Weber Chair in German and European Studies at New York University and have spent the last four years living in New York. Please tell us a little bit about how you experienced these last years. What were some of the highlights? What were some of the challenges?

Living in New York was a great experience. It is a city full of talent and creativity. I greatly enjoyed working with the students at NYU and I was fortunate to meet outstanding colleagues during my time in New York. Looking back it is fascinating how many intellectual highlights I was fortunate to experience over the years.

There were also many cultural highlights, including visits to the Met Opera, the fantastic museums, and the parks and gardens. I also discovered that New York is for bikers. The Five Borough Bike Ride, the largest bicycle sports event in the U.S., was clearly a highlight for me, and I participated in it three times, riding through the five boroughs and across four bridges, 40 miles in all.

The greatest challenge I experienced was Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. In Lower Manhattan we were left without electricity, water, and phone connections for five days. But it was also a time to build friendships, and some of the most memorable events were shared meals and long walks in the dark with friends in the days following the storm.

Was it a productive time for you? And what effect did your experience here have on your research and your teaching?

My years as Max Weber Chair were highly productive and stimulating in many respects. The seminars are smaller than in Germany and there is more emphasis on intellectual debate. Over the course of the semester I got to know the students quite well and some kept in touch even after graduation. I taught graduate and undergraduate seminars on European politics at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU, my home institution, including a capstone course in the Masters program entitled „What is Europe“, several seminars on EU-governance, democracy and dictatorship, and comparative European governments and societies. 

The perception of Europe during this time was very much shaped by the Eurozone crisis and Germany’s prominent and often controversial role in solving the crisis. Germany thus figured prominently in our courses and I often gave guest lectures about contemporary Germany in New York and at other institutions in the U.S. We also studied human rights policies and immigration in Europe, a topic that often fascinated students, and we explored the transitions in Eastern and East Central Europe, which is one of my main research fields.

In terms of research, I was fortunate to observe the 2012 U.S. presidential election firsthand. It was fascinating to see the varying perspectives in different parts of the country. I studied the campaigning as well as the strengths and arguments of the major proponents. The highly polarized political culture in the US made this a fascinating time to be here, and being in the country during the elections was a kind of anthropological field study living anthropology and enriched the political science approach in my research.

 When were you in New York for the first time? What were your impressions then?

I first visited New York in 1981 coming from a conference near Boston and I came back in 1984 for a brief visit during my tenure as a post-doc fellow at Harvard University. Even though I loved visiting the Guggenheim, the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum, it was a difficult city to navigate, since many areas in Manhattan were unsafe to visit due to high crime rates. To be honest, I did not like the city much.

How do you experience New York today? What has changed since your first trip?

I think that New York City has changed fundamentally for the better. Based on my experience over the past four years, I can only say that it is the most loveable and livable city I had the privilege to live in.

What are your thoughts on returning to Germany after living abroad for four years?

During my academic career I have spent several years in the U.S., in California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. Academia today is very much a global enterprise. You build resilience to change and I think that I am used to the transitions you have to muster, switching from one culture to the other. Personally, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to live and work on both sides of the Atlantic.

What did you miss most about Germany while you were away? And what do you foresee missing about New York City?

In Germany we still have a very orderly way of doing things. I will miss the charming chaos, the maritime environment, and the great diversity of New York City.

In the beginning of April you organized the memorable and inspiring Max Weber Chair Conference on Women in Leadership, which featured panel discussions with Carol Gilligan, Sylvia Maier, Joyce Mushaben, and Christine Landfried (to name a few) and a keynote address by Lani Guinier. What inspired you to organize this conference and what was the take-away? Will you plan to continue your work with these influential women?

The conference was inspired by the controversial and multifaceted debate about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) which quickly became a bestseller in the United States and in Europe. In this book, Sandberg argues that women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers, and she insists that women have to demonstrate determination and perseverance to attain leadership positions in the corporate world. But is individual persistence enough? Is career advancement primarily even an issue of individual choice and perseverance or do other factors come into play shaping choices and providing equal opportunities?

Our focus was mainly on women in political leadership and this approach was inspired by the „silent revolution“ that is taking place in many parts of the world. In fact, we are currently witnessing a record number of female world leaders. In Europe, eight countries have either female prime ministers or presidents. Most notably, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel was elected for a third term in September 2013, and in France and Italy, the first minority women were appointed to be ministers in the cabinet in 2012 (by Francois Hollande) and 2013 (by Enrico Letta). In Latin America and the Caribbean, countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago, and in Africa, countries such as Liberia and Senegal, had female political leaders in 2014. In the U.S., several women ran in the Senate and House elections in 2012, and many view Hillary Clinton as a likely contender in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. What difference does it make for other women if we have more female political leaders? How will this affect the lives of other women in society?

As it became clear throughout the conference, “leaning in” was not a passe-partout, a passkey that fits all locks, on the road to leadership. “Can women have it all?” – the question guiding our inquiry - thus became an invitation to explore the transformations that are taking place nationally and globally at the beginning of the 21st century. Looking into different ways of advancing and succeeding in leadership, and exploring ways in which gender relations can be changed more deliberatively through political action and public policy, featured prominently in our discussion. I will continue working on this topic and we are currently editing the proceedings of the conference which will be published in the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies’ Working Papers series in fall of this year.

You also moderated a panel with the filmmaker Beatrice Möller (“Alles was wir wollen”) reflecting on the question “Can Women Have it All?” What would your advice be for young women coming of age who are trying to juggle careers, relationships and family life?

My advice would be to reach out, seek advice from mentors, and support others who are also striving to live a fulfilled life. There will always be compromises parents have to make along the way, but it is important not to be discouraged and always seek professional support. Your children will benefit from the skills and the wisdom you acquire in your professional career.

What was your experience at Deutsches Haus at NYU?

As Max Weber Chair I closely worked with the Deutsches Haus, participating in panel discussions, cultural events and organizing the yearly Max Weber Chair conference. All three directors I worked with, Kathrin diPaola, Martin Rauchbauer, and Juliane Camfield, were wonderful, very creative, and highly professional. I particularly enjoyed the interdisciplinary fabric of the programs. They were intellectually challenging and broadened my horizon. To analyze the Greek crisis through the lens of Aischylos, or European identity by ways of the biblical Babel, was fascinating, and the terrific film events, such as the film project by Beatrice Möller, enriched my own ways of thinking and approaching contemporary political and social themes.

What are you currently working on? And what are your plans for the future? When will you return to the United States and New York?

A few days ago, I was fortunate to briefly meet Hillary Clinton during her book-signing event in a bookstore at Union Square. I would like to follow her bid for the 2016 US presidential election.

I will return to the U.S. later this summer to teach an intensive seminar in the Transatlantic Masters Program at UNC Chapel Hill. Certainly, I hope to return to New York very soon and there are several projects in the making.

Ready for Hillary: On the Road to the White House - Blog 22 (By Christiane Lemke)

Hillary Clinton has not (yet) publically announced her candidacy for the 2016 US presidential elections. But public and media interest in her reached a peak today, and she has lots to tell.  A local bookstore on Union Square had organized a book-signing event for her new book. “Hard Choices” is a 600-page account of her life as Secretary of State during the first Obama Administration. Hundreds of people came to receive the first copies of the book the day it was released: people had already lined up in the early morning hours, some camping on the sidewalks since dawn. Cameras were filming the crowd, and a British journalist used the wait time to interview people, taking notes he typed into his cell phone. Why had people come, what did they think about Hillary? We stood in line for five hours, the queue winding around the bloc, into the bookstore and around the stacks, tight security in place, until we finally caught a glimpse of the former Secretary of State. Dressed in a bright pink suit, a glistening piece of jewelry around her neck, she looked cheerful. Sitting at the book-signing table framed by her new book stacked in high piles she shook hands with everybody, exchanging a few words, a joke here and there.

There is no doubt that this book-signing event is staged as part of a deliberate strategy to bring Hillary to the forefront of public attention. Several public events around the country will follow. Every newspaper, as well as the tabloid press, ran an article about her and the new book. Citizens groups have formed around the country, hoping to support her if she decides to run for president in 2016. What would her chances be? Clearly, the public is split on this question. Republicans have already positioned themselves in sharp disagreement with her. The Benghazi incident, in which insurgents killed US Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and several other Americans in 2012, still fuels an angry discussion about neglecting security under her reign. In recent TV interviews she has pointed to the risk involved representing the US in several regions of the world, contending that her security experts had closely monitored the situation.

My Copy Acquired at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Union Square, Manhattan, New York, June 10, 2014

The more substantial question, however, is how to assess her legacy as Secretary of State. Critics point to the fact that she never formulated a “doctrine”, or successfully facilitated the signing of a peace treaty. Many global security issues from Iraq to Syria, Libya to Iran remain, and new challenges have arisen.  It would be shortsighted, however, to overlook the great accomplishments during her administration.  She is not only the most traveled US Secretary of State (her travel schedule included 112 countries). During her administration, she accomplished much in conceptualizing the new American foreign policy agenda. In fact, she shaped and embodied what some have called the “new diplomatic agenda,” communicating closely with allies and foes and using active public diplomacy to secure American values. She is moreover credited with moving global health, human rights and women’s issues to the top of the international agenda. In the new globalized world, no one country will shape the fate of the globe, but it is quite clear that the US plays a crucial role in shaping the agenda. To have had a foreign minister who actively sought more diplomacy and who used channels of communication as a “smart power” is a great accomplishment.

Back cover “Hard Choices” by Hillary Clinton (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014)

Will Hillary Clinton run for president (again) in 2016? To date, there is no serious contender in the Democratic Party if she would announce her candidacy. Moreover, many citizens believe that a female president in the White House would be refreshing and productive. These supporters point to Angela Merkel in Germany and the female leaders of other European countries, as well as several countries in Latin America with female presidents, or prime ministers.

In her book Hillary Clinton recalls meeting Angela Merkel for the first time in 1994 during a visit to Berlin with President Bill Clinton and she writes that she and Angela Merkel stayed in touch over the years. “When the Chancellor visited Washington for a state visit in June 2011, I hosted a lunch for her at the State Department and toasted her warmly. In response she presented me with a framed German newspaper covering a recent visit I had made to Berlin. As soon as I saw it, I started to laugh. The front page featured a large photo of the two of us standing side-by side, but with our heads cropped off. Two sets of hands clasped in front of two similar pantsuits in just the same way. The paper challenged its readers to guess which one was Angela Merkel and which one was me. I had to admit it was hard to tell. The framed newspaper hung in my office for the remainder of my time as Secretary.” (p. 210)

Yet, Hillary Clinton’s biggest asset is that she can bring very different constituencies into a Democratic Party voting coalition. Her progressive agenda on health care (which is still incomplete after a major reform during the Obama Administration), her support for social issues, climate change policy, and her stance on women’s rights will bring many segments of the population together. In fact, as one commentator noted in the New York Times, only Hillary Clinton can hold the party votes together; it’s either her or nobody. In the Republican field, on the other hand, a messy and futile struggle about hegemony is underway, between the Establishment wing of the Party and Tea Party activists, fundamentalists, social conservatives and more liberal Republicans. While the Republicans may be able to unseat some Democrats in the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections in 2014, the story of the 2016 presidential elections will be quite different. Any candidate has to confront the challenge to mobilize and bind different voting blocs and constituencies together in an openly contested field. The book-signing event, therefore, can be viewed as a first step to test and stir the waters. Judged by the enthusiasm of this early morning crowd – the line still winding around the bloc when I left – Hillary Clinton will find active and engaging support from very diverse groups and people. 


Why I Love New York - Blog 21 (By Christiane Lemke)

When I first moved to New York City, the prospect of living and working in the city felt intimidating, but the lure of adventure and professional aspirations won over. It turned out to be a great experience. There is something very liberating about living in New York. In addition to the hustle and bustle of commerce, trade, and tourism, from Wall Street to Times Square, one also discovers not only the charm of diverse residential neighborhoods and cultures but also the free spirit of its citizens that characterizes this ever-changing city. New York is a very modern city, a place where people are constantly on the move and reinventing themselves. It is moreover a city of lived diversity, full of talented people, and a hub for creativity.

Last week, New York Magazine featured New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife and partner, in their cover story. A prolific writer and political activist herself, McCray is a strong supporter of de Blasio’s political career, but is far from exuding a traditional woman-by-his-side style: she has an interesting life and career in her own right. In fact, her role as First Lady resembles that of Michelle Obama, who, as First Lady in the White House, brought a refreshing activism into Washington society and politics. But aside from the similarities – both are the first African-American women as first ladies, one in the White House, the other in Manhattan’s Gracie Mansion – there are also marked differences.

Born to parents of Caribbean descent, McCray traces her family name back to her maternal grandmother from Ghana. She was raised in Massachusetts, where she and her family faced the multifaceted racism of the post-civil rights movement in America. This experience motivated her to write at an early age, both for passion and, as she contends, as an early outlet for her anger about injustice and discrimination.  But it is not only the inter-racial marriage between her and de Blasio that has attracted so much attention.  Public and media interest in her life moreover reaches into her past, including her participation in activities as a member of a radical black lesbian writing circle in Boston, the Combahee River Collective.  In an article she wrote for the black magazine Essence in 1979 entitled ‘I Am a Lesbian’, she wrote that she joined the Boston based Combahee River Collective, a group of radical black lesbian feminists devoted to living separately from men of all races, because she lived in a lesbian relationship and wanted to raise awareness of the multilayered discrimination lesbian women of color faced in American society.  Her marriage to Bill de Blasio in 1994 indicated that she had shifted her lifestyle and rhetoric. Her demeanor and personality were outspoken, and this bold approach seemed to perfectly fit the identity of the progressive new administration of New York City. With disarming honesty, she also discussed her role as mother of two children and the difficulties of combining work, career, and family tasks, a theme that resonates strongly with women (and men) today, drawing some controversial reactions to her open and honest approach.



Mayors have always shaped the face of the New York, from Rudy Giuliani’s new approach to fighting crime and attracting business to the city in the 1990s to Michael Bloomberg’s courageous efforts in coping with 9/11.  Bloomberg also initiated numerous projects to turn the city into one of the most attractive places in the US to live and work in. Consequently, mayors receive broad attention in media and public discourse; Bill de Blasio, who took office in 2013, is no exception.  What strikes me as a European in this case is the ease with which the public receives Chirlane’s McCray’s life and career. More precisely, it is notable that the couple is able to present their life together with such honesty and ease that they not only won the mayoral elections, but moreover the respect and admiration of this vibrant city and its residents. Embracing diversity has become not a hindrance, but a key to the representation of the city, a city that has the reputation of constantly reinventing itself, a place that is open to experimentation and embracing the diversity of human existence.

“GroKo” Completed - Green Light for the Grand Coalition – Week 20 (By Christiane Lemke)

According to German law, parliament will elect the new government leader on December 17, 2013, and current chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is expected to lead the government for another four years after her party won a decisive victory in September of 2013. The conclusion of coalition negotiations paved the way for Germany´s new government with a grand coalition between the two major parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, to form a Grosse Koalition (“GroKo”).

Negotiations about cabinet ministries resulted in the following share of portfolios for each party: the center right CDU will hold the chancellorship and fill five ministries (Interior, Finance, Defense, Health, Education, and Research), the Bavarian sister party, CSU, will have three (Agriculture, Transportation, and Development Policy) and the coalition partner, the Social Democrats, will head six ministries (Labor and Energy; Foreign Office; Justice and Consumer Protection; Environment and Nuclear Safety; Family, Women, Seniors and Youth). 

The outcome of the negotiations included some surprises. Ursula von der Leyen (CDU), the ambitious current Labor Minister, is ready to lead the Defense Ministry, a highly visible post, while the former Defense Minister will move on to be in charge of interior affairs.  She will be the first woman to head this ministry in Germany. Her new position will give von der Leyen, an experienced and tough female leader in German politics, a highly visible but also complex task, as the Defense Ministry has the reputation of being extremely difficult to lead and most ministers did not serve their full term due to personal or leadership failure and internal strife.

Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the Social Democrats and chief negotiator for the grand coalition, is the designated vice chancellor. In the new cabinet, he will head the Labor and Energy resorts, two key portfolios in German politics now merged into one department, thus becoming “Superminister” with significant influence on German domestic politics. His nomination is not only a personal success in his ambitious career; it moreover signifies the shift towards focusing on domestic social policies for the years to come.  Among other tax and social issues, Gabriel championed the minimum wage settlement in the coalition agreement, which is scheduled to take effect in 2017. And, as a concession to the party´s left wing, Andrea Nahles will lead the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs. To underline the modernity of Germany´s new government, the coalition government will also include the first minister with Turkish roots, Aydan Özoguz (SPD), who will hold the special Ministry for Migration, Refugees and Integration, an office in the chancellery that was formerly held by Maria Böhme from the CDU.

To secure the inclusion of social policies in the coalition agreement, Gabriel had scheduled a referendum within the Social Democratic Party, a risky, but in the end successful, move that put pressure on the CDU to agree to this controversial piece of policy. With Gabriel taking on the role of vice chancellor, he will clearly shape Germany´s social and labor policies as he vows to speak for the “little people”, the common man, however defined. By emphasizing social issues with an appeal to its traditional constituency, the SPD hopes to move out of the twenty-five percent ditch the party has plunged into in recent elections and, potentially, to recapture the chancellorship in the next elections.

Aside from the chancellery, one of the highly important ministries is finance, and continuity will prevail here, as Wolfgang Schäuble from the CDU heads the Finance Ministry again. He is one of Germany´s most experienced conservative politicians and he is considered to be a close associate (and at times adversary) of the chancellor. Schäuble has been a staunch advocate of balancing budgets and policies and promoting economic growth and German exports. Moreover, he will clearly play a key role in future EU-policies. Schäuble, a promoter of European integration and long-time supporter of the euro, played a major role in the settlement about banking oversight in the EU, for example, and in the promotion of German interests in European bail-out policies in the past years.

Moreover, according to a common pattern in German coalitions, the Foreign Ministry will be assigned to the smaller coalition partner. The new Foreign Minister to be, Frank Walter Steinmeier (SPD), is no stranger in this office; he already held the Foreign Ministry in the former grand coalition from 2005 until 2009. Steinmeier is a Transatlanticist and he advocates a greater role for Germany in international relations. Expect, therefore, cooperation and continuity in external relations.

But overall, this is a government with few surprises. The coalition agreement, a document of 185 pages in which the parties outline the future aims and goals of the government, reads like a handbook of appeasement for different constituencies and contains neither a grand vision, nor a radical shift in policies. In the midst of a tumultuous Europe, due to the euro zone crisis, there is little indication that Germany may reinvent the future. But it may well pay more attention to long overdue internal reforms.

A Global Big-Brother-State? Surveillance is Not Only About Security – Week 19 (By Christiane Lemke)

As a German citizen I am accustomed to surveillance. At one point some years ago, police surveillance cameras caught me three times within one hour on their speeding camera in the reduced speed section of my Berlin neighborhood; I was rushing home from work, dashing to the store to buy groceries, and picking up utensils for my kids’ school projects. There was no denying it, as a portrait-like picture identified me as the driver.

Germans have become accustomed to cameras on the streets, in train stations and many other public spaces. Security surveillance is ubiquitous, tight and unforgiving.  Yet, because of the history of two dictatorships, Germans are highly sensitive when it comes to individual rights and respect for private space. It is a country in which census data collection is viewed with suspicion and citizens retain the right to refuse visual imaging by, for example, Google street view.

Any tendency towards the “Überwachungsstaat”, a type of Orwellian Big-Brother-State, is fiercely rejected and citizens are deeply concerned about using modern age technology for comprehensive data collection. Citizen initiatives monitor and fight any intrusion into the private sphere. According to legal theory, the inviolability of the home is a constitutionally protected right and, after experiencing the excesses of Nazi dictatorship and communist rule, the private sphere ranks among the highest goods in modern Germany.  A highly controversial law to fight organized crime by introducing new surveillance mechanisms through eavesdropping in the 1990s was criticized by legal experts as Lauschangriff, and a revision of the law in 2004 set strict limits for all of these operations, including the tapping of telephones. In 2008, an EU-regulation about preventive data collection (Vorratsdatenspeicherung) stirred a controversial debate in Germany. As a result, summary data storage practiced on a large-scale was declared unconstitutional in 2010.  

During my time as director of state parliament in Lower Saxony, constitutional legal rights were sensitive matters handled with great care. Committee meetings of parliament addressing legal and security issues involved a high degree of confidentiality, even secrecy. In some cases, surveillance of organizations or individuals who were deemed to be involved in international crime or other illegal activities was discussed. Judicial approval and parliamentary oversight were required to reconcile the contrasting goals of security and liberty. Surveillance in democracies is rule-bound and limited; even though technologically possible in the age of information technology, wisdom and reason inhibit the excessive use of these tools.

In any democracy, there needs to be a careful balance between confidentiality to effectively prevent crime and legitimate claims of citizens to be free from state surveillance. In international relations, such a balance lacks a global governance regime setting the rules and supervising the supervisors. We rely on states to control and correct surveillance where necessary. Transatlantic relations are in a crucial stage in the negotiations of a free trade agreement. Practices involving surveillance should be included in these negotiations to build the trust needed between partners in a global world. Citizens have a right to know that leaders will protect their legitimate claims for privacy and protection.

The German Greens – A Missed Historic Opportunity? – Week 18 (By Christiane Lemke)

After only a few weeks, negotiations between the CDU/CSU and the Greens about a potential coalition ended with no agreement on key issues. The Greens will therefore be in opposition in parliament for the next four years. The reluctance of their leadership to enter a coalition with the center right CDU/CSU not only speaks to the programmatic and habitual differences between the two camps. Beyond coalition constellations this outcome raises the question of how Germany will manage the energy transformation (Energiewende) with the major champions for sustainable energy in opposition. Did the Greens miss their unique chance to enter government and shape Germany’s energy and environmental policies?

In 2011, the German government passed legislation to make a transition to a sustainable economy based on renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable development with the goal to abolish coal and other fossil fuels as well as nuclear energy. This reorientation of energy policy moreover aims to shift from centralized to decentralized energy provisions, supporting the production of heat and power on smaller, communal levels. While discussions about new, sustainable energy resources have been ongoing since the early 1980s and the Red-Green coalition in 2002 already made an attempt to phase out nuclear energy, this legislation by the CDU/CSU and FDP government was at the time also influenced by the Fukushima nuclear accident. The eight oldest of the seventeen nuclear power plants in Germany were closed immediately in March 2011, and Chancellor Merkel announced that the life span of the other nine plants would be shortened.  The results were significant. Nuclear power in Germany accounted for 17.7 percent of national electricity supply in 2011, compared to 22.4 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, Germany´s share of renewables has increased from around five percent in 1999 to 22.9 percent in 2012 (in comparison: OECD-average is 18 percent of renewables).


Offshore Windpark, North Sea

Phasing out of conventional energy resources has been a hotly debated issue in German politics. Opposition from large energy providers is strong and it is not yet clear what the new energy policy holds for consumers. Business is not entirely opposed to the new model in energy production as several companies are not only benefiting from this transformation, but are actively involved in it. Ecological modernization in several states (such as in prosperous Baden-Württemberg) is to a large extent shaped by companies actively pursuing this transformation. But there are other issues as well. For example, the federal states have differing attitudes concerning the construction of new power lines. Also, industry rates have been frozen and so the increased costs of the new energy policy have been passed on to consumers. As a result, German consumers in 2013 had some of the highest electricity costs in Europe.

The Energiewende is not a clear-cut left-right issue. Some of its vocal opponents are prominent Social Democrats governing in states with coal and other conventional energy production. For example, the Minister-President of North-Rhine Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, has voiced opposition to this policy and, should the SPD enter into a coalition with the CDU/CSU, it is by no means clear that the 2011 legislation will be fully implemented. Therefore, several CDU politicians, such as former general secretary of the party, Heiner Geissler, favored forming a government coalition with the Greens in order to secure implementation of the Energiewende.

For the Greens, however, entering a coalition on the federal level would have been a highly risky endeavor. Two former coalitions between the CDU and the Greens on the state level  (Saarland and Hamburg) had not been a successful experience for the party. Having lost support in the federal elections with a disappointing 8.4 percent of the national vote, the party is currently regrouping and renewing its leadership. Strategically, there is no doubt that the Green’s influence on federal policies would have been limited in the current situation. But politically, a coalition between the Greens and the CDU should not be out of the question. Proponents of this model, such as Baden-Wurttemberg Minister-President Kretschmann, the first Green Minister-President in Germany, suggest that there should be a more pragmatic orientation on the federal level. The Greens may well reconsider their options in the future. But this would first require a refocus on their core issue of sustainable energy.

The Day After – Glorious Winner But Which Coalition? – Week 17 (By Christiane Lemke)

In the German elections on September 22, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) scored a stunning victory.  Winning about eight percent more votes than she did in 2009, the CDU/CSU narrowly missed an absolute majority of seats in the parliament. This outcome is a not only a victory for the CDU/CSU, but it is an even greater personal success for Angela Merkel. With her third term in office she will be the longest-serving elected female leader in Europe and the most powerful woman in the world.

The day after the election, the key challenge Angela Merkel is facing is forging a new coalition to govern. She is the winner, but a winner without a coalition. Her smaller coalition partner, the FDP, failed to make an entry into the parliament, and both the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens are reluctant to enter into a coalition, as they both fear being too close to the center-right CDU and losing support among their own constituency.  

The SPD, the second largest party, won 25.7 percent of the votes, slightly up from 2009, but clearly less than expected. Their goal of a change in government with a center left Red-Green coalition is out of the question after this election, and a Red-Red-Green coalition, which is theoretically possible, is politically untenable. Traditionally supported by labor, the unions, and parts of the middle class, the once powerful German SPD has lost support over the years because of its initiation of and support for painful welfare state reforms. Moreover, according to opinion polls, Peer Steinbrück proved to be an unpopular choice as chancellor candidate. It remains to be seen in the coming days if the party will, once again, enter a “grand coalition” with the CDU/CSU, an option the party is hesitant about but which it may choose “for the good of the country”.

There were several other surprises on election night. For the first time in post-WWII history, the FDP will not be represented in the Bundestag after failing to surpass the five percent hurdle. Formerly described as the “kingmakers” in German coalition politics, the FDP is experiencing a historic shift and the poor showing casts light on a more fundamental question about the future of traditional liberalism in Germany. Once a party defending civil liberties, the FDP, for example, has failed to address voters’ concerns about surveillance and the NSA scandal this summer. Moreover, voters felt that the FDP had not delivered what they had promised regarding economic and tax policies. Most of the voters defected, or swung back, to the CDU, and some voted for the new party AfD. Leadership problems added to this dilemma and as a result the party is now only represented in two of the federal states.

German Federal Elections, Sept. 22, 2013

source: infratest dimap

Another surprise was the strong showing of the new, Euro-sceptical party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Even though the party failed to surpass the five percent hurdle, no other party had scored such a result shortly after its founding. Formed in spring of 2013, the party won 4.9 percent of the vote, and their influence may increase with the European Parliament’s elections coming up in 2014. The AfD mostly captured protest votes; about a third of the voters said that they fully supported the party program while more than half said that they were disappointed with the other parties. Interestingly enough, the AfD received more votes in eastern Germany (5.9 percent), as compared to western Germany (4.6 percent).  Whether the AfD’s electoral victory will translate into the party’s standing as a permanent force in German politics remains to be seen, but it shows that Euro-sceptical sentiments in Germany are significant.

The two other smaller parties, the Greens and the Left, both lost votes since 2009, winning 8.3 and 8.4 percent of the vote respectively.  This result is particularly disappointing for the Greens who had scored very well in several state elections in recent years. In search for answers to the puzzling decline, analysts point to the lack of profile after the “Energiewende” (energy shift), which became the official policy of Chancellor Merkel, and their entrapment in a pedophile debate.  The Greens wanted to form a coalition with the SPD, but they were not able to carve out a convincing independent profile.  Overall, the elections strengthened the two major parties, the CDU and SPD. However, the results, especially for the smaller parties, also show more volatility in German politics.

The outcome of coalition negotiations will clearly influence the course Germany will pursue in foreign as well as European policy. Traditionally, the foreign ministry was held by the FDP, but will now, most likely fall into the resort of the coalition partner (SPD or Greens). In regards to European policy, continuity will prevail, and it is quite clear that Angela Merkel will continue to steer her course of putting Germany’s interests first. European neighbors will find a reliable, but reluctant “European” chancellor in the years to come.  

Are non-voters deciding the elections? Germany before the federal elections – Week 16 (by Christiane Lemke)

In the weeks before the general election in Germany on September 22, a specter is haunting political parties: the undecided voter. In addition, a trend seems to continue that has troubled politicians and political scientists alike, as a growing segment of the population is not going to vote at all. Voter abstention has increased dramatically over the past three decades; it is especially pronounced among the young and first time voters. Will non-voters decide this election?

Observing the election campaign in Germany over the past weeks I have been struck by the coolness about, even disinterest in, the upcoming general elections. No scandals, major slogans, and nearly no controversial themes have emerged so far. The NSA surveillance affair that dominated media reporting and private conversations over the summer seems to have had scant impact on voters’ preferences. According to opinion polls, employment and the economy have dominated domestic concerns of voters, followed by energy prices, and social security. Surprisingly the Euro crisis, which has upset political coalitions in all southern European and several Central European countries, plays only a marginal role in the election campaign. A majority of Germans approved of chancellor Merkel’s handling of the crisis, and about 52 percent are content, or very content with her leadership. The only TV debate between Angela Merkel (CDU) and Peer Steinbrueck (SPD) staged last week was slightly favorable to the opposition candidate, but it brought little change in voters’ preferences.

Less than two weeks before the general elections, the current coalition seems set to carry a majority. Yet, polls show that the majority for the center right coalition of CDU and FDP is slim at best. According to ARD-DeutschlandTrend in early September, the governing coalition of CDU and FDP would win 46 percent , and the oppositional parties together would receive 45 percent of the vote (SPD 27, Greens 10 and Die Linke 8 percent of the vote). This would be a rather slim majority for the governing coalition.

“Stay calm and carry on” seems to be the election strategy of the major governing party, the center right CDU. Their campaign is built around Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is credited with effective crisis management during the euro zone crisis. She is the most popular politician in Germany today, even though her coalition partner, the pro-market liberal FDP, has struggled to even stay in parliament in the state elections of recent years. It currently stands slightly above the five percent hurdle necessary to be represented in parliament. Voters may cast their vote for the FDP in favor of keeping the coalition in Berlin in power. Representing continuity, especially in European politics, and avoiding to rock the boat could be the winning strategy for the current coalition.

The oppositional SPD with chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück has had a hard time moving out of the 25 percent ghetto. Once Germany’s major political party, it has lost support in elections over the past years. Its core message of social equality is popular, but not energizing enough in a country that is economically doing well. The culture of contentment inhibits large gains for the center left SPD. Moreover, in an electoral system in which credibility plays a major role, the SPD is associated with the controversial reforms of the welfare state, such as Hartz IV, which were introduced by the Social Democrats under Chancellor Schröder in the early 2000s and continued during the grand coalition of SPD and CDU (in which Steinbrück was finance minister). As both parties, the CDU and the SPD, have moved toward the center, it becomes increasingly difficult for voters to determine which party might best represent their interest.

But the SPD’s weakness also stems from the problem that voting abstention seems to be spreading among the less well-to-do, the “prekariat”. In addition, the party has a strong contender on the left. Once a mere regional party in post-communist East Germany, the left has made inroads among young voters and in urban areas by offering an alternative to “ruthless capitalism” and the power of banks and finance capital. The other center-left party, the Green Party, with its new democracy model, continues to be popular with good showing in state elections. Their environmental policies have been “mainstreamed” into politics. Its support seems to be holding strong, as their constituency is most likely to vote.

Political parties in Germany are suffering from greater voter volatility. Once shaped by a milieu in which parties flourished and voting was a habit, voters today cast their ballot strategically, with more parties to choose from than in previous German elections. The increasing number of political parties is, moreover, accompanied by a growing distrust in established political parties in general. More people participate in protests and public events in Germany than ever before, but this political activism does not translate into higher voter turnout. About half of first time voters express the intention not to vote at all. Polls show a high percentage of undecided voters and many voters say they will make their decision at the last minute (“Spätwähler”). So there could be some surprises on election night.


Go Vote!    Foto: Private

For more analysis see the proceedings from the Max Weber Chair conference 2013 at New York University on “Germany Before the Elections: Powerhouse at the Crossroads” online:



German Eurosceptics on the Rise – Week 15

The Euro, introduced as a symbol for Europe´s unity and integration after the fall of the wall, has recently become the focal point for disunity and discord among Europeans. Since the Eurozone crisis began, support for Eurosceptic parties has risen across the European Union. Up until now, Germany had been an outlier case with no major anti-EU party so far. That has changed with the forming of the Eurosceptic “Alternative for Germany” („Alternative für Deutschland“, AfD) in April of this year. Because of its’ formation only months before national elections in September 2013, media attention has been high. What is the importance of this new party and how can it challenge the current government coalition? Is Angela Merkel´s government coming to an end with a powerful Eurosceptic contender on the right?

The AfD is a typical single-issue party with a clear message coined in the phrase „Germany does not need the Euro”. The party sees itself as an alternative to the prevailing pro-euro politics among Germany´s mainstream parties and political elites. Founded by a group of professors and professionals in business and law (the vast majority of the first signatories hold PhDs), the party promotes its anti-Euro campaign by positioning itself as a bourgeois protest party to the right of the CDU/CSU, but without an ideology. Its speaker and most founding members are defected from the governing CDU, but also from the left and the FDP. The party platform uses a mixture of economic arguments, legal interpretations of EU treaties and populist democratic claims that draw on fears and concerns about European integration. While most of the arguments are by no means new – several of the supporters already lobbied against the monetary union, the EU-Constitutional Treaty and the European Stability Mechanism – the forming of the party, which was professionally prepared and orchestrated, marks a new step in anti-EU opposition in Germany.


Opinion polls conducted in Germany over the past few weeks vary greatly in their assessments of potential electoral support for the Eurosceptic party. Just three percent of Germans currently intend to vote for AfD according to the latest polls, but another showed that 25 percent would consider voting for a party advocating German withdrawal from the Euro. According to another poll published by the business daily Handelsblatt, more Germans approve of the Euro today than when it was first introduced; 69 percent of Germans supported the Euro, while only 27 percent wanted to return to the D-Mark.  And a study conducted by the independent Bertelsmann-Foundation in April 2013 shows that Germany is benefiting greatly from the Euro due to the reduction of transaction costs and the elimination of currency risks. Yet, nearly two-thirds of Germans believe that they would be better off with the old D-Mark. Depending on how the questions are being phrased, surveys are somewhat inconclusive regarding the Eurosceptic party’s potential among Germans. But, it is quite clear that the new party is tapping into a growing field of disenchanted voters. Party volatility and anti-establishment sentiments have prevailed for some time and an increasing fragmentation of the German party system have made coalition formation more difficult.  The rise of Eurosceptic parties in other countries has encouraged similar formations in Germany, with a nationalist and protectionist agenda, and the rise of anti-German sentiments in many EU-countries may further fuel the nationalist backlash.

While the Eurozone crisis has deepened a North-South divide in economic growth and development, there is no clear regional pattern in the rise of Eurosceptic parties. Even before the Eurozone crisis, Eurosceptic parties gained support in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, and Ireland. Starting with the sovereign debt crisis in 2010, however, the impact has been to double, and in some cases, such as Italy, Greece, Finland, and the UK triple the combined support for those countries’ various Eurosceptic parties. If Germany is just embarking on its Eurosceptic odyssey, then the recent experience of the rest of Europe suggests that support for the Eurosceptic parties could rise further .  The European elections in 2014 will provide an important test case and an opportunity to expand the power base of Eurosceptics.

The five percent threshold needed to enter the Bundestag may prove too high for the Eurosceptic AfD in September´s federal election and the party may end up competing with other minor parties in the field. There is also the risk of early disintegration since the world of politics is quite different from the world of academia and the party may suffer from its heterogeneity.  But, there is strong indication that they may drain enough votes away from the CDU/CSU as well as from other parties and act as the election spoiler for Angela Merkel in which case the formation of a grand SPD-CDU coalition after the federal election might be unavoidable.




Will Angela Merkel Lead Germany Beyond 2013? (Christiane Lemke) - Week 14

On September 22, 2013, Germany will elect a new federal government. These elections are not only crucial for the 80 million citizens living in Germany, rather, these elections will have important consequences for the course of Europe in the years to come. In the following blogs we will therefore focus on the German elections.

Will Angela Merkel (CDU) continue to lead the country beyond 2013, or will a Red-Green coalition come into power? What are the chances for the Social Democrats, and will the Greens continue to be so popular? How will the smaller parties, such as the Free Democrats, currently in coalition government with the CDU, fare and what about the smaller parties, such as Die Linke and the newly formed libertarian Pirate Party?

A first indicator for the course of this year´s federal election was state elections (Landtagswahlen) in Lower Saxony, Germany´s second largest state by size, on January 20, 2013. It also happens to be my home state. The outcome of these elections received high attention and was widely linked to the fate of the chancellor.

imageFlag of Lower Saxony

While Angela Merkel currently enjoys an impressively high popularity in Germany, the outcome of the state elections speaks a different language and casts serious doubts on her chances to lead the next government in Germany. Even though her party is still the strongest party in Lower Saxony, it lost considerably in a dramatic and very close count (2013: 36 percent; 2008: 42.5 percent).  Its smaller coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), which was facing a series of crisis and lost in several previous state elections, scored a surprisingly good result and is represented in parliament despite predictions to the contrary (9.9 percent; 8.2 percent in 2008). Obviously, the FDP benefited from defecting CDU-voters who cast their second vote for the FDP to ensure that the current coalition would continue. A much needed slight boost for the FDP, which suffered through an image and identity crisis with their luckless leader, Philipp Rösler, and his anti-EU rhetoric over the past two years, the result gives an upwind, but not a guarantee for passing the five-percent hurdle in September.

Despite the good showing of the FDP, the majority of CDU and FDP, a coalition that ruled in Lower Saxony for ten years, was lost and even though SPD and Greens now hold only a slim majority of one seat in the Landtag, there will be a Red-Green coalition in Lower Saxony with Stephan Weil (SPD), mayor of the city of Hannover, most likely elected as minister president.

Lower Saxony in many ways mirrors choices to be made domestically on the federal level. The fourth largest in population of the sixteen federal states in Germany, Lower Saxony has transformed from a predominantly agrarian to a highly modern state. It is not only home to machine manufacturing and to one of the most successful automobile plants, VW, but also to aerospace industry such as EADS and Airbus production. The relative strong showing of the SPD with 32.6 percent of the votes (30.3 percent 2008) and its base is rooted not only in urban areas but also in industrialized regions of the state. Moreover, the state has a long history pioneering energy production. Home to the first and oldest nuclear power plant in Stade  (closed down with Germany´s Atomausstieg, or phasing out of nuclear energy, in 2003), and a controversial radioactive waste disposal facility in Gorleben, nuclear energy has long been a highly contentious issue, stirring vocal protest movements across a broad range of citizens since the 1970´s. Today, the state is a pioneer in renewable energies, featuring the major off-shore wind park in the North Sea supported by research projects at universities, and it promotes bio-fuel projects in rural communities.

The strong showing of the Green Party, which increased its share of votes from 8.0 (2008) to 13.7 percent reflects the mobilizing power of environmental issues. Aside from Lower Saxony, several other states witnessed a strong showing of the Greens in recent years, and the party is in coalition government in Baden Württemberg, Bremen, Rhineland-Palatine and North Rhine Westphalia, forboding excellent chances for the federal elections in September.

Finally, smaller parties did not fare well. Die Linke, the leftist party with strong roots in eastern Germany, lost and did not surpass the five-percent hurdle, and the recently founded libertarian Pirate Party (represented in four state parliaments) did likewise not score above the five percent of votes required to gain seats in parliament.

The most dramatic result of the expected leadership change in Lower Saxony will be that the majority in the upper house on the federal level, the Bundesrat, will change. The chancellor, who has a majority in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will no longer have a majority in the Bundesrat, which will make it nearly impossible to get any legislation passed. Moreover, the loss of power of the CDU in Lower Saxony is also a loss for Angela Merkel on the federal level, since one of her younger hopefuls in the party, the current minister president David McAllister (CDU), will no longer be a strong candidate for future leadership positions in the party.