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Social Democrats Take Poll Lead Ahead of German Election 

Stumbling rivals mean Olaf Scholz is likely to take the reins from German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the September election.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
An election campaign of Olaf Scholz in Berlin
An election campaign billboard showing Olaf Scholz, chancellor candidate of the German Social Democratic Party, stands in Berlin on Aug. 23. Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Germany’s Social Democrats lead in pre-election poll, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visits Vietnam, and the U.S. Supreme Court revives “Remain in Mexico” policy. 

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Social Democrats Edge Ahead in German Election Race

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Germany’s Social Democrats lead in pre-election poll, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visits Vietnam, and the U.S. Supreme Court revives “Remain in Mexico” policy. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Social Democrats Edge Ahead in German Election Race

Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has pulled ahead of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CDU/CSU) bloc for the first time in 15 years in a new poll, suggesting Europes largest economy will opt for change rather than continuity in the Sept. 26 election as German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the stage.

In a Forsa poll released on Tuesday, the SPD was the top choice for 23 percent of those surveyed, with the CDU/CSU receiving 22 percent support. The Greens party, which seemed like a potential frontrunner back in March following strong showings in regional elections, remains a close third with 18 percent.

Even if the gaps between the parties remain within the margin of error, the choice for chancellor does not. Olaf Scholz, the SPD candidate and current finance minister and vice chancellor, is by far the most popular pick to succeed Merkel. He received 30 percent support, far ahead of his nearest rival, Greens party co-leader Annalena Baerbock, who was favored by 15 percent of respondents. Armin Laschet, the CDUs candidate, only garnered 11 percent support.

Social climbers. Scholz and the SPD’s rise over the summer has been helped along by sluggish competition. Laschet has failed to recover public support following a widely panned gaffe in the aftermath of devastating floods, appearing to laugh and smile in the background as German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a somber speech.

Greens party co-leaders Baerbock and Robert Habeck kept a low profile after the floods, wishing to avoid the appearance of politicizing a tragedy. Baerbock had already been bruised earlier in the campaign, when it emerged that parts of her work history had been exaggerated.

As finance minister, Scholz has been able to run a dress rehearsal for chancellor, taking decisive action following the floods, including an emergency $470 million aid package for affected regions.

On the attack. Even as calls mount for Laschet to step aside in favor of popular Bavarian premier Markus Söder, it’s not yet a given the CDU will lose power. Upcoming televised debates give all parties a chance to make their pitch, and Laschet has already begun refining his: attacking the Greens party on Tuesday for threatening the “social peace” with ambitious climate policies he said will put jobs at risk.

What We’re Following Today 

Havana in Asia. A suspected case of so-called Havana Syndrome was responsible for an hourslong delay before U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s plane departed Singapore for Vietnam. A State Department press release referred to a “possible anomalous health incident”—a euphemism for the alleged condition that has several symptoms—as the reason for the pause, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Harris had not been targeted. Harris’s visit to Hanoi today includes meetings with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc as well as Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. 

Will Suga survive? Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meets with influential Liberal party official Toshihiro Nikai today to discuss the timing and format of an upcoming party leadership vote—a de facto decision on whether Suga should lead the party ahead of a general election this fall. Suga’s approval rating is lower than 30 percent following public discontent over coronavirus management and the Tokyo Olympics. Suga is expected to survive the party vote, even as some electorally vulnerable candidates have called for his ousting.

Keep an Eye On

Extreme weather warnings. Extreme rainfall—like the record-breaking flooding that killed more than 200 people in Germany and Belgium last month—will only become more frequent in Western Europe as climate change worsens, leading international climate scientists found in a new study. According to the World Weather Attribution initiative, climate change has made rainfall on that scale between 1.2 and nine times more likely in those countries today than in the pre-industrial era and has increased the region’s rainfall from 3 to 19 percent.

“These floods have shown us that even developed countries are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather that we have seen and [know will] get worse with climate change,” Friederike Otto, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

Remain in Mexico. The U.S. Supreme Court made a rare foray into foreign policy on Tuesday after it sustained a district court ruling that seeks to reinstate the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy of processing U.S. asylum applications for migrants who transit through Mexico from their country of origin. The Biden administration had ended the policy in June and has vowed to appeal the ruling, citing the executive branch’s authority over immigration and foreign policy.

Odds and Ends

McDonald’s franchises in the United Kingdom have become the latest Brexit victims as a shortage of truck drivers has forced the chain to remove milkshakes from its menu. In a statement, McDonald’s said the driver shortage was one of many supply chain problems the company was facing and was “working hard” to remedy the issue. Nearly 14,000 truck drivers from European Union countries left their U.K. jobs in 2020 while an industry group estimates more than 100,000 new truck drivers are needed to address the current shortfall, which has been exacerbated by a lack of driving tests during the pandemic.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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