Relying on Basque nationalists, but still in power: Where next for Spain’s ‘weak’ government?

Article by Caroline Gray, Lecturer in Politics and Spanish, originally published on the LSE EUROPP blog on 25th July. For the original article, please visit: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/07/25/relying-on-basque-nationalists-but-still-in-power-where-next-for-spains-weak-government/

Spain was thrown into uncharted waters last year when conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy formed the weakest minority government since Spain transitioned to democracy. Yet, despite predictions at the time that the Popular Party (PP) government would not last, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has spared it from an early death. With their five seats in the Spanish parliament, the Basque nationalists’ crucial decision to support the PP’s 2017 budget – backed also by the centre-right Ciudadanos – transformed the outlook. In some ways, it’s back to business as usual then. Except what’s ‘usual’ in Spanish politics has fundamentally changed, and clinging onto power by striking traditional bilateral deals with the Basques does not resolve the many issues now requiring broader consensus and compromise.

Minority governments are nothing new for Spain – both the traditional conservative and socialist parties have frequently fallen short of an absolute majority in Spain’s 350-seat parliament and relied on regionally-based parties to make up the numbers. And yet on this occasion, the record low number of seats secured by the winning party, combined with the lack of scope for deals with Catalan nationalist parties due to their pro-independence agenda, put the Basque nationalists in the position of kingmaker. With the PP’s 137 seats, combined with 32 from Ciudadanos, the government just managed to reach the 176-seat majority needed to approve the 2017 budget in May thanks to the PNV’s 5 votes plus one each from two regional parties based in the Canary Islands. The PNV has also saved the government’s skin by supporting other bills too, such as Spain’s new stowage law.

Nothing the PNV does is for free, so its support has come with hefty price tags. The tradeoffs agreed so far include, for example, funds and a clear timeline to progress long-awaited Basque routes for Spain’s high speed train network. Arguably the most significant deal made has been in relation to the Basque economic agreement (concierto económico), which governs fiscal and financial relations between the region and Madrid, and provides the fundamental basis for Basque regional autonomy. Since 2007, the PNV had been in disagreement with successive Spanish governments over key aspects of the economic agreement. And yet all the relevant disputes have now been resolved, largely in favour of the Basque position.

For historical reasons, the Basque Country is one of only two Spanish regions that have bilateral economic agreements with Madrid (the other being Navarre), granting it far more substantial revenue-raising powers than other regions in Spain. Under the arrangement, the Basque authorities collect almost all taxes in the Basque region. They keep most of these to pay for devolved policy competences and pay a much smaller annual ‘quota’ (cupo) to the Spanish government to contribute to the few remaining centralised competences.

The quota is calculated according to five-yearly quota laws, under a complex (and often disputed) methodology agreed upon bilaterally between the Basque and Spanish authorities, which takes into account factors such as the valuation of devolved competences. For the past decade, Spanish-Basque fiscal and financial relations had been beset by disagreements over the figures. The details of the new quota law for 2017-21, fleshed out in the draft legislation approved by both the Basque and Spanish sides on 19 July following the political collaboration over the budget in May, show that it is not just the numbers that have now been agreed. Further revenue-raising powers are also being devolved to the Basques in areas where there is still scope to do so.

The deal demonstrates the PNV’s longstanding politically savvy pragmatism, which is facilitated by the scope for bilateral deals that the Basque economic agreement offers. Since former Basque regional president Juan José Ibarretxe’s attempt to push through a self-determination plan for the Basque Country a decade ago somewhat backfired, the PNV has returned to a slower, more incremental pathway towards the sovereignty it seeks for the Basque Country under the regional premiership of Inigo Urkullu and the party leadership of Andoni Ortuzar (in the PNV, the regional president and party leader are two distinct roles). In the meantime, it is not hesitating to use the party’s leverage in the new more fragmented parliamentary reality of Madrid to ensure more practical Basque demands are met.

Of course, to be seen to be upholding the government of the PP – which is highly unpopular in the Basque Country – is not without potential political costs for the PNV. Its left-wing opponents have seized on this, accusing it of keeping a corrupt right-wing party in power. Certainly, Ortuzar was not about to have his photo snapped shaking hands with Rajoy in the same style as the famous Arzalluz-Aznar photo from two decades ago. Then, Basque PNV party leader Xabier Arzalluz struck a deal with Spanish PP Prime Minister José María Aznar which has remained firmly etched in Basque and Spanish political memory and bears close parallels to the new PP-PNV deal reached this year.

In Catalonia, such historical relationships between the once leading nationalist party Convergència and the Spanish PP ultimately proved too cosy for Catalan voters’ liking, pushing many to switch to other left-wing pro-independence alternatives. This might serve as a warning to the PNV, which is struggling to appeal to younger generations. But it perhaps has the advantage of being more practised in shifting alliances as needed than Convergència was – whereas the latter at times ended up reliant upon PP support in the Catalan parliament too, the PNV’s preferred ally in the Basque parliament has almost always been, and continues to be, the Basque Socialists. And securing extra money for the Basque Country inevitably helps to sweeten the bitter pill of propping up the PP in Madrid in return for the moment, at a time when there is no clear left-wing majority alternative on offer.

For the PP’s part, the deal is a much harder sell to its Spanish electorate. Spanish treasury minister Cristóbal Montoro made a statement to the effect that only the financial crisis had prevented the PP from reaching such a deal with the Basques before, but in reality it was also because it was so politically unpalatable. A reform of the common financing system for the rest of Spain’s regions has been repeatedly postponed in recent years as cash-strapped regional governments clamour for more funding, and the refusal of a better financial deal for Catalonia is one of the many factors that have contributed to the burgeoning of pro-independence sentiment in that region. In this climate, giving back money to the Basques – who are already perceived to have a better deal than other regions – was not on the cards until the PP became so desperate for allies in parliament.

Thus, the PP may have secured its survival for now via a traditional ‘mutual backscratching’ arrangement with the Basque nationalists, but the real test of its strength or weakness in government will be whether it can make any headway toward addressing the serious issues on the agenda that require more complex cross-party and inter-regional negotiations and compromise. In that regard, the prognosis remains bleak.

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Working in Politics and International Relations at Aston University

Our department at Aston University is thrilled to be recruiting up to two posts (at Lecturer, Senior Lecturer or Reader level), and this blog is intended to provide a bit of informal advice to prospective applicants, especially for the lecturership positions (though it may be useful background for those interested in other levels), about what we do, who we are, and the sort of things we will be looking for.  There is then a short interview with Parveen Akhtar, who joined the department as Lecturer in Politics and International Relations last year.

 

First – a bit about our team.  We are a medium-sized department, with 20.6 current staff (20 are full-time, one is part-time, and one splits her time between the Spanish Department and our own), excluding one colleague who heads our School, and another who is currently on sabbatical at the Foreign Office.  Of those 22 staff, twelve are men, ten are women, and we are a diverse group in terms of our national backgrounds (with nationals of ten different countries!).  We would welcome greater ethnic diversity in our department.  Several colleagues have young families, and all live either in Birmingham or within a sensible commuting distance.  We encourage a diverse workforce including representation of staff with disabilities and will provide support and reasonable adjustments as needed.  Aston is a ‘two ticks’ employer, which means that it has committed to offering an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for a vacancy.  Four news colleagues in the 2016/17 year, and six joined us for the 2017/18 year – this reflects the popularity of our department with students, and the university’s commitment to expanding our discipline.

 

Second – a bit about our students.  Our student body is very diverse (as is the West Midlands region, in which we are based): at the undergraduate level, we attract a good range of students, both on our Single Honours course (Politics and International Relations) and in our joint honours courses (such as Politics and Economics, International Relations and Business, and International Relations and Modern Languages).  These students are overwhelmingly from the state sector, and have scored highly in their A-levels.  We strongly encourage them to undertake a work or study placement, either in the UK or abroad, in their penultimate year, and find this makes a real difference to their employability, which is very important to us at Aston.  At postgraduate level, we have a good mix of students, and many come from continental Europe, often as part of our joint and double degrees with Rennes, Lille, and Bamberg (with a new programme Metropolitan University in Prague coming on stream soon).

 

Third – a bit about working here.  We are all active researchers, but our areas of specialism vary widely, as you will see from our staff profiles.  Our standards are high – at the last REF, we entered under the “umbrella” of the Aston Centre for Europe in the Area Studies section, and were ranked the highest in this field outside London.  We have recently become a Jean-Monnet Centre of Excellence.  But it is important to remember that ACE, and our department, are “ecumenical”, and that we are not exclusively interested in European Studies.  For instance, our students often tell us they would like to learn more about the Politics of the Middle East, or the Politics of China or Latin America; the truth is we are open to applications from any interesting sub-field of Politics and International Relations.  We have recently re-established a departmental seminar where a colleague presents “work in progress” and discusses it in a supportive environment.  We are encouraged to bid for external funding from a variety of sources (and have had success from sources like the European Commission, Leverhulme, the German Academic Exchange Service and the ESRC in recent years), and comment on each other’s bids to give them the best chance of success.

 

We are also passionate teachers – staff regularly observe each other’s teaching, several colleagues have won prizes in this area, and we often compare notes on ways of teaching and keeping students engaged (for instance, students may do “simulations”, policy reports, role plays, group assignments and produce films as part of their courses).  We take our MA students on an annual study visit to Brussels, and have also had regular study visits to London.  There is no “typical” teaching load, but a colleague might expect to teach courses for around six hours per week during team time, to a mixture of larger and smaller groups, and in addition offer four hours a week of office hours, as well as time for dissertation supervision and meeting with personal tutees.  Every member of staff is entitled to a “research day” each week, including during term time, when they would not be expected to teach or be at meetings.

 

We are all strong believers in keeping our discipline relevant to everyday life.  So we hold regular lunchtime seminars for students and staff on current affairs, we recently held an event with the Parliamentary Outreach Service on Parliament and BAME communities and another with local young people on their views on the EU referendum, and our team often write blogs aimed at an audience beyond academia.  We also regularly engage with policy-makers, holding events in London and Brussels where we can discuss our ongoing research with practitioners, and feed into and shape policy discussions.  For us, “impact” is about a lot more than ticking a box for external evaluation of universities!

 

If you are interested in applying (especially for the lecturership positions), here are some things to consider:

 

  • The key document in shortlisting will be your answers to the questions online application form (which will be scored according to whether you have met our criteria), as well as your CV. Make sure you look carefully at our person specification before applying.
  • We are likely to read well over 150 applications, and for that reason we need candidates to have a completed Ph.D., and evidence of “successful research publication”. This will probably involve having published, or at least advanced plans for, a book, and also some articles in peer reviewed journals, and far more weight will be given to publications which are published or accepted for publication than those which have not yet been accepted.  Expectations clearly depend on how long you have been in the profession, and career breaks would be taken into account.
  • Remember that we all regard our teaching as really important, as well as our research, and think about how you would ensure Aston students are really engaged in and excited about what they are learning.
  • When thinking about income generation, by all means include good ideas for research grants (including those with collaborators outside Aston), but also think about whether there might be any new incomes streams you could develop for the department or ACE.
  • We will involve the all staff and several students in recruitment, as shortlisted applicants will give a presentation to the whole department in the morning (including student representatives), and will then have an interview in the afternoon. In both these settings, you would want to show how you can get your message across clearly and succinctly, how you would engage students and colleagues, and how you would see yourself fitting in with our department (and possibly the Aston Centre for Europe). Normally the first question will be about why you want to work at Aston, so you’d want to give this some serious thought in advance.  Since we pride ourselves on our practical, relevant research you can expect to be asked about this.

 

If you have any questions, please drop me a line at e.turner@aston.ac.uk, and we can catch up on the telephone or Skype if necessary afterwards.

 

Interview with Parveen Akhtar, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

 

Why did you decide to apply to work at Aston?

 

There were a number of reasons why I decided to apply to work at Aston.  Birmingham is a super-diverse and rapidly changing city, and, as such, provides a fascinating backdrop to the kinds of research issues I work on around political inclusion and representation.  When I applied to Aston in 2016, there were 7 vacancies across the School and 4 of those were dedicated to Politics and International Relations.  This pointed to a genuine commitment to the Social Sciences and, of course, it’s always exciting to join and contribute to an institution when it is developing and expanding.   There is a real energy and buzz in the atmosphere and this comes across when you visit the campus.

 

How have you found the first year?

 

It’s really flown by!  The students are so fantastic and really bring a diverse set of experiences and viewpoints to the classroom.  In a year that has been politically interesting (!) with the Brexit vote and the US Presidential election, classroom discussions and debate have been super energised.

Outside of the classroom – memorable moments include the PIR Christmas dinner and Karaoke night which was huge fun and a useful reminder of why I should stick to the day job!

 

Is it a department where people feel part of a team, or do they tend to get on and do their own thing?

 

The team in PIR is incredibly supportive and welcoming.  There is some fantastic research going on and the lunchtime seminars are a great way of getting to know what colleagues are up to and also to get some feedback on whatever research paper or project you are working on.

New colleagues get to present their research at the School Seminar and since doing this I have started two new collaborations with colleagues here.  There is a space to get together for lunch if you want a screen-free sandwich.  Overall, there is real dynamism within the group and also opportunities to socialise together outside of work.

 

 

What would be your advice to anyone thinking about applying for one of these roles, and do you have any tips on the process?

 

PIR at Aston is a great place to work if you are looking for a friendly and dynamic research and teaching environment.  There is always a lot going on in Birmingham – from the Literature Festival to the German markets – there is something for everyone.  Come along and visit the campus to get a sense of the diversity and energy at Aston; speak to students, sit in on the guest lectures and talks and Aston will work its magic on you!

Being a Teaching Associate in Politics and International Relations at Aston University

Our department at Aston University is recruiting at least one new Teaching Associate for next year. This blog is intended to provide a bit of informal advice to prospective applicants, about what we do, who we are, and the sort of things we will be looking for.

 

First – why do we need a teaching associate and what would you do?  Normally, our teaching is done by full-time lecturers with long-term contracts, but in this instance we need maternity cover for one colleague, and there are some other teaching needs in the department, for instance due to study leave.  We also need to cover some other teaching needs that have arisen.

Specifically, one appointee would teach our new, second year undergraduate module on Political Ideologies and Theories each week throughout the year.  This is a new course, a reading list has been prepared, but you would need to prepare each two-hour sessions with the group of around 60 students.  You have a fair amount of freedom in how you structure that.  In addition, we would ask you to support seminar teaching (following content devised by another lecturer) with smaller groups, probably in Introduction to Politics, Introduction to the European Union, and Security Studies.  Another appointee might teach an optional final year module (we can discuss the exact topic), and Introduction to International Relations seminars.  In all of these, you would also be responsible for marking students’ work (though your marks would be “moderated” by a colleague, as happens for all our modules).  There would be other opportunities to teach as well – for instance, we have some final-year optional modules we would like to run on African Political Thought (but this is by no means a requirement) and you might be asked to contribute to group-taught modules for MA students.  In addition to this, you would have some personal tutees who you would support with pastoral issues, you would supervise undergraduate dissertation projects, and you would support undergraduate study skills workshops.  We would ask you to help with outreach activities, such as open days.  We really want all our colleagues, including Teaching Associates, in developing their own initiatives, so if you had an idea for a project, or a guest speaker for instance, you could expect an enthusiastic reception for your ideas.

 

Second – a bit about our team.  We are a medium-sized department, with 17.2 current staff (15 are full-time, three are part-time), excluding one colleague who heads our School, and another who is currently on sabbatical at the Foreign Office.  Of those 18 staff, eight are men, ten are women, and we are a diverse group in terms of our national backgrounds (with nationals of ten different countries!), and we would welcome greater ethnic diversity in our department.  Several colleagues have young families, and all live either in Birmingham or within a sensible commuting distance.  We encourage a diverse workforce including representation of staff with disabilities and will provide support and reasonable adjustments as needed.  Aston is a ‘two ticks’ employer, which means that it has committed to offering an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for a vacancy.  We recruited four new colleagues last year, and have appointed 4.5 new lecturers for next year, reflecting the positive view the University and prospective applicants have of studying with us at Aston.

 

Third – a bit about our students.  Our student body is very diverse (as is the West Midlands region, in which we are based): at the undergraduate level, we attract a good range of students, both on our Single Honours course (Politics and International Relations) and in our joint honours courses (such as Politics and Economics, International Relations and Business, and International Relations and Modern Languages).  These students are overwhelmingly from the state sector, and have scored reasonably highly in their A-levels.  We strongly encourage them to undertake a work or study placement, either in the UK or abroad, in their penultimate year, and find this makes a real difference to their employability, which is very important to us at Aston.  At postgraduate level, we have a good mix of students, and many come from continental Europe, often as part of our joint and double degrees with Rennes, Lille, and Bamberg (with a new programme Metropolitan University in Prague coming on stream next year).

 

Fourth – a bit about working here.  We are passionate teachers – staff regularly observe each other’s teaching, several colleagues have won prizes in this area, and we often compare notes on ways of teaching and keeping students engaged (for instance, students may do “simulations”, policy reports, role plays, group assignments and produce films as part of their courses).  We take our MA students on an annual study visit to Brussels, and have also had regular study visits to London.

 

We are all strong believers in keeping our discipline relevant to everyday life.  So we hold regular lunchtime seminars for students and staff on current affairs, we recently held an event with the Parliamentary Outreach Service on Parliament and BAME communities and another with local young people on their views on the EU referendum, and our team often write blogs aimed at an audience beyond academia.  We also regularly engage with policy-makers, holding events in London and Brussels where we can discuss our ongoing research with practitioners, and feed into and shape policy discussions.

 

In this blog, I am not referring specifically to research because this is a “teaching only” post.  However, it would be very welcome if you had experience of conducting and publishing research, and in the recent past many of our teaching associates have gone on to full lecturerships elsewhere.  We will offer you a mentor to help with your professional development, and you would be very welcome to present your research to our fortnightly PIR research seminar (colleagues would also welcome your input on their research).

 

If you are interested in applying, here are some things to consider:

 

  • The key document in shortlisting will be your answers to the questions online application form (which will be scored according to whether you have met our criteria), as well as your CV. Make sure you look carefully at our person specification before applying.
  • We are likely to read quite a few applications, and for that reason we need candidates to have completed, or at least submitted, their Ph.D.
  • Do think about how you would make things work at Aston (based on the information in the further particulars and this blog!) and set these out, relating them, if you can, to your experience. For instance, if you found a particular way of teaching students worked very well, do say so!
  • If you are shortlisted, you are likely to have a job interview with me, Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik, and one or two other colleagues, for about half an hour. The date of Monday 24th July is unlikely to change, so try to keep this free.  If you can possibly attend in person, this is always best, though if you are abroad on that day, we may be able to set something up with Skype.  We will pay travel expenses to the interview.  Normally the first question will be about why you want to work at Aston, so you’d want to give this some serious thought in advance.

 

If you have any questions, please drop me a line at e.turner@aston.ac.uk, and we can catch up on the telephone or Skype if necessary afterwards.

ARTICLE 50 AND THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE TREATY OF ROME: BREXIT AND THE FUTURE OF EUROPE

On 25 March 2017 EU Heads of State and Government celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the founding document for the project of “ever closer union” that eventually became the European Union. The United Kingdom, however, was absent at the festivities, just as it was when the document was signed in 1957. Skipping this diamond jubilee was perfectly logical given that on 23 June 2016 British voters decided to leave the club.

But despite the lavish setting at the Palazzo dei Conservatori that boasts a façade designed by Michelangelo, this was not a moment of unbridled joy for EU leaders. Rather, it is a time of profound soul-searching about the future of European integration. In this context, Brexit is a symptom more than a cause as the difficulties of devising and justifying more cooperation are felt across Europe. The UK’s absence though is strategically problematic as the country has so much at stake in any re-foundation of the EU project.

To coincide with the anniversary, European federalists organized a March for Europe on 24 March. This initiative comes on the back of a call by various European public figures to turn the EU into a fully-fledged majoritarian form of government that would transcend national interests. The chances of this happening are very slim because EU leaders worry first and foremost about their national electorates. Nevertheless, the EU is at a cross-roads when it comes to delivering on expectations that integration makes countries better equipped to tackle policy challenges together.

Thinking about Europe’s future comes under the job description of the European Commission. It recently published a White Paper outlining five scenarios for the evolution of the EU, which was discussed at the meeting of the European Council in Rome. The federalist option is one of these scenarios, alongside a re-focus on the single market, a carrying on as now option, a less is more approach, and a multi-speed model.

Whichever path is pursued will matter greatly to the UK. What the EU will look like in the future will be of great significance now that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has declared her intention to seek a new referendum on Scottish independence. Will voters in Scotland who would have preferred to stick with the EU status quo be more or less enthusiastic for membership if integration is just about the single market? An a la carte EU is definitely in line with the ruling Scottish National Party’s desire to retain an opt-out from Economic and Monetary Union.

Keeping the pound is a perfectly plausible scenario for an independent Scotland, if the EU agrees. However, it cannot be done without acknowledging Westminster and the Bank of England’s demands. With the euro as an object lesson in poorly designed currency union before them, British policy-makers will be at pains to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Breaking up the Union will leave Scotland facing the prospect of a sterling currency area that is as much of a straightjacket for public finances as the euro.

Moreover, the strength of European unity will greatly affect the outcome of future UK-EU relations. A cluster of major foreign policy issues will depend on close cooperation between Brussels and London, most significantly, security cooperation and global trade. The known unknown in this context is the need for a new institutional architecture to make such cooperation work. That is why the UK government’s White Paper on Brexit spends considerable time discussing the subject. Yet a lack of European unity could jeopardise the EU’s ability to create a sufficiently robust framework. At the same time, a strong shared commitment stemming from a move towards federal-style integration could make the EU’s demands on matters such as regulatory equivalence problematic for the UK to comply with.

Discretion is, admittedly, a key part of diplomacy. But by avoiding rubbing shoulders with fellow heads of state and government when the champagne was flowing, Theresa May put more distance between her government and its negotiation partners. In many ways, Brexit is a consequence of the evolution of the EU because as competences were transferred a vocal minority of British Eurosceptics came to dominate the European debate in the absence of any pro-EU voices. It would be a mistake, following the triggering of Article 50, for British policy-makers to fail to understand the future direction of the EU.

This blog is part of the ERASMUS+ project AwarEU http://www.cesue.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=143&Itemid=521&lang=en

 

Working in Politics and IR at Aston

Working in Politics and International Relations at Aston University

 

Our department at Aston University is thrilled to be recruiting up to four posts (including possible appointments at Senior Lecturer  / Reader level), and this blog is intended to provide a bit of informal advice to prospective applicants, especially for the lecturership positions (though it may be useful background for those interested in a more senior role ), about what we do, who we are, and the sort of things we will be looking for.  There is then a short interview with Parveen Akhtar, who joined the department as Lecturer in Politics and International Relations last year.

 

First – a bit about our team.  We are a medium-sized department, with 17.2 current staff (15 are full-time, three are part-time), excluding one colleague who heads our School, and another who is currently on sabbatical at the Foreign Office.  Of those 18 staff, eight are men, ten are women, and we are a diverse group in terms of our national backgrounds (with nationals of ten different countries!), and we would welcome greater ethnic diversity in our department.  Several colleagues have young families, and all live either in Birmingham or within a sensible commuting distance.  We encourage a diverse workforce including representation of staff with disabilities and will provide support and reasonable adjustments as needed.  Aston is a ‘two ticks’ employer, which means that it has committed to offering an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for a vacancy.  We recruited four new colleagues last year, and hope to do the same again this year – this reflects the popularity of our department with students, and the university’s commitment to expanding our discipline.

 

Second – a bit about our students.  Our student body is very diverse (as is the West Midlands region, in which we are based): at the undergraduate level, we attract a good range of students, both on our Single Honours course (Politics and International Relations) and in our joint honours courses (such as Politics and Economics, International Relations and Business, and International Relations and Modern Languages).  These students are overwhelmingly from the state sector, and have scored highly in their A-levels.  We strongly encourage them to undertake a work or study placement, either in the UK or abroad, in their penultimate year, and find this makes a real difference to their employability, which is very important to us at Aston.  At postgraduate level, we have a good mix of students, and many come from continental Europe, often as part of our joint and double degrees with Rennes, Lille, and Bamberg (with a new programme Metropolitan University in Prague coming on stream soon).

 

Third – a bit about working here.  We are all active researchers, but our areas of specialism vary widely, as you will see from our staff profiles.  Our standards are high – at the last REF, we entered under the “umbrella” of the Aston Centre for Europe in the Area Studies section, and were ranked the highest in this field outside London.  We have recently become a Jean-Monnet Centre of Excellence.  But it is important to remember that ACE, and our department, are “ecumenical”, and that we are not exclusively interested in European Studies.  For instance, our students often tell us they would like to learn more about the Politics of the Middle East, or the Politics of China or Latin America; the truth is we are open to applications from any interesting sub-field of Politics and International Relations.  We have recently re-established a departmental seminar where a colleague presents “work in progress” and discusses it in a supportive environment.  We are encouraged to bid for external funding from a variety of sources (and have had success from sources like the European Commission, Leverhulme, the German Academic Exchange Service and the ESRC in recent years), and comment on each other’s bids to give them the best chance of success.

 

We are also passionate teachers – staff regularly observe each other’s teaching, several colleagues have won prizes in this area, and we often compare notes on ways of teaching and keeping students engaged (for instance, students may do “simulations”, policy reports, role plays, group assignments and produce films as part of their courses).  We take our MA students on an annual study visit to Brussels, and have also had regular study visits to London.  There is no “typical” teaching load, but a colleague might expect to teach courses for around six hours per week during team time, to a mixture of larger and smaller groups, and in addition offer four hours a week of office hours, as well as time for dissertation supervision and meeting with personal tutees.  Every member of staff is entitled to a “research day” each week, including during term time, when they would not be expected to teach or be at meetings.

 

We are all strong believers in keeping our discipline relevant to everyday life.  So we hold regular lunchtime seminars for students and staff on current affairs, we recently held an event with the Parliamentary Outreach Service on Parliament and BAME communities and another with local young people on their views on the EU referendum, and our team often write blogs aimed at an audience beyond academia.  We also regularly engage with policy-makers, holding events in London and Brussels where we can discuss our ongoing research with practitioners, and feed into and shape policy discussions.  For us, “impact” is about a lot more than ticking a box for external evaluation of universities!

 

If you are interested in applying (especially for the lecturership positions), here are some things to consider:

 

  • The key document in shortlisting will be your answers to the questions online application form (which will be scored according to whether you have met our criteria), as well as your CV. Make sure you look carefully at our person specification before applying.
  • We are likely to read well over 150 applications, and for that reason we need candidates to have a completed Ph.D., and evidence of “successful research publication”. This will probably involve having published, or at least advanced plans for, a book, and also some articles in peer reviewed journals, and far more weight will be given to publications which are published or accepted for publication than which have not yet been accepted.  Expectations clearly depend on how long you have been in the profession, and career breaks would be taken into account.
  • Remember that we all regard our teaching as really important, as well as our research, and think about how you would ensure Aston students are really engaged in and excited about what they are learning.
  • When thinking about income generation, by all means include good ideas for research grants (including those with collaborators outside Aston), but also think about whether there might be any new incomes streams you could develop for the department or ACE.
  • We will involve the whole department in recruitment, as shortlisted applicants will give a presentation to us on the first day, and then there will be an interview on the second day with a group of colleagues (most probably myself, Prof. Green, Prof. Gaffney, Dr. Rowe, and a colleague from another subject group). In both these settings, you would want to show how you can get your message across clearly and succinctly, how you would engage students and colleagues, and how you would see yourself fitting in with our department (and possibly the Aston Centre for Europe).  Normally the first question will be about why you want to work at Aston, so you’d want to give this some serious thought in advance.  Since we pride ourselves on our practical, relevant research you can expect to be asked about this.

 

If you have any questions, please drop me a line at e.turner@aston.ac.uk, and we can catch up on the telephone or Skype if necessary afterwards.

 

Interview with Parveen Akhtar, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

 

Why did you decide to apply to work at Aston?

 

There were a number of reasons why I decided to apply to work at Aston.  Birmingham is a super-diverse and rapidly changing city, and, as such, provides a fascinating backdrop to the kinds of research issues I work on around political inclusion and representation.  When I applied to Aston in 2016, there were 7 vacancies across the School and 4 of those were dedicated to Politics and International Relations.  This pointed to a genuine commitment to the Social Sciences and, of course, it’s always exciting to join and contribute to an institution when it is developing and expanding.   There is a real energy and buzz in the atmosphere and this comes across when you visit the campus.

 

How have you found the first year?

 

It’s really flown by!  The students are so fantastic and really bring a diverse set of experiences and viewpoints to the classroom.  In a year that has been politically interesting (!) with the Brexit vote and the US Presidential election, classroom discussions and debate have been super energised.

Outside of the classroom – memorable moments include the PIR Christmas dinner and Karaoke night which was huge fun and a useful reminder of why I should stick to the day job!

 

Is it a department where people feel part of a team, or do they tend to get on and do their own thing?

 

The team in PIR is incredibly supportive and welcoming.  There is some fantastic research going on and the lunchtime seminars are a great way of getting to know what colleagues are up to and also to get some feedback on whatever research paper or project you are working on.

New colleagues get to present their research at the School Seminar and since doing this I have started two new collaborations with colleagues here.  There is a space to get together for lunch if you want a screen-free sandwich.  Overall, there is real dynamism within the group and also opportunities to socialise together outside of work.

 

 

What would be your advice to anyone thinking about applying for one of these roles, and do you have any tips on the process?

 

PIR at Aston is a great place to work if you are looking for a friendly and dynamic research and teaching environment.  There is always a lot going on in Birmingham – from the Literature Festival to the German markets – there is something for everyone.  Come along and visit the campus to get a sense of the diversity and energy at Aston; speak to students, sit in on the guest lectures and talks and Aston will work its magic on you!

François Fillon’s nomination was the worst case scenario for Marine Le Pen

Blog post by John Gaffney

This article was originally published in the EUROPP blog on the 30th of November. For the original article, please visit: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/11/30/francois-fillons-nomination-was-the-worst-case-scenario-for-marine-le-pen/

It has been the received view until recently that Marine Le Pen would go through to the second round of the French presidential election in 2017, possibly with the highest round one vote, in the high 20s, but that almost any other candidate would beat her in round two – except perhaps François Hollande on account of massive abstentions. There are many people on the left who say they would not vote Hollande even if it meant she might win, unlike in 2002, and in some opinion polls Hollande’s approval ratings are as low as 2%.

But since the 2014 European elections, the German Regional elections, Brexit, and then Trump (and the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, and Five Star Movement in Italy…) it is clear that no one has a grasp on what is happening. The analysts, like the opinion polls, are consistently wrong. And in French domestic politics Le Pen’s popularity has begun to look seriously ominous given the chaos within both the left and right.

Add to this the very great disillusion/disaffection in France itself with government and the political class generally as well as – since the Bataclan and Nice terror attacks – a palpable fear (the breeding ground of populism), and you have a potentially dramatic and volatile situation. This is made even more so by the twists and turns of the presidential race – ironic in that the presidency was created to bring stability.

So, into this unpredictable situation steps the ultra-calm François Fillon. Fillon is the huge surprise of the ‘Right and Centre’ presidential primaries. And the rally around him rather than around the favourite Alain Juppé and second favourite, Nicolas Sarkozy, is extremely informative. It was first an anti-Sarkozy vote; but it was also an assertion that there remains a clear mainstream right. Fillon, strangely, is more of a threat to Marine le Pen than Alain Juppé. He is, like Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, closer to the ‘fundamentalist’ Catholics, and the anti-marriage pour tous, Sens commun, and Printemps français. He is himself a practising Catholic and is anti-gay marriage, and anti-abortion – although would probably only try to repeal ‘gay adoption’ rights, which might be a popular initiative given worries (myths, but no less powerful for that) about protecting children.

Fillon’s presidential candidacy not only puts the right back on the map, he is also the real danger to Marine Le Pen because his views are nearer the far right. Many of his views are like his first round rival Nicolas Sarkozy’s (on immigration, for example) but – and this is crucial – his personality is very different. Unlike Sarkozy, he is quiet and reassuring. Economically, too, he is for deep reforms to open up the markets; he supports cutting 500,000 civil servant posts (France has twice as many civil servants as Germany and is half as efficient), and abolishing the 35-hour week, among other reforms.

Also, unlike the other candidates in the primary, his ‘programme’ was clear and known, so he exuded if not charisma, then confidence (which in turn is transformed into a kind of charisma). His success is largely the result of people knowing what he intends to do. He is an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, although he can balance this with his ‘social Gaullist’ past. Le Pen will, like Trump, go for protectionism, easy solutions, ‘follow me’, helping the workers, and the ‘little guy’ style of populism. But she will be forced now to emphasise this further in the face of Fillon’s far-reaching reform programme, which will be popular: less state, reform of the labour laws, lightening tax burdens on business and families.

Fillon’s further advantage is that Juppé’s star rose as a kind of father (or grandfather?) figure versus the volatile Sarko (and useless Hollande). Fillon is a kind of conflation of Sarkozy and Juppé: tough but reassuring, economically sound, yet socially conservative. Probably the best candidate to stand against Marine le Pen if, as expected, she goes through to the run-off in 2017. His two potential disadvantages being that first, fewer of the left will be as happy to vote for him as for Juppé, and second, France’s huge civil service electorate will be worried as regards their job security. But to block Le Pen they will all have no choice.

When we speak of populism, it depends on what we mean, but if we assume a kind of everyday definition, Marine Le Pen will certainly use it to the full in 2017. Fillon cannot so readily use populism as he is popular because he is the anti-demagogue. But – and here’s the magic wand – what he will do is develop the Gaullist idea of the rally (rassemblement) seen in round one of the primaries and dramatically increased in the run-off.

From now on, his team will encourage this idea of the rally ‘autour de sa personne‘, a rally of opinion and emotion around a person or persona who ‘incarnates’ ‘a certain idea of France’ (the opening lines of de Gaulle’s Memoirs­). He will also appeal to another deep myth of La France profonde: quiet, small town and rural, ‘decent’ France, the France Fillon lays claim to. And although there is a worrying populist/far right strain in French political culture, there is also, as is the case in Greece, Italy, and Spain, for example, a real political ‘intelligence’ in the culture and the electorate. Fillon will appeal to this.

On the themes for 2017 (assuming it will be Fillon and Le Pen who go through), there will be ‘real’ ‘perceptible’ choices between the candidates. These include a clear debate between strong Schengen borders and strong French borders; remaining an active member of the European Union vs ‘Frexit’; ‘modernisation’/responding to globalisation vs ‘raising the drawbridge’ style protectionism; and getting the market economy going again vs strong social state protection.

On immigration, Le Pen’s advantage is diminished because Fillon is also ‘tough’ on immigration and assertive of an imagined French ‘identity’ that is being lost. These contrasts will make for extremely good rhetorical jousting, but the real ‘theme’ will be that of ‘personality’, the characters of the candidates, and over the next six months this aspect will be central to political developments.

There is then the more prosaic issue, namely, of not only how Le Pen would govern, but with whom. Currently she only has 2 MPs. You need a minimum of 289 to govern with an overall majority of one in the French National Assembly. We can assume that the left will be decimated. Fillon would have a potential landslide majority. It is therefore likely that – at least this time – the French will vote for an economically and socially bumpy ride with François Fillon rather than go over the cliff with Marine le Pen.

Poppies, football and political symbols

Blog Post by Daniel Fitzpatrick

Despite appeals from the respective football associations of England and Scotland, FIFA has refused to allow players of both teams to display poppies on their shirts during the World Cup qualifier at Wembley tonight. The match coincides with Armistice Day when the United Kingdom traditionally pauses to remember the fallen service men and women killed in conflict.

FIFA’s ban appears to rest on the assumption that the poppy represent a political symbol and as such contravenes Law 4 of the Rules of the Game banning political, religious or commercial messages on shirts or equipment. The Prime Minster took the opportunity at last week’s PMQs to lambast FIFA for its rigidity, decrying its stance as ‘utterly outrageous’.

The controversy over of the poppy ban lies in the confusion on what does and does not constitute the political. Many people would argue that the poppy appeal is beyond party politics certainly (notwithstanding Jeremy Corbyn decision to wear a white poppy). Others still would contend that the poppy is too closely associated with the imperial past of the British state and an implicit endorsement of militarism.

The question is not really whether the poppy is a political symbol; the answer to this is entirely subjective and contingent upon one’s position and relationship to the British state. The more intriguing puzzle is why the poppy is not permitted, when football, and sport in general, is replete with political symbolism. Since the 19th century modern sport (that is organised, codified and then increasingly professionalised) has been an important mechanism for inculcating a sense of national pride, culture and belonging. Important unifying traditions such as singing the national anthem and displaying the national flag are deeply embedded within the fabric of modern sport. So-called sports mega events, such as the World Cup and the Olympics, are utilised for building and consolidating a sense of nationhood and projecting a particular construction of a nation for strategic influence on the global stage.

If the poppy is deemed too political it may be asked why England are allowed to display the Three Lions badge on their shirts. The Three Lions, derived from the Royal Coat of Arms, represents the connection between the monarch and the nation. At the very least the Three lions badge symbolises support for the Crown in the UK (not only England). The motto at the base of the Royal Coat of Arms reads: Dieu et mon droit. The literal translation of this phrase is ‘God and my right’; while now arcane it nevertheless establishes a line of continuity between the period of absolutist monarchy according to the ‘divine right of kings’ and the contemporary era of constitutional monarchy. It also points to a history of military conflict and conquest; it was the symbol used on the King’s shield to identify him in the midst of battle and was displayed by Richard the Lionheart during the Crusades. In this context the badge is far more political, and redolent of war and militarism, than the poppy.

Being more cynical we might question FIFA’s motivations for wanting to keep a clear delineation between sport and politics. FIFA, which is struggling to shore up the crumbling foundations of its legitimacy as the international governing body for football, is attempting to maintain the façade that politics has no place in football. In maintaining the pretence that it is sporting rather than political organisation FIFA is able to preserve its sphere of private governance from incursion from democratic politics. The governing bodies of sport cling to what Lincoln Allison called ‘the myth of autonomy’ for particular institutional imperatives. In arguing that sport and politics can and should be kept apart those in charge of sport seek to perpetuate their position as power holders and arbiters of morality in sport.

This is obvious a fallacy. FIFA, itself, ‘believes that football is more than just a game.’ It publicises a number of laudable policies, programmes and awards on anti-discrimination, poverty and development, and sustainability. In practice its record on these matters is mixed at best, and mere window-dressing at worst. Nevertheless the existence of such wider social and economic aims suggest that FIFA considers such non-sporting issues appropriate for discussion and purposive action in the arena of football. The distinction is that that FIFA launches and administers these programmes in an effort to consolidate its own legitimacy. The more hard line stance over the wearing of poppies now – opposed to the compromise reached in 2011 – speaks to the crumbling legitimacy of the world governing body of football more than the politicised nature of the poppy.

Is Muslim sectarian violence a new reality for Britain?

Author: Parveen Akhtar
The original of this blog text was published in The Conversation, on the 12th of October 2016. The original can be found in the foollowign website: https://theconversation.com/is-muslim-sectarian-violence-a-new-reality-for-britain-66248

Debates on Islam in the West have tended to centre on the compatibility of the values and lifestyles of Muslims and non-Muslims. But two recent murders in the UK have highlighted the need for debate on the compatability of those who hold different Islamic beliefs. As British Muslim communities become more religiously and ethnically diverse, sectarianism could also become more commonplace.

The victim of the first murder, Asad Shah, a Glasgow shopkeeper, belonged to a group of Muslims called the Ahmadiyya. They do not believe that the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, was the last and final prophet – a view considered heretical by many Muslims and blasphemous by Sunni Muslims. Ahmadiyya believe that the religious leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908, was the Mujaddid (renewer of faith), a Messiah sent to guide Muslims back to the true essence of Islam. Sunni Muslims do not share this belief.

In August 2016, Tanveer Ahmed, a Muslim taxi driver from Bradford was sentenced to 27 years in prison for Shah’s murder. Ahmed was a Sunni Barelwi (a populist form of Islam), who said he’d murdered Shah because he had “disrespected” Islam. Ahmed had driven to Scotland to confront Shah about his beliefs. In a statement released by Ahmed after his conviction, he asserted that the murder was in defence of the prophet: “Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him.”

Shah’s murder was inspired by another murder in another country some five years earlier – the assassination in Pakistan in 2011 of the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. The man convicted of the crime, Mumtaz Qadri, a police officer and Taseer’s former bodyguard, was sentenced to death and hanged in February 2016. Qadri had assassinated the governor for wanting to reform the Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and for supporting Asia Bibi (a Christian) who had been sentenced to death for insulting the Muhammad. Qadri believed that in murdering the governor he was defending the honour of the prophet. Qadri’s funeral was attended by thousands of mourners and today, he is revered by some Sunni Muslims as a martyr and a saint.

The web of who is and who is not a true Muslim is complicated further by these transnational connections and linkages. Tanveer Ahmed was one of those who considered Mumtaz Qadri a martyr, writing to him in prison while Qadri was awaiting execution. Despite their violent acts, both men were Sunni Barelwis, ordinarily associated with the spiritual aspects of faith. They are often the ones persecuted for not being “proper Muslims” because their populist branch of Islam includes practices such as devotional Qawwali music and the following of saints. These rituals are considered out of the bounds of Islam by some groups of Muslims, such as Wahhabis and Salafis, followers of a more literalist strand of the religion.

Sunni Barelwis have been targeted in the UK too. In a second murder in 2016, a 71-year-old Barelwi originally from Bangladesh called Jalal Uddin was targeted by two men in their early 20s and murdered as he made his way through the streets of Rochdale. The assailants were Salafis who believed Uddin’s practice of ta’widh (amulets containing passages from the Qur’an used as protection against the evil eye) took him outside the fold of Islam. One of the assailants was sentenced to prison for a minimum of 24 years, while the other suspect fled to Turkey and is believed to have crossed the border into Syria to fight for so-called Islamic State.

That the perpetrator of the first murder was of the same faith as the victim in the second highlights the complexities of sectarian divisions within Islam. Barelwis revere Muhammad and have killed to defend his honour. Salafis detest such reverence as false idolatry and link Barelwi customs to black magic. This sectarianism within Islam in the West is a recent development and can be traced to two key factors: greater diversity of those Muslims settling in Europe and the mobilisation of sectarian divisions via the internet.

Long-term immigration into Western Europe is forcing Muslims to confront different ways of practising Islam. Muslim communities in the UK, for example, have changed rapidly in the past 20 years. Changes in patterns of migration have contributed to the development of a highly diverse Muslim population. Between the 1950s and the late 1980s, migration of Muslims to the UK consisted of many primarily economic migrants from a few former colonial countries such as Pakistani and Bangladesh who settled in specific industrial urban locations.

During the past 20 years, fewer migrants from a larger number of countries have made those urban centres their home. New Muslim migrants from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia and Nigeria share mosques, halal butchers, Islamic bookshops and community centres. This “superdiversity” is not limited to Muslim migrants, but reflects a wider development of diverse types of migration patterns.

It is the pace and scale of difference in the past two decades that has had an impact here, accompanied by religious information and sectarian mobilisation on the internet. Unlike many of the pioneer generation of post-war Muslim migrants, their descendants are fully literate and able to access theological material, particularly online. And they are much more aware then their parents’ generation of the theological differences within Islam. There is a real internal debate going on within communities, often with a streak of intolerance which was not as pronounced 20 years ago.

Research on established Muslim communities has argued that the encounter with other Muslims in the diaspora is crucial in the development of the religion. Mixing with other Muslims can inspire theological debate and has the potential to bear significantly on religious identity and the process of transformation across generations. But as the two recent murders have shown, it can also lead to sectarianism and violence.

Brexit threatens Britain’s reputation as an agenda-setter for foreign aid

Article by Balazs Szent-Ivanyi, originally published in The Conversation on the 26th September 2016. For the original article, please visit: https://theconversation.com/brexit-threatens-britains-reputation-as-an-agenda-setter-for-foreign-aid-64999

The world is facing a host of complex challenges, from climate change to migration to the spread of infectious diseases. No nation acting alone can hope to solve them. Britain has been serious about tackling these problems, but to do so it needs to influence and shape the international development system to reflect them and make efforts to get other donors on board to pursue similar goals. But Brexit means Britain’s ability to do so hangs in the balance.

Britain is currently a highly influential actor in the international development system, due to a combination of its financial clout and soft power, which enables influence without resorting to force or money. The UK has been one of the most important donors to multilateral initiatives such as the World Bank’s International Development Association and the EU’s European Development Fund. This gives it a lot of input into decisions on how these funds are spent.

Britain’s soft power stems from the reputation it has developed in the past 20 years as a highly generous and effective bilateral donor of foreign aid. This reputation has increased British influence even further in the international development system. The previous Labour government’s support for increasing British aid spending, and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s commitment in 2010 to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid, enshrined in law in 2015, have been instrumental in building this reputation.

The UK is now the world’s second-largest foreign aid donor after the US, providing £14 billion (US$18 billion) to more than a hundred developing countries in 2015. The Department for International Development has emerged as an internationally respected aid agency, amassing considerable expertise on development issues.

Until now, Britain has had a huge influence on the EU’s aid policy and aid delivery, and it was instrumental in transforming EU aid from one of the worst in the world at the turn of the 21st century into a global agenda setter today in terms of its usefulness and helpfulness. And the goals of the EU’s aid policy are well aligned with British interests: prioritising global poverty reduction, combating climate change, or addressing state fragility. The UK has been able to use the EU to project its national interests through EU development policy, achieving disproportionate influence.

There is some hope that the EU’s development policy will remain aligned with UK interests after Brexit. There are a number of “like-minded” EU members, such as the Nordic countries, who share a similar vision of international development to the UK.

But there are also a number of EU members who would want aid policy to change direction after Britain leaves the bloc. The Central and Eastern European members, for example, would prefer more aid to be spent in the countries on the EU’s eastern borders, such as the Balkans and Ukraine. The southern members would prioritise spending in the Mediterranean.

The migration crisis has also strengthened calls for diverting EU aid away from the poorest regions of the world to be spent on helping migrants and refugees arriving in Europe. All this would decrease the poverty-reduction focus of EU aid, and so go against British interests to date. The EU will also lose Britain’s substantial contribution to its aid pot, forcing it to scale back expenditure on international development.

Without the ability to project power through the EU, Britain’s influence in other international forums will also diminish. Brexit also threatens the UK’s reputation as a generous donor for three reasons.

It’s not clear what will happen with the money that the UK contributed to the EU’s aid efforts – about US$2.1 billion in 2015 according to the OECD. There is no guarantee that the post-Brexit government will use these resources for aid. And although it hasn’t quite hit yet as forecasted by experts, a Brexit-induced recession is still on the cards. A major recession would put significant pressure on any government to abandon the 0.7% aid commitment. There are already strong voices arguing for this.

The campaign leading up to the referendum has also revealed how parts of British society have become more inward looking. Together with increasing hostility towards immigrants and the EU, the British public’s support for foreign aid has been decreasing – a poll of 2,000 people published in The Telegraph suggested 57% of respondents wanted to see the 0.7% commitment scrapped.

All is not lost however, and the challenges caused by Brexit can be turned into opportunities. The emphasis Brexiters have put on making Britain a global trading nation outside of the EU can hold a key role for foreign aid with its ability to boost trade. Aid can increase incomes in developing countries and so also markets for British products and services. At the same time, there have also been talks about using aid for leverage to secure trade deals.

After Brexit, Britain will also remain part of other key forums which set the global development agenda, such as the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, where the UK can make efforts to increase its influence. Being outside of the EU doesn’t mean that a constructive dialogue with the integration on development policy matters will not be possible – but Britain will have to do it outside of the channels it has grown most accustomed to.

Lessons from the Berlin state election – for politics in Germany and beyond

Last Sunday, just two weeks after a punishing defeat in the state election in Mecklenburg West Pomerania, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) faced another unwelcome electoral challenge in the country’s capital, Berlin.  In the end, the results proved a disappointment not only for the CDU (which secured just 17.6%, -5.7% compared to the last election in 2011), but also for the social democratic SPD, which headed the state’s government (a CDU / SPD coalition), and fell to 21.6% (-6.7%), a remarkably low total for a party topping the poll.  For both the parties, these were record low results in the post-war period.  Back in 1990, the CDU and SPD (known as the Volksparteien, in recognition of their support coming from a cross-section of society) together secured over 70% of the vote.  Now, they are reduced to barely half that amount.  Green Party support held pretty stable (15.2%, -2.4%), the Left Party (15.6%, +3.9%) recovered some ground in a state in which it was historically strong, the liberal FDP regained entry to the state parliament (6.7%, +4.9%), and the Pirates showed that their success in the 2011 election was a flash in the pan (1.7%, -7.2%).  Most strikingly, the populist right Alternative for Germany (AfD) showed that it could make a breakthrough (14.2%) even in a state which was previously expected to be socially too liberal, too tolerant, to witness such a result.

While it is always unwise to read too much into the results of an individual state poll, there are a few claims which can be advanced on the basis of these results (and the usual excellent polling by Infratest dimap alongside them).

  1. While bad for the CDU, it is far too early to write off Angela Merkel. The CDU in Berlin was unpopular, and was felt to have performed poorly in government, with an inept leader, Frank Henkel. Voters preferred the SPD’s mayor, Michael Müller, by a 53% to 23% margin, and indeed even on the issue of refugees, whilst this was a major factor for AfD voters, 57% felt Angela Merkel was right to stick to her approach on the issue (compared to 39% who wanted her to move towards the hardline positions of the Bavarian CSU). For all the criticism of her, there is no obvious successor, let along internal challenger, to Merkel.

2.The CDU increasingly struggles in urban areas. If you roll the clock back 20 years, the CDU held the mayoralty not only of Berlin, but of Frankfurt (now SPD) and Stuttgart (now Green), and was competitive in elections in other major cities, such as Hamburg (where its vote has since collapsed). Now, the party is not in power in any of the country’s major cities, and seems to have little appeal amongst liberally-minded, urban voters. Much has been written of the difficulty faced by centre-left parties in integrating traditionally-minded working-class voters with those of the “new left”, but Christian Democracy faces analogous problems, at least in Germany.

3.The AfD may benefit largely from protest votes, but they look set to enter the federal parliament next year. Although 69% of AfD voters in Berlin said they decided on the basis of disappointment with other parties, compared to 29% who were convinced by the AfD itself, it remains the case that it has successfully overcome the 5% hurdle for representation in every state election since the 2013 federal election. Its election to the Bundestag looks to be only a matter of time.

4. State elections are more than just a judgement on the performance of the national government. There is a lively debate in political science about whether regional or national factors are decisive in regional elections. But in Berlin, there is no question that major dissatisfaction with the performance of the SPD/CDU coalition there (just 36% were satisfied) contributed to those parties’ historically bad performance.

5. The SPD’s involvement of members in deciding policy didn’t seem to give it great traction. Politicians elsewhere might be interested in the decision to allow all party members in the city to vote on such questions as the legalisation of cannabis (narrowly rejected), whether to focus on the number or quality of new flats (members favoured numbers), more police on the streets (supported), and continuing to ban headscarves amongst state employees like teachers (strongly supported).   These answers would then flow into the manifesto. But this enterprise did not really capture the public imagination. What recent successes the SPD has had have tended to be down to having a very popular state premier at its head (such as Malu Dreyer in Rhineland-Palatinate and Erwin Sellering in Mecklenburg West Pomerania).

6. 27 years on from the fall of the Berlin wall, eastern and western voting behaviour is distinct, in Berlin and elsewhere. Most obviously, the Left Party did better in the eastern part of the city (23.4%) than the west (10.1%), as did the AfD (17.0% east, 12.1% west – with the party coming first in some of the outlying, high-rise estates in the east), while the CDU, Greens and FDP did significantly better in the west. Such differences can also be clearly observed when comparing state polls in western and eastern Germany.

7. And last but not least, grand coalitions lead to a rise in support for smaller parties. When the major parties of centre-left (SPD) and centre-right (CDU) are in government, whether at a state or a national level, the combined total of their support is almost guaranteed to fall, with the smaller coalition partner especially vulnerable. When it comes to Germany’s federal election next year, it appears likely that minor parties – of left and right – will profit at the expense of CDU and SPD. In Berlin, this has now meant that no two parties have a majority, though, in contrast to the national level, the Left Party (along with the Greens) is likely to be invited to join a coalition with the SPD, thus bringing the period of grand coalition to an end.

Ed Turner is Senior Lecturer and Head of Politics and International Relations at Aston University, based in the Aston Centre for Europe. He has written widely on German party politics and federalism. This blog was initially published, in slightly edited form, at Left Food Forward.