29/08/2005 - Analysis
According to a German proverb, "The day after an election is the eve of another". It was not the day but only two hours after the publication of the election results of the Land of North Rhine Westphalia on 22nd May last – where the Social Democrat Party (SPD) suffered a major defeat winning 37% of the vote, the worst result it has produced since 1945 – that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced his desire to call for early general elections; this declaration surprised both the political community as well as the German press. In spite of the government's increasing unpopularity, the difficulties experienced in applying its policy and the string of electoral failures (in 1999 the Social Democrat Party held the majority in 11 of the 16 Länder, versus only five today), nobody had expected Gerhard Schröder to launch a very risky wager, qualified as a "cop-out" by some but approved by nearly eight Germans in ten (78%) according to a poll undertaken by Infratest that was published on 21st July last.
Following the Chancellor's declaration the political parties therefore had to define rapidly their government programme and start organising their electoral campaign. Gerhard Schröder is probably counting on a short campaign and on his adversaries' lack of preparation. Due to a lack of time the general elections on 18th September might become a duel between the two main candidates for the position of Chancellor rather than a competition between their respective party programmes. This will not displease the Chancellor, an old hand in the political game reputed to be at his best when his back is to the wall.
The Political System
Ordinarily the general elections in Germany take place every four years according to a system that combines the proportional and uninominal vote. Citizens have two votes; the first is designed to enable him to appoint the candidate of his choice as MP in the constituency where he lives (uninominal vote) – the country has 229 constituencies); the second enables him to vote for a political party represented by a list of candidates in terms of the Land (Germany has 16 Länder). The percentage of the second votes defines the number of seats won proportionally by each party and therefore, in fine, the balance of power within the Bundestag.
In order to be represented in the Bundestag a political party must achieve 5% of the vote cast proportionally across the nation or win three direct mandates by uninominal vote. This electoral rule aims to ensure the creation of a stable parliamentary majority and to avoid the dispersion of the political community as suffered by Germany under the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). Although at the end of the war in 1949 there were eleven parties in the Bundestag there were only four in 1957 and only three between 1961 and 1983 (SPD, CDU-CSU and the FDP). The situation changed in 1983 when the Greens (Die Grünen) succeeded in rising above the 5% barrier, then in 1998 with the advent of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), a party emanating from the Unified Socialist Party (SED) from the former East Germany. A new political movement, the Left Party (Linkspartei, L), a result of a merger between the Party for Democratic Socialism and the Alternative for Work and Social Justice (WASG) might well be the source of surprise and come through as a new force in the political arena.
During the general elections the Germans generally vote more for a party than for a personality. The difference is important since although the Social Democrat Party (SPD) is behind the Christian Democrat Union (CDU-CSU) in all of the opinion polls, Gerhard Schröder has until now enjoyed greater popularity than Angela Merkel, the head of the CDU. Hence according to a poll undertaken by Infratest-Dimap that was published on 4th August last 48% of the Germans would vote in favour of the present Chancellor if he were elected directly versus 39% for Angela Merkel. However the German system obliges the Social Democrat candidate to finding the means of providing his party with a popularity quota equal to his own if he wants to win the elections.
Four political parties are represented in the Bundestag that comprises 598 members:
- The Social Democrat Party, a majority leftwing party led by Franz Müntefering since 21st March 2004;
- The Christian Democrat Union and the Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU), that lies to the right is the other main German party (the CSU is only present in the Land of Bavaria);
- Alliance 90-the Greens (B'90- Die Grünen), a result of a merger in 1993 of the Alliance 1990, a movement for civic rights in the former East Germany and the ecology party;
- The Liberal Democrat Party (FDP), a party led by Guido Westerwelle, participated during the 1980's and 1990's in all of the governments led by the Christian Democrat Union and also in the 1970's and the start of the 1980's in the government coalitions with the Social Democrat Party.
Parliament also has an upper Chamber, the Bundesrat, comprising members of the governments of the sixteen Länder. Each Land has at least three votes; the Länder with more than two million inhabitants have four votes, those with more than six million and those with over seven million have six votes. The present Bundesrat comprises 69 members.
The Procedure leading to the General Elections
In 1949, the authors of the German Constitution (Fundamental Law) wanted to arm themselves against the return of the instability of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) during which time the Reichstag never reached the end of its term of office (sixteen governments in fourteen years, since the Head of State could dissolve Parliament at any time and appoint a new Chancellor), and intentionally they chose to prevent any members of the opposition from coming to an agreement to overthrow the government if they did not have an alternative programme.
The Fundamental Law enables the dissolution of the Bundestag under two circumstances only and therefore the convening of early general elections. The first involves the start of the term of office, when the Bundestag elects the Chancellor (article 63 of the Fundamental law). If no candidate succeeds in rallying the majority of votes after a three day period the President of the Republic can appoint one of the candidates or dissolve the Bundestag. The second reason for dissolution governed by article 68 of the Fundamental Law stipulates that ‘if a motion of censure suggested by the Chancellor does not achieve the approval of the majority of the members of the Bundestag, the President may on the Chancellor's suggestion, dissolve the Bundestag within 21 days.' The general elections must then take place within the 60 days following the dissolution (article 39).
The procedure of tabling a motion of censure has been used four times in the Federal Republic's history but has only ended twice in the dissolution of the Bundestag. On 22nd September 1972 Chancellor Willy Brandt (SPD) lost his majority in the Bundestag, since several Social Democrat MP's disapproved of his policy of conciliation with the East (Ostpolitik). The Chancellor witnessed the rejection of the motion of censure but won a majority during the early general elections organised on 19th November in the same year.
Ten years later Foreign Affairs Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, also president of the Liberal Democrat Party (FDP) expressed his differences with the policy undertaken by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (SDP). The latter tabled a motion of censure on 5th February 1982, which was approved by 269 votes versus 224 against.
On 17th December 1982 Helmut Kohl (CDU), who had become Chancellor on 1st October of the same year after the Bundestag's rejection of a motion of censure presented by Helmut Schmidt nevertheless enjoyed a narrow majority. He then tabled a motion of censure; the Christian Democrats did not take part in the vote and the motion was therefore rejected and the Chancellor succeeded in calling for early elections on 6th March during which his party triumphed winning 48.8% of the vote versus 38.2% for the Social Democrat Party. In the wake of this dissolution the Constitutional Court, based in Karlsruhe limited the convening of early elections with the aim of preventing the Chancellor from using the vote of mistrust in his own interests. A motion of censure can no longer be accepted if a Chancellor "puts forward simple problems specific to the continuation of his activities" or if he "has an adequate majority" and tables a motion with the simple aim of dissolving the Bundestag. According to the Court the dissolution must result from an unstable political situation between the Chancellor and the Bundestag since the Chancellor can only count on the permanent parliamentary support of the majority of the members in the Assembly.
Finally the fourth motion of censure was tabled by Chancellor Schröder on 16th November 2001. He called for the Bundestag's support for the dispatch of Bundeswehr soldiers abroad in the fight against terrorism. The Bundestag granted him its confidence by 336 votes.
On 1st July last 296 of the 595 MP's present voted ‘against' the new motion of censure tabled by Gerhard Schröder, 148 abstained and 151 (i.e. nearly half of the Social Democrats and Green MP's) expressed their confidence. "The disappointing result achieved by my party in the elections in North Rhine Westphalia questions the political support necessary to continue my work. I believe it is my responsibility and duty as German Chancellor to convince the President to convene elections again in the Bundestag as quickly as possible and realistically by autumn 2005," declared Gerhard Schröder. "Without new authority I cannot continue my policy. We should give the people the choice and freedom to decide themselves which path our country should take, which kind of State they want and the type of solidarity that should govern our society. The issue of confidence, beyond the Bundestag applies to the people who are sovereign," he added. MP's Werner Schulz (Greens) and Jelena Hoffmann (SPD) both lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court, likewise eight small parties that are represented in Parliament in protest against the artificial manner in which the government had been placed in the minority.
Since the general elections could not take place during the school holidays that vary according to the Länder, they will take place on 18th September next.
Gerhard Schröder vs. Angela Merkel.
Fifty-one year old Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg but lived all of her youth in East Germany where her father came from and was a priest. She was prohibited from teaching due to her links with the Church and so she dedicated herself to research at the institute for Physics and Chemistry at the Academy of Science in East Berlin. She joined the Christian Democrat Union just before the German reunification when she was noticed by Helmut Kohl who appointed her vice-president of the CDU in replacement of Lothar de Maizière, the last Prime Minister of the German Democratic Republic. During the elections on 2nd December 1990 she was elected MP for the Land of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania; Angela Merkel then became Minister for Women's Affairs and Youth (she was the originator of the law guaranteeing each child the right to a place in Kindergarten from the age of three on and of the reform of the abortion laws); since 1994, she has been minister for the Environment, the Protection of Nature and for the Security of Nuclear Reactors in the governments led by Helmut Kohl. In 2000 she dared to criticise Helmut Kohl's financial methods and the management of the CDU-CSU publicly, accusing them of having accepted illegal gifts of money. Since 1993 she has been president of the CDU in the Land of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania; after the electoral defeat of 27th September 1998 she became the secretary general of the CDU before being appointed president of the party on 10th April 2000. In 2002 however she had to step down before the leader of the CSU, Edmund Stoiber in the race for the Chancellorship. After Gerhard Schröder's re-election she succeeded in overthrowing Friedrich Merz and took over the CDU's parliamentary group in the Bundestag.
She is the first woman to lead a major German party- that is in the main considered as being Catholic and somewhat misogynous and in which she has managed to assert herself as a divorced, childless, Protestant woman – the first citizen of the former German Democratic Republic to assert herself within the CDU; Angela Merkel has finally won the right to run for the title of Chancellor. In September she might become the first woman to occupy and become the youngest person to be elected to this post. We should note that half of the Germans (50%) believe that the advent of a woman to the Chancellorship would comprise a "significant historical step forwards" according to a poll undertaken by Forsa.
Angela Merkel is against Turkey's entry into the European Union and suggests the establishment of a "privileged partnership between the Union and the Muslim country." She says she rejects any idea of a "process that would lead to a front of rejection on the part of the citizens." "In the wake of the failure of the referenda on the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands we should take care of the future of Europe. We must talk about the limits of enlargement. We need borders and people need to know where these lie," she maintains. Although the Christian Democrat candidate is convinced of the importance of the Franco-German partnership within the European Union she would like to "reform it so that it is not exclusive." She is also very much aware of not neglecting the "small" countries. She has promised not "to present small countries with the fait accompli," as well as working more closely with Poland, which like Germany, has a specific responsibility in making European unity a success.
In terms of foreign policy the CDU candidate, unlike Gerhard Schröder, has little affinity with the Russian President Vladimir Putin even though Germany's requirements in oil and gas oblige it to moderate somewhat the expression of its opinion about the master of the Kremlin. Unlike Gerhard Schröder Angela Merkel is against lifting the embargo on the delivery of arms to China. Although she would like to "reboost her country's relations with the USA," Angela Merkel is against to the deployment of German troops to Iraq (a declaration made in the daily Neue Presse on 3rd August). According to a poll undertaken by TNS-Infratest, published in the weekly Der Spiegel on 23rd July however two thirds of Germans (66%) say they do not believe a Conservative government would give up the idea of sending troops to Iraq. "German soldiers would be deployed to Iraq if it was up to Angela Merkel or Edmund Stoiber," maintained Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Sixty-one year old Gerhard Schröder joined the Social Democrat Party when he was 19. As President of the Social Democrat Youth he was elected for the first time in 1980 in his constituency of Hannover when he was just thirty-six years old (Lower Saxony). After the CDU-CSU victory in 1986 he took back his Land becoming Minister President of it in 1990 and the leadership of one of the first regional Red-Green coalitions. He triumphed back to his post in 1994 and in 1998 when he further improved the results achieved by the Social Democrats. On 27th September 1998 he became Chancellor after sixteen years of Christian Democrat government. Gerhard Schröder is charismatic and at ease with the media; he enjoys a popularity level that has always risen beyond that of his party.
1998-2005: Seven Years of Red-Green coalition
"Willy Brandt's grandchildren" as they were called when they first came to power in 1998 have helped greatly in changing the modern face of Germany. Comprising representatives of the first post-Second World War generation they came to power just as Berlin, that lies only one hundred kilometres from the Polish border, became the country's capital again; the Red-Green coalition wanted Germany to become a country like any other once more and assert itself internationally. During his first speech on foreign policy Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he was in favour of "an enlightened defence of German national interests." He was not as much in favour of Germany's European integration as his predecessor Helmut Kohl and at that time Gerhard Schröder felt more affinity with Tony Blair's third route than with the Socialism put forward by Lionel Jospin, French Prime Minister at the time. It was only after the failure of the European Council of Nice in December 2000 that the Germans acknowledged the importance of a strong Franco-German axis, a necessary requirement for any progress made by the European Union. In 2002 the Germans, in solidarity with the French enabled the adoption of a compromise on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and in the same year the closer relationship of the two countries opened the way to the adoption of the enlargement of the Union to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In 2003 France and Germany stood together in their opposition of the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq; Germany opposed for the very first time in its history its American ally on an issue that was vital for Washington.
Joschka Fischer (Die Grünen) has played an important role in modifying Germany's position in the international arena. This ecologist, vice-Chancellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Schröder government, came from the alternative, anti-nuclear and pacifist movements of the 1970's later adopting a so-called realistic line and succeeded in convincing his troops of Germany's participation in armed assignments in Kosovo in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2001, a first since the end of the Second World War. It is also significant that the second mandate undertaken by the Red-Green coalition is ending just as the debate on the attribution of a permanent seat within the Security Council of the UN to Germany has been tabled in the reform of the UN. The Greens have also left their mark on the government's energy policy by achieving the abandonment of nuclear power in 2001: the last power station is to close in 2020 and the withdrawal of waste abroad has been banned since 1st July 2005.
On the domestic front the Schröder government achieved a revolution in 1999 by introducing a detail on the right to nationality based on place of birth in the laws on nationality in application since 1913 and historically founded on parentage. Hence immigrants who have been living in Germany for a number of years can now become German citizens; the children who have had one parent resident in Germany for at least eight years can have dual nationality but have to choose one only between the age of eighteen and twenty-three. The Schröder government also established the homosexual partnership contract in 2001 giving couples of the same sex certain rights held by married couples.
The results are far less convincing on a socio-economic level. Although initially the Red-Green coalition marked their term of office by a somewhat Keynesian policy undertaken by Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine (he left his position after just six months), the following years witnessed the government's return to more rigorous methods. During his second mandate the Chancellor started to reform the Welfare State, to restructure the social security system (those insured by state brokers must now pay a ten euro fee per trimester for consultations and pay 10% of their medicines themselves) and to liberalise the labour market (relaxing of redundancy procedures for SME's of under 10 employees). But many of the reforms have remained simply projects such as that applicable to pensions (the government introduced a dose of capitalisation, albeit facultative, to the old allocation system, decreed the freezing of pensions for two years and postponed the raising of the legal retirement age established at present at 65 to 2008) but above all the reforms applicable to taxation (the maximum level of taxation was reduced from 51% to 42%) and the capital gains tax on the transfer of shares in companies was abandoned.
The main problem in Germany – and the Germans' main worry – is unemployment that Gerhard Schröder made an absolute priority for his government but whose rate is at present the highest since he took office in 1998, affecting nearly five million people (4,77 million according to the figures issued by the Labour Office at the end of July), ie 11.5% of the working population (and 18.6% in the former East Germany). "If I do not succeed in reducing unemployment I do not deserve to be re-elected," declared the Chancellor seven years ago. Today he defends his results saying that "success comes slowly". "Until 2000 we were on the right path, unemployment dropped significantly. And then there was the world crisis in the new economy, the war with Iraq, Islamic terrorism, the rise in the price of oil but the government is not responsible for this," he pointed out. The social model of co-management (Mitbestimmung) established by Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt with the agreement of all the political parties that enables equal management (management-unions) of the 780 companies with over 2000 employees (in the companies with between five hundred and two thousand people employees only have a third of the vote in the monitoring council) is now being challenged.
On 14th March 2003 the Chancellor presented his Agenda 2010 a list of reforms designed to boost the Germany economy. The Hartz IV law that merges long term unemployment benefit and social aid (equivalent to the French monthly minimum income) caused great discontent amongst a great part of the population. From now on unemployment benefit is only provided for a year (eighteen months for the over 65's). Beyond that time the unemployed receive social aid calculated in terms of their requirements; their income is therefore reduced and they then have to accept the job they are offered whether this corresponds to their qualifications or not and whether the salary is lower or not to that received previously by the person or that planned for in the sector agreements. The reform of the labour market that was extremely unpopular is also extremely costly: 24 billion euro. In the main this is because the number of households that receive the allocations has finally risen beyond the original forecast of around 900,000 people.
The Programmes of the Parties Standing for Election
The general elections will be settled by the socio-economic themes, but the main political parties seem to be hesitating about suggesting major reforms to their electorate. The Germans have understood this: according to a poll published by the weekly Bild Woche, three quarters of them (75% and 87% of those living in the Eastern part of the country) believe that the country's economic situation will not improve after the election on 18th September.
In order to try and halt the loss of support on the part of its traditional electorate the Social Democrat Party has taken a swing to the left and is proposing to establish an additional tax for the richest. The Chancellor has called on rich Germans to prove their patriotism: "I believe that many of those who are richer than average are patriotic enough to acknowledge that they must also help towards the country's competitiveness," he declared on 27th June. This applies to single people whose income is over 250,000 euro per year. This tax that should enable the State to cash in on 1.2 billion euro would be used for professional training, scientific research and new technologies. The Social Democrat Party would like to push the sums dedicated to scientific research up to 3% of the GDP by 2010.
Christened "Confidence in Germany", the SPD programme – written by the Party's president Franz Müntefering, the president of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse, the president of the political academy of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Thomas Meyer and MP Ute Vogt- puts forward the establishment of a minimum wage, a reform of the healthcare system (establishment of health insurance contributions based on all incomes and not just on wages), the increase in unemployment benefit in the East (at present set at 331 euro) to bring them in line with those in the West (345 euro) and the maintenance of the German co-management system.
The Social Democrats also included the family in their programme suggesting that the parent who stops work the year following the birth of their child receives for this period 67% of his/her salary (the amount is limited to 2,700 euro). The SPD plans to make the second year of Kindergarten free of charge (the year preceding entry into primary school) the fees of which are proportional at present to the parents' income, to improve the quality and the number of places in Kindergarten and gradually to make them totally free of charge.
The Christian Democrat Union's programme, entitled "Use Germany's Chances. Work, growth, security," comprises three parts: employment, security and humanity. One of the key measures in this text is the increase in VAT on everyday products from 16% to 18% as from January 2006. This reform that should bring in 16 billion euro per year 75% of which will be returned to the Federal State and 25% to the Länder and would be used to finance the reduction of labour costs, is extremely unpopular amongst the population and has been rejected by the Liberal Democrat Party, the party allied to the CDU-CSU in the general elections. Guido Westerwelle, president of the FDP has repeated, "We shall do everything to avoid an increase in VAT."
The Christian Democrats hope to liberalise the labour market by suggesting a relaxation in the legislation governing redundancy in companies of under 20 employees, to reduce taxation on companies from 25% to 19%, to facilitate company agreements beyond the collective ones and to facilitate administrative procedures for SME's. In addition to this Angela Merkel suggests encouraging the re-employment of the long term unemployed enabling them to earn 10% above the tariff established by the collective agreement for the first two years. The CDU-CSU banner reads "It is social to create jobs."
We would like to do more but we have not found the funding to go with itt
On 17th August last the CDU-CSU candidate presented her team of experts (Kompetenzteam) comprising nine people including three women (Gerda Hasselfeldt, responsible for Agriculture, Consumption and Ecology, Annette Schavan, responsible for Research, Education and Ursula von der Leyen, responsible for the Family and Social Security). Apart from Wolfgang Schäuble, responsible for Foreign Policy, Security and European Affairs and Peter Müller, Minister-President of the Sarre, this team includes the former constitutional judge and professor in fiscal law at the University of Heidelberg, Paul Kirchhof who is in charge of the Budget and Finance; if they win the elections Angela Merkel would like to make the latter her Finance Minister. Paul Kirchhof, who is close to the CDU, was for a long time against the project to increase VAT before saying that he has now accepted this given that it would benefit in fine the family.
Alongside the main parties in the political arena running for the general elections on 18th September are many other political parties. Amongst them, the Liberal Democrat Party is allied to the CDU and should in the case of victory by the right form a government coalition with the CDU-CSU. During the previous general elections on 22nd September 2002 the Liberal Democrat Party that had set an objective of winning 18% of the vote, came only fourth, achieving 7.4% of the vote. After these elections the party underwent a serious internal crisis resulting in the resignation and suicide of its leader MP Jürgen Möllemann, and violent disagreement between members of the party. Three years later calm has returned to the Liberal Democrat Party even though the party continues to dream of emancipation, and without really giving up the idea of rallying 18% of the vote to its name. "The FDP is not condemned to remain the junior partner of another party by divine will," declared Guido Westerwelle, imagining "a political landscape with three parties of equal influence." In its programme the Liberal Democrat Party highlights taxation that it would like to reform in depth, in order to boost growth and employment. It suggests the reduction to three the number of tax bands whose levels would be fixed at 15%, 25% and 35%. In terms of foreign policy the FDP emphasises the importance of the trans-Atlantic partnership.
On the left the Greens have decided not to run alongside the Social Democrat Party. The ecologist party that is no longer a member of any regional government will play an important role in the general elections on 18th September. During their congress in Berlin the ecologists chose for the first time in their history not to place their traditional campaign themes, such as the protection of the environment or nuclear power as a priority and instead spotlighted socio-economic issues and unemployment. The Greens are demanding a reduction in social contributions on the lowest wages, a rise in unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed and a minimum salary in economic sectors where there is no sector agreement. They say they are in favour of raising the taxation rate in the highest income bands from 42% to 45%. Their leader, Joschka Fischer, recently called for his party to "open its arms wide" to those disappointed in the SPD likewise the new party that emerged recently in the political arena, the Left Party.
The real event in this electoral campaign however has been the rise in popularity of the Left Party ((Linkspartei) in the opinion polls; since July this has rallied the Party of Democratic Socialism, (PDS) and the Alternative for Work and Social Justice (WASG). The latter party includes those disappointed by the SPD, union members, anti-globalisation militants and those from the extreme left; it was founded in 2004 by union leaders (more specifically members of the union IG Metall) and members of the Social Democrat Party who challenged the policy undertaken by Gerhard Schröder. Barely two months after its creation the Left Party is emerging first in all the opinion polls in the Eastern part of the country – where the PDS is still the firmly established leader slightly ahead of the CDU. Eckhard Jesse, a political analyst says that "the early general elections may be decided upon once more in the East," as was the case three years ago where Gerhard Schröder won points because of the way he managed the Elbe floods.
The Left Party won 2.2% of the vote in the regional elections in North Rhine Westphalia on 22nd May last comprising its first electoral test, but on 19th September 2004 the Party for Democratic Socialism that was declared dead a few years previously, won 23.6% of the vote in the regional elections in Saxony and 28% in Brandenburg, taking second place in both of these Länder (behind the SPD in Saxony and the CDU-CSU in Brandenburg). According to its campaign manager Bodo Ramelow the party has set an objective of winning 8% of the vote on 18th September next to become the country's third most popular party.
This new party, led by Oskar Lafontaine, former Finance Minister and former president of the Social Democrat Party, an acknowledged opponent of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (he left the SPD for good on 24th May last) and Gregor Gysi, former leader of the Party for Democratic Socialism, former Economy minister for the City-State of Berlin and the most popular political figure in the East, is credited with over 10% of the vote by the polls and over 30% in the Länder of the East.
The Left Party is fighting for an increase in wages and unemployment benefits, greater taxation of the highest incomes, the creation of a minimum wage to a total of 1,400 euro/month and social insurance that would guarantee a revenue of 1,900 euro monthly to a family with two children, the increase in family benefits (from 154 euro to 250 euro per month) and the launch of a State investment programme of 30 billion euro with the aim of boosting growth. "We are the only party to have a programme with reliable funding," maintains Oskar Lafontaine whilst the Social Democrat party and the Greens believe on the contrary that the difference between revenues and expenditure extends to more than 100 million euro. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has excluded any possibility of forming a coalition with the Left Party. "I am not going to undertake anything with this weird marginal group on the left," he maintained. For its part the young party says that it does not want an alliance like this. "We cannot tolerate any neo-liberal policies," maintains Gregor Gysi, emphasising however that long term the union might be foreseen if German social democracy changes policy and returns to its true values, however "that cannot happen from one day to the next
The Electoral Campaign
The start of the electoral campaign was marked by scandals sparked off by comments made by some members of the CDU with regard to the citizens of former East Germany. At the beginning of August the Home Minister for Brandenburg, Jörg Schönbohm highlighted the living conditions of those in the East in order to explain in part the murder of nine new born babies by their alcoholic, unemployed mother. On 11th August the Minister President of Bavaria and former CDU-CSU candidate to the Chancellorship, Edmund Stoiber, lamented that the future of Germany might be decided upon by voters in the East. "I cannot accept that the East decides once again who will be the Chancellor of Germany. The frustrated cannot decide what Germany's future will be," he declared, also regretting that, "the population cannot be as intelligent everywhere as in Bavaria." Edmund Stoiber maintains that he was misunderstood and only aimed his words at the leaders of the new Left Party, Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine.
After this Angela Merkel made a point of rallying the Germans together. "There is no electoral campaign in the East and the West but a single campaign that will take us forwards. The East must teach the West and the West must teach the East," she maintained adding that the "Ossis (citizens of former East Germany) can be proud of what they have accomplished in nearly fifteen years of reunification in spite of the numerous bureaucratic obstacles encountered. People in the East can accomplish much we just have to provide them with the opportunity to do so." Here Gerhard Schröder had a golden opportunity to accuse the opposition of dividing the Germans. "Our duty is not to divide our people but to rally them and destroy rather than amplify the things that divided us in the past," he declared. As for the leader of the Greens, Joschka Fischer he condemned the "reconstruction of the mental Wall."
The Left Party that is new to the scene found itself at the heart of a scandal. Its leader Oskar Lafontaine provoked controversy when he spoke of ‘Fremdarbeiter' in a speech (foreign workers) considered as a xenophobic term in Germany, instead of using the one usually employed, ‘Gastarbeiter' (guest workers). The former leader of the Social Democrat Party maintained that the State was forced to "prevent fathers of families and women from being unemployed because foreign workers were stealing their jobs with low wages." In addition to this mid-August the president of the Left Party of the constituency of Trier, Wolfgang Schmitte was excluded from the party after having refused to go back on his anti-Semitic declarations about the financial support provided by the State for the restoration of synagogues. "We should not give as much money to the Jews," he maintained.
One of the subjects in the electoral campaign has focussed on the possible grand SPD-CDU coalition. The breakthrough made by the Left Party in the opinion polls has destabilised political play since a good result for the radical party and a weak one for the FDP might deprive the CDU and the Liberal Democrat Party of the absolute majority. In that case the CDU and the SPD might find themselves in the strange position of having to form a grand coalition as experienced by Germany at the end of the 1960's. Credited with nearly 49% of the vote in June the CDU now lies at 43% according to a poll by Forsa that was published on 15th August last. The Social Democrat Party remains stable at 29% of the voting intentions, the Left Party at 10%, the Greens and the Liberal Democrat Party at 7%.
Angela Merkel is totally against the idea of this coalition. "A grand coalition is not the best thing to take Germany forwards. My objective is a strong CDU-CSU and a coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party," she declared in the Welt am Sonntag. For his part, Gerhard Schröder says he cannot see himself as anyone's "junior partner" and maintains that he will withdraw from political life if this were the case. "We should not talk of coalitions nor of political constellations, but work towards making the SPD the strongest party," he maintained also snubbing the Ministers for the Economy, Wolfgang Clement and Finance, Hans Eichel for having said that a priori they would not be against a grand coalition between the two main German parties. The Greens will probably find themselves on the opposition benches in this case and are not hiding their discontent about this possibility in which the party's co-president, Reinhard Bütikofer sees "the proof of the disorientation" on the part of the Social Democrats.
With just over two weeks before the election the situation is far from being settled. Although it is highly unlikely that the Social Democrat Party wins the elections it remains to be seen whether the CDU and the FDP manage to win an absolute majority on 18th September next.
A reminder of the German general election results of 22nd September 2002
Participation rate : 79.1%
Source German Embassy in Paris