26/08/2013 - Analysis
61.8 million Germans, i.e. 400,000 less than in 2009 are being called to ballot on 22nd September next to renew the members of the Bundestag, the lower chamber of parliament. 3 million young people will be voting for the first time, i.e 4.8% of the total number of voters. Amongst the latter 12.4 million are over 70 (20.10%), whilst 9.9 million (16%) are under 30.
38 political parties are running in the federal election 9 of which are represented in the two chambers of tbe present parliament. The German political landscape, which has been stable for a long time (4 of the 6 parties represented in the Bundestag have been there since 1949), has developed over the last 20 years. The Greens emerged in 1993 and the reunification of 1990 witnessed the entry of the Democratic Socialist Party into parliament (PDS), which then became the Left Party in 2007 (DL). This year two new parties are running: the Pirate Party (P) and the Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The polls undertaken over the last few years in Germany reveal that there is a confidence crisis regarding the elites and at the same time these same elites have lost some of their authority, notably after the international economic crisis. The citizens for their part no longer trust finance dominated capitalism.
Never have the Germans so wanted the outgoing government to remain in place after this election (65% of them in March), i.e. the highest score since 1994. Nearly three-quarters of those interviewed say they approve the action taken by outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian-Democratic Union, CDU). Unemployment which lies at 6.8%, rising wages, and public finances, which have also returned to stability, are not necessarily factors that will push the Germans towards political alternation.
Just one month before the election the main issue is not really whether Angela Merkel will win rather than to wonder with whom the chancellor will govern. Neither of the two "traditional" coalitions (alliance between the CDU and the Democratic Liberal Party (FDP) on the one hand and between the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens (DG) on the other) - do not appear to be likely after the ballot on 22nd September next.
Grand coalition? An all time first union of three parties? But who knows that the answer to this question might be. The balance of power between the five main parties will decide the colour (s) of the next German government.
A country in relatively good economic health
With 0.4% of growth in 2013 and 1.8% forecast next year, Germany is in relatively good health. Unemployment totals 6.8% of the working population, i.e. 2.89 million people, the lowest figure since the country's reunification. Some regions like Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria have an almost full employment rate. Long term unemployment (more than 12 months without work) has dropped by more than 40% since 2007. At the same time the number of beneficiaries of the social minima has decreased by 800,000 people.
Domestic consumption has increased partly thanks to a recent rise in wages (2.5% in 2012). According to the government's fourth report on poverty and wealth dated March 2013, after having increased between 2000 and 2005, revenue gaps have been declining since 2007 and poverty has stabilised due the healthy employment market.
The GfK barometer, which monitors the country's consumer confidence rose in July from 6.5 points to 6.8 points, i.e. its highest level since September 2007. The IFO business index also rose: 104.4 in May and 106.2 in July.
The country's public accounts (Federal State, Länder, communities and social insurance coffers) are in surplus (+2.2 billion €, i.e 0.1% of the GDP in 2012) for the first time in five years. This can be explained by the high level of employment and the increase in fiscal revenues after an increase in company profits.
Nearly three-quarters of the Germans (72%) also believe that 2012 was a good year and nearly all young people (17-27 ans) (95%) qualify their personal situation as "very good" according to the pollster TNS Infratest.
These economic results are Angela Merkel's major asset. She "reassures the Germans who do not expect their chancellor to have visions about the future of Europe. The last time a German leader had vision was in the 1930's and we all know what that led to. The thing that interests the Germans is that their cars are selling well in China,
" analyses Wigan Salazar, Communications Director for MSL.
Berlin's economic results find explanation in Germany's industrial specialisation in the capital goods sector which has helped the country to take advantage of an increase in demand in the emerging countries and to export a major share of its production. For the very first time, in December 2011, exports rose beyond the 1000 billion € mark. "In 2007 two thirds of the German trade surplus came from trade with its European partners, five years later three quarters of that surplus, which has remained the same in terms of its value, comes from the rest of the world,
" maintains Olivier Passet an economist for the consultancy Xerfi.
The German dynamic is firmly established of course in political and economic choices and can be explained by several structural and cultural factors. It is also the result of the salary freezes over the last few years and of the Agenda 2010 - a series of measures introduced by the previous government led by Gerhard Schröder (Social Democratic Party, SPD) in the 2000's which aimed to revive the country's competitiveness thanks to greater flexibility on the labour market. In January 2005 the Hartz 4 Bill toughened criteria concerning the receipt of unemployment benefit (length of payment 12 months instead of a previous 26, 18 months for those over 55). Beyond that period people would receive a long term benefit which totalled 382€ per month - attributed according to a means test. Six million people receive the Hartz 4 allowance.
The Social Democratic opposition likes to recall that German prosperity is due to the reforms initiated by Gerhard Schröder and points to the growing inequality between rich and poor and the increase in the pauperisation of workers which has taken place under Angela Merkel's government. Seven million employees are deemed poor (an hourly rate below 8.50€, and 1.3 million even earn less than 5€) and nearly half of new work contracts are for a limited period of time. Finally one German in seven says that he feels poverty as a threat.
Finally Germany is facing a fertility crisis. In 2011 the number of births fell to its lowest level since the Second World War (663 000) and demographers believe that the German population (82 million people) may fall below 60 million inhabitants by 2050. The country is already experiencing labour supply problems. According to the OECD Berlin will have to recruit 5.4 million qualified workers by 2025. "Germany needs an annual provision of 200,000 qualified immigrants in terms of its labour requirements,
" indicates the manager of the German Employment Agency, Frank-Jürgen Weise.
In 2012, Berlin received one million foreigners, the highest level in 17 years. Amongst these the number of Europeans from the south (Spanish, Italians, Greeks and Portuguese) increased by 8% in comparison with the previous year (34,000 people in all). In 2011-2012 the German government facilitated the acknowledgement of foreign diplomas and relaxed the criteria regarding residence permits for highly qualified people. Thanks to migrants the German population increased in 2011 for the first time in 10 years. At the beginning of August in a bid to counter the penury of labour in certain sectors the government published a list of intermediary jobs available (electricians, nurses etc ...) to workers from outside of the European Union, which was a first in Germany's history.
Angela Merkel, an asset for her party
"Angela Merkel does not dominate the biggest German political party, she alone embodies it,
" reads an article in the daily Die Welt published in November 2012. "She falls within the average, she achieves good results. Everyone can identify with her and this is the recipe for her success. She is her party's programme,
" stresses Professor Dr Edgar Wolfrum, a historian at the University of Heidelberg. The outgoing Chancellor, appointed the most powerful woman in the world for the third year running (and for the 8th time in 10 years), nicknamed the Teflon Chancellor, is exceptionally popular in terms of German history (70% approval rate on the part of her fellow countrymen). According to the polls if the federal elections took place based on a uninominal direct vote she would win with 60% of the vote against 23% for her main rival, Social Democrat Peer Steinbrück. In the opinion of her fellow countrymen Angela Merkel symbolises stability and strength; she is also the best defender of German interests. "Angela Merkel's advantage is that she responds to problems pragmatically without ideology. Germans trust the CDU to create jobs,
" analyses Richard Hilmer, director of the pollster Infratest Dimap. The outgoing Chancellor was re-elected as head of the CDU on 4th December last during her party's congress in Hannover by 97.94% of the vote, i.e the highest score since 2000. "The CDU will design its campaign on the theme of the crisis saying - "Look, Germany is being managed soundly. And this is what Angela Merkel personifies perfectly,
" analyses Gero Neugebauer, a political expert at the University of Berlin.
The outgoing Chancellor is therefore her party's trump card in the electoral campaign. Just a few weeks ago a dispute started over the fact that she would not be able to complete her mandate if she won on 22nd September next. In his book entitled "The Hesitating Chancellor
" published at the end of the April, Nikolaus Blome, head of the political department of the daily Bild Zeitung
, wrote that Angela Merkel might be the first chancellor since the end of the Second World War to relinquish power voluntarily. In 2015 she will turn 60 and if she is re-elected it will also be ten years since she came to power, a time she qualified in the past as "the acceptable maximum". The outgoing chancellor maintains however that she will go to the end of her third mandate if her fellow countrymen allow her to remain in office.
Although Angela Merkel's popularity is real, it does not necessarily radiate onto her party however. In 2009 the CDU achieved its lowest score ever. The party is indeed struggling to attract young voters and those living in urban areas. Amongst the ten leading towns in Germany only Düsseldorf has a CDU mayor (Dirk Elbers). "If the CDU intends to remain popular, it must take on board changes in reality. We cannot simply say: it 's good because it has always been like this and this is why nothing should change,
" declared Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU).
Angela Merkel has however taken her party forwards pleading for example for the extension of homosexual rights or a rise in immigration which is proving vital to compensate for the decline in labour due to the low fertility rate - without however successfully convincing its members. On 22nd March last the Bundesrat, the upper chamber in the German Parliament, adopted a draft bill which gives homosexuals the right to marry and adopt, a text that still has to be adopted by the Bundestag. On 6th June the Federal Constitutional Court granted same sex couples identical fiscal rights on a par with heterosexual couples (a retroactive measure as of 2011). MPs approved this amendment on 27th June. Angela Merkel knows that she will not be able to put off a debate on this issue but her party, which is the only one to oppose same sex marriage and adoption, is still against any kind of development in this area.
Elections are not won on results, no matter how good they are. The outgoing Chancellor knows this, "Germany is doing well, Germans have to take advantage of this,
" she repeats. Her strength lies in the lack of any alternative to her programme - a lack which she carefully grooms as she works unrelentingly in reaping to her benefit themes and also opposition Social Democrat proposals: the capping of rents (a measure whose cost is estimated at around 25 billion €), the development of nurseries, improvements to the internet network etc .. Political analysts are ironic in their comments about the CDU's 127 page programme entitled "Together for the future of Germany
" which offers everything put forward by the SPD, less the tax increases.
Since, unlike the leftwing opposition, the CDU is against any rise in taxes. Another notable difference between the right and the left: Angela Merkel does not want a unitary minimum wage, which in her opinion would damage business competitiveness - instead she defends a minimum wage per activity sector and per Land. "Many countries in Europe have a much higher unemployment rate than us because wages and results at work differ greatly,
" she maintains.
The outgoing Chancellor has increased the bonuses granted to families. If she is re-elected to office she is promising an increase in mothers' retirement pensions (6 billion € have been budgeted for this). In January 2014 mothers of children born before 1992 (discriminated against in comparison with those who had children after this date) will receive an additional minimum pension of 650€ per year. Angela Merkel also promised a rise in family allowance of 35€ per month, i.e. 7.5 billion € in spending in order to boost the German birth rate. She also wants to invest in roads and urban development to a total of 25 million €.
No further debts, this is the CDU's main goal. "The consolidation of public finance and growth are two sides of the same coin when it comes to restoring confidence,
" declared Angela Merkel in Davos on 25th January last. "In my opinion there is no opposition between sound finance and growth,
" she indicated to the daily Le Monde
on 2nd July last.
Her party remains deeply attached to the independence of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the separation of the monetary and budgetary policies. The outgoing Chancellor believes that the European states should not receive "free" aid, i.e. without promising to adopt vital reform for the consolidation of their public finances. "Long term each country can only live on what it produces. Well being on credit is no longer possible. This has to be clear to everyone,
" indicated Angela Merkel. "I have always said that we should take one step at a time. We have already achieved some results: deficits have almost halved in Europe. It is not the time to lose our patience,
" she stressed in Le Monde
. "These are not German ideas but the precepts of a policy to guarantee the future. The reform policy and consolidation in support of growth are the focus of consensus across Europe and are based on the decisions adopted unanimously by the Member States,
" indicated Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble in an article published on the same date, 23rd July 2013.
The outgoing Chancellor is however trying to change the image of being the policeman of Europe which Germany has donned. To do this she chaired the European Conference to counter Unemployment that took place on 3rd July last in Berlin where she promised that Berlin would take on the training and employment of 5000 young people per year from Spain. Unemployment in Europe's southern state is of concern to the Germans because indeed it is a mid-term threat to the union of the euro zone. "Germany will only do well if Europe is doing well, this is why we have a leading responsibility to fulfil our duty," declared Angela Merkel.
Has the Social Democratic Opposition already lost?
The SPD has placed social justice at the heart of its programme. The party believes that the elections will be played out on wage equity, the reduction of under-paid, insecure jobs and greater justice in terms of access to education and the future of the healthcare system. "Freedom, justice, solidarity. I would like to be the Chancellor for these values,
" maintains Peer Steinbrück , the SPD's candidate for Chancellor. The theme of social justice does not mobilise the electorate very much as proven in previous electoral campaigns since voters struggle to believe that the opposition might be able to put an end to the present crisis or to manage it better than Angela Merkel. The Social Democrats are offering neither an economic model nor a social alternative nor a real project for credible emancipation during these times of reduced social mobility. Moreover Peer Steinbrück has always supported the reforms launched whilst Gerhard Schröder was in office. He has however promised the post of Labour and Social Affairs Minister to Klaus Wiesehügel, chair of the building, food industry and environment union IG Bau who is against pushing the age of retirement up to 67.
From an economic point of view the SPD is against the austerity policy imposed by Ms Merkel. "With you and many others in Germany and I want to leave stagnation behind for progress. After 22nd September I want to take responsibility for a more unified Europe in which we shall be good neighbours,
" declared Peer Steinbrück adding "we support budgetary consolidation but we want to complete it with growth.
" The Social Democrats believe that the reduction of economic imbalances in Europe should not be the sole responsibility of the States in deficit. "The surplus in our payments accounts are the deficits of the others; since the introduction of the euro we have cashed in 500 billion € more than we have spent. Like any other intelligent business leader we must invest some of it,
" declared the SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel. The main opposition party supports the coordination of the economic and fiscal policies of the euro zone States, banking reform, which would separate speculative activities from those of the retail bank and finally they support the creation of a European ratings agency.
The SPD wants to create a European Monetary Fund based on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) which would restructure the debts of States in deficit. Supporters of Eurobonds the Social Democrats want to introduce a tax on financial transactions. "Europe cannot function unless it stands by those in trouble,
" maintains Peer Steinbrück in an interview in the daily Le Monde
on 9th April. "Saving, and only saving - this will not solve the crisis for the countries in difficulty,
" he repeated on 17th August last in Berlin where he was celebrating the party's 150th anniversary.
The SPD is fighting for the introduction of a minimum salary of 8.50€/hour on 1st February 2014 (a measure that would involve 6.8 million employees across the country) and a solidarity retirement pension. "Not only is it fairer from a social point of view but it makes sense economically since it creates buying power,
" declared the SPD candidate who maintains that these measures would bring 7 billion € into the country (via an increase in taxes levied and the end of payment of certain allowances to the poorest workers). The Social Democrats want to develop the right to vocational training and increase the number of schools that can host children for the entire day in order to facilitate the lives of working parents. They also want to introduce quotas to enable women to access posts of responsibility and create a post of Secretary of State responsible for women and parity in the next government.
Peer Steinbrück is promising a reform of household taxation by abolishing the parental education allowance and re-introducing wealth tax by bringing the maximum tax rate up to 49% on revenues over 100,000€ (it lies at 42% on revenues over 53,000€ and 45% on those over 250,000€). The SPD wants to ban property owners from setting rents over 10% of the tariffs put forward in boroughs with the same type of housing and more widely they will not be allowed to increase rents by more than 15% over 4 years.
The Social Democrats want every child born in Germany to be able to become German and yet retain the nationality of his/her parents. Children born in Germany of foreign parents must indeed choose at the age of 18 between the German nationality and that of their parents. If they do not do this they obligatorily lose their German nationality at the age of 23. "I understand all of those who want to live long term in Germany without giving up their roots. We need a modern nationality code,
" declared Sigmar Gabriel, who said accepting dual nationality will be the first measure adopted by a leftwing government (allying the Social Democrats to the Ecologists). The polls show that the obligation to relinquish the nationality of their parents is one of the reasons why many young Turkish speakers living in Germany quit the country.
Peer Steinbrück was appointed as the Social Democrat candidate for the position of Chancellor on 28th September 2012. On 9th December his candidature was accepted unanimously by the party's leadership and confirmed by 93.45% of the vote during the party's congress in Hannover. Former Finance Minister in the grand coalition government led by Angela Merkel (2005-2009), Peer Steinbrück is a member of the SPD's rightwing. During the campaign he steered his discourse to the left partly encouraged by the Chancellor who excels in taking over proposals put forward by the Social Democrats. Although his excellent reputation as a manager and his experience as Germany's treasurer Peer Steinbrück has reassured the more centrist voters, the opposition party's programme adopted by the 600 delegates at the Augsburg congress, entitled "For a new balance in our country
" is considered to lie far to the left.
On his appointment Peer Steinbrück occupied much of the political landscape - not so much for his proposals for the future of the country but rather for the faux-pas (present or past) which even destabilised his own camp. At the beginning of the year the press revealed that his participation in various seminars and conferences had brought him 1.25 million € in revenues since November 2009. Peer Steinbrück also holds the record in parliament for the number of speeches delivered at external conferences (89 in all) and is the MP who received the highest amount of money in fees: conferences were paid at a rate of 14,065€ on average (7,314€ in real earnings after tax). Given this polemic the SPD candidate defended himself saying that there was nothing illegal in this activity and declared that he had donated part of his income to charitable organisations. He recalled that he had participated in 250 conferences, notably in schools without receiving any money at all. Peer Steinbrück has attended conferences during periods of parliamentary debate and has used his parliamentary membership card to travel there free of charge on public transport. "Doesn't this country have more important problems to debate than looking into the way I use my rail card?
" he asked.
Some weeks later Peer Steinbrück maintained that the German Chancellor was not paid enough. "Practically every director in a savings bank in North Rhine Westphalia earns more than the chancellor,
" he stressed. In February he used the term "clown
" to qualify Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Stars Movement (M5s) in Italy, and former President of the Italian Council Silvio Berlusconi (People's Party for Freedom, PdL), giving the impression that he was criticising the way the Italians had voted on 24th and 25th February. In the spring we learnt that the family in whose living room he sat for the recording of a TV programme was in fact part of that of an SPD leader and that the woman hosting the opposition candidate was a party member herself.
Finally on 4th August last Peer Steinbrück did not hesitate to say that Angela Merkel had had "a personal and political socialisation that was totally different from the Germans who had experienced European integration since the beginning of the 1950's
" when speaking of the chancellor's lack of passion for European policy. These comments were interpreted as stigmatisation by the population from the eastern part of the country, causing a scandal and quite paradoxically the Left Party found itself ardently defending the Chancellor.
Hence the SPD candidate has made many faux-pas and clumsy blunders but the most serious has undoubtedly been the dissension which has emerged on several occasions between the various leaders of the party. Peer Steinbrück also had to call for "everyone, including the party's chairman to rally loyally and constructively over the next 100 days behind the candidate for the chancellery and his campaign
" in the daily Der Spiegel.
Undeniably the SPD candidate is suffering from a weak image, notably amongst women. If the CDU leader is more popular than her party, the opposite is true in terms of the SPD. Peer Steinbrück faces two major problems: on the one hand he as to highlight how his offer differs and put forward an alternative programme without criticising the extremely popular Angela Merkel and on the other he has to convince the electorate that his party has a real growth strategy that can guarantee greater social justice thanks to a better distribution of the revenues of labour, since the time of redistribution via social transfers is now over.
Who will be kingmaker?
The Free Democratic Party at the crossroads
Created in 1948 and the kingmaker for many years in the German elections, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which achieved its highest score in the 2009 election (14.6% of the vote) is now fighting for survival. In part it holds the key to the elections. The FDP candidate to the chancellery is Rainer Brüderle.
In Germany the FDP is the only party to promote individual freedom and responsibility like it would a market which is a difficult position at a time when citizens, affected by the socio-economic crisis, are asking for greater State involvement. The FDP wants a relaxation and simplification of the tax regime and is against the introduction of a minimum salary, synonymous in the long term of greater poverty. It even said in July that it was against the extension of the solidarity tax put forward by the outgoing Chancellor (Solidarritätszuschlag
), introduced in 1991 to help the development of the eastern part of the country and which ordinarily is due to disappear in 2010. This tax brought in 13.6 billion € in 2012.
Liberal from both the economic and social point of view the party's leader, Philipp Rösler says he supports the acceptance of dual nationality in Germany: "Finding labour is one of the greatest challenges to the German economy. National citizens will not be enough to cover our needs. I am convinced that we shall need more qualified labour from abroad. And dual nationality is an additional factor to attract that labour,
" he stressed.
The party also supports equality of same sex couples. According to Jack Janes, chair of the Institute for Contemporary German Studies and the Johns Hopkins University "10% of the Germans are philosophically liberal.
Rainer Brüderle maintains that Peer Steinbrück's programme would cost the country 40 billion € because of the tax increases he is advocating. The head of the FDP's list is trying to frighten certain voters by saying that to form a government the Social Democrats would in fact be obliged to join forces with the Left Party to achieve an absolute majority.
The two rightwing parties seem in fact to be sharing roles in the electoral campaign: the CDU aims to attract the electorate in the centre (and those on the left who might be disappointed by Peer Steinbrück) whilst the FDP is trying to convince those Germans more on the right and those who might be tempted by the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a euro-sceptic party created by Bernd Lucke. The ideal situation for Angela Merkel (and for the Liberals) would be for the majority of voters to use their first vote for the CDU and the second for the FDP.
Are the Greens going to benefit from the revival of ecological awareness?
After experiencing a slight downturn in the polls at the beginning of 2013, notably threatened by the Pirate Party, the Greens have now caught up in the polls. The party achieved several satisfactory results during this legislature which is now coming to an end. For the first time ever they held the leadership of a Land - Baden-Württemberg - where Winfried Kretschmann, has been Minister-President since the regional elections on 27th March 2011. They also won the town-hall of Stuttgart, Germany's 6th biggest town, where Fritz Kuhn became the first ecologist mayor of a regional capital on 12th October 2012.
On 17th and 18th November last during the party's congress in Hannover, Cem Ozdemir and Claudia Roth were re-elected as the ecologists' leaders for the next two years. However the latter was rejected during the primary elections that took place in the same month to appoint the heads of list in the electoral campaign. 15 candidates were running - Jürgen Trittin, leader of the Greens parliamentary group and representative of the party's leftwing and Katrin Göring-Eckardt, deputy leader of the Bundestag and representative of the rightwing won the election.
Formerly a party of protest the Greens became a government party in 1998 and are now the most bourgeois party in Germany: their electorate are the most qualified and have revenues higher than the German average. The first ecologists have aged: 80% of them were under 35 in 1980 against only one third of them at present. They have succeeded professionally and are socially well adjusted: in 1980 more than 2/3 of them (70%) deemed their personal economic situation as "bad"; 60% of them now declare that they are satisfied. Although they have slipped to the right the Greens are different from other bourgeois voters in that they defend liberal values: defence of the environment of course, but multi-culturalism, male/female equality and equal rights for all couples.
Although the ecologists invited SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel to their congress on 26th and 28th April in Berlin (and Claudia Roth was one of the guests at the SPD congress in Augsburg on 13th and 14th April) it is not entirely impossible that 2013 will be herald the end of the exclusive alliance of the ecologists with the SPD. More than half of the party's members (54%) say they can imagine governing with the CDU led by Angela Merkel.
The party is still divided between the supporters of market liberalism and those who are more in favour of strengthening the Welfare State. For her part the outgoing Chancellor declared in the newspaper, Bild am Sonntag last spring: "Our relationship with the Greens has developed. We can say that is has normalised. Whilst in the past there were insurmountable differences, the tone is now different and dialogue is simple.
" The issue of taxation (the Greens support an increase in taxes) is however a major difference between the two parties and Angela Merkel would certainly only choose to govern with the Greens as a last resort.
We should note that in the federal elections of 1998 and 2002 more than half of the Green electorate voted first for the SPD against only one third in 2009.
The ecologists support the introduction of a minimum salary (of 8.50€ per hour) and an increase in taxes. They want to raise the maximum threshold of 42% to 49% on revenues over an annual 80,000€ and progressively introduce wealth tax starting with a levy of 1% on wealth over 1 million €. They want to reassess the Hartz 4 allowance paid to the long term unemployed and to guarantee a pension of 850€ monthly for those who have worked over 30 years or who have raised children.
The Greens would also like to step up energy transition and would like renewable energies to cover all electricity consumption by 2030 and in 2040 transport and heating consumption. Renewable energies cover slightly less than 20% of Germany's requirements at present.
What is the future for the Left Party?
The Left Party (Die Linke) achieved extremely mitigated results during the last regional elections. It was chased out of several regional parliaments, notably in western Germany and became a party of the Länder again in the former GDR (and in the Saarland).
The party has also been shaken on several occasions and notably because of serious allegations of anti-Semitism. Its leadership insisted on including Israel's right to exist in its electoral programme in these elections. Recently its former leader Oskar Lafontaine asked for the relinquishment of the euro in order to help the countries in the south of Europe. "The Germans have not yet admitted that Europeans in the south, including the French will, sooner or later, be forced by their present misery to battle with German hegemony,
" declared who he was Finance Minister at the time when the euro was adopted. "In the 1990's I thought that wage coordination oriented towards productivity was possible and I agreed with the creation of the euro; however the last few years have shown that such a policy has no chance of being implemented,
" indicated Oskar Lafontaine in justification of his change in position over the single currency.
The Left Party indicated that the opinions of its former leader, who is not running in the elections, do not reflect the party line.
The Left Party adopted an electoral programme which is 100% social during its congress in Dresden on 14th and 16th June last. It has been estimated at 180 billion €. The party is suggesting to bring the upper income tax band up to 53% and to make an exceptional European levy of 75% on the share of revenues and wealth over 1million €, measures which in its opinion would bring in 10 billion € and enable an increase in the Hartz 4 allowance from 382€ to 500€ per month and create a minimum pension of 1050€. The party supports the introduction of a minimum salary of 10€ per hour (which would be raised to 12€ in 2017) and is asking for the nationalisation of the banks and a reduction in working hours down to 30 hours weekly.
On a European level the Left Party wants the introduction of eurobonds and the democratic control of the ECB. It is asking for the adoption of a common social policy by the Economic and Monetary Union.
A supporter of the abolition of NATO it wants to ban all involvement by the Bundeswehr abroad and all deliveries of arms by Berlin.
A new political offer
The Alternative for Germany (AfD)
"We want to put an end to the outrageous infringement of democracy, legal and economic principles that we have experienced over the last three years because Angela Merkel's government maintains that there is no alternative solution,
" maintains Bernd Lucke, the co-founder and spokesperson of the new party, created on 6th February last by Frauke Petry, Konrad Adam and Bernd Lucke. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), is a name selected in response to the outgoing Chancellor. "Now there is an alternative solution,
" repeats Bernd Lucke. The latter was a CDU member for 33 years before leaving the party in 2011 after the approval of the plan to save the euro.
The AfD, which believes that the country is undergoing the most serious crisis in its history, is based on three key elements: Berlin must no longer guarantee the debts of the other Member States; the single currency must be relinquished ("dissolved" in a controlled and gradual manner, with each State being free to quit the euro, enter into another monetary association or to introduce its own parallel currency) and a referendum must be organised regarding any further relinquishment of sovereignty by Germany to the European Union. The AfD believes that the euro zone brings together powerful national economies which are too different. The abolition of the euro would enable the creation of more flexible regional monetary unions that would bring together countries with the same economic power as Germany. Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Austria might rally in a northern euro zone. "Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Portugal and in all likelihood France should leave the euro,
" maintained Bernd Lucke in the magazine Focus on 22nd April last adding "if the euro disappears Europe would not disappear however Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble would fall.
The members of the AfD want to put a stop to all financial aid to countries in the euro zone which are not trying to manage their public finances. "We merely give money to those who have accumulated the most debt and not to the poor,
" stresses Bernd Lucke. "We must fight for the good of all rather than find solution that benefits a certain number of countries, including Germany whilst others are suffering,
" he also said.
The AfD is also campaigning for a simplification of the tax system, an immigration policy that will attract the most talented, the commitment of German troops outside of NATO and it is against the subsidised policy in support of renewable energies which, in the party's opinion, costs the Germans a great deal of money.
The party might convince the electorate two thirds of whom are against the payment of financial aid to the bad boys in the euro zone, but the Germans are mainly supportive of the single currency (70%). However even without achieving the 5% threshold of votes cast, which are obligatory to be represented in parliament, the AfD might handicap the outgoing chancellor. Its presence in the political debate obliges Angela Merkel to maintain her policy line and reject any relaxation in her European policy before the elections.
The AfD does however suffer from a problem of positioning: the picture of Bernd Lucke on the front page of the weekly Der Spiegel with the leader of the Left Party was certainly not the best idea for the party's campaign. Recent comments by Lucke, who deplores the electorate's ignorance ("Only a minority of people worry about major issues and understand them to a certain degree. When you speak with people in the street we have seen that around 20% of the electorate are really interested in the economy and the euro and even then they only have approximate knowledge,
" he regretted) will not strengthen the party's popularity. "They have not found the right person to lead them,
" indicated Manfred Güllner, director of the pollster Forsa when speaking of the AfD.
"The Pirates express the discontent that comes from the very heart of German society, which is frustrated with the political debate,
" analyses Stefan Seidendorf of the Franco-German Institute of Ludwigsburg. Undoubtedly it is for this very reason, their successes based on the electorate's discontent, remain fragile. Their electorate, who increasingly appreciate that their candidates really embody the values they are defending, like the way the pirates do politics: little ideology but freshness and authenticity in their beliefs and their programme - together with a weak hierarchical organisation. The pirates are asking for total freedom on the internet; free public transport; the renationalisation of the water, gas and electricity networks; free access to culture and information; a maximum of 15 pupils per class; the right to vote as of 14 years of age; free school canteens; a basic salary guaranteed for all and the privatisation of religion.
The Pirate Party (P) emerged in Germany in May 2009 when a petition was launched on the net by Franziska Heine who was against the government's project to deny internet access to suspected paedophiles. The text collated 134,000 signatures and was delivered to the Bundestag before the government finally gave up its project. The party claims to have 30,000 members half of whom come from the Greens, the FDP and the Left Party. Bernd Schlömer, an executive civil servant in the Defence Ministry is their leader elected by 66% of the vote.
Although they made their debut in four regional parliaments after elections in the Länder over the last two years the pirates do have two major handicaps: they put forward very few real political proposals and do not seem very well prepared to exercise power nor to manage crises which is sometimes necessary as in any organisation. Participation in power is incidentally an open question to them.
The German Political System
The German Parliament is bicameral, comprising a lower Chamber, the Bundestag and an upper Chamber, the Bundesrat.
The elections, whereby the members of the Bundestag are appointed, take place every four years according to a mixed system that combines the single majority vote and the proportional list vote. Every voter can cast two votes. The first of these (Erststimme
) enables the voter to make a single choice and appoint a candidate as MP in the constituency (Wahlkreis
) where he lives (the country has 299 constituencies); the MPs elected in this manner win a direct mandate ranging from two seats in Bremen, four in the Saarland up to 64 in North Rhine Westphalia. The second vote (Zweitstimme
) enables the voter to choose a political party represented on a list of candidates across the "Land
" (Germany has sixteen Länder
). The seats are attributed according to the Sainte-Lagüe method. The percentage of the second vote decides on the number of seats that are given proportionally to each party and ultimately the balance of power between the parties in the Bundestag. 323 MPs were elected in this way in 2009 and 315 in 2005.
Only the parties which have won over 5% of the votes cast nationally or with three direct mandates on a single vote can be represented in the Bundestag. If a political party wins more direct mandates in a Land than the number of seats granted to it according to the number of second votes it still retains the number of surplus mandates (Überhangmandate
). This explains why the number of members in the Bundestag is variable.
On 2nd July last the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe deemed the system of additional mandates unconstitutional if they number rose beyond 15. The law was modified so that national additional mandates could be compensated for so that the Bundestag would reflect as best possible the distribution of the second vote. This new rule might bring the number of MPs sitting in the Bundestag up to 650 or even 700.
34 political parties are running in the elections on 22nd September next 9 of which are represented in the present Parliament and are running in the 16 Länder. The German electoral system aims to guarantee a stable parliamentary majority and to avoid the fragmentation of the political landscape which the country suffered under the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), when most parties represented in Parliament made the formation of a government almost impossible. The present system makes it almost impossible for a party to form a government alone.
In 1949, 11 political parties were represented in the Bundestag, in 1957 there were only four and only 3 between 1961 and 1983 (with the CDU and the CSU forming just one party this comprised the SPD, CDU/CSU and the FDP). In 1983 the Greens succeeded in rising over the 5% threshold of votes cast and entered Parliament - they were followed in 1990 by the Democratic Socialism Party (PDS), which was born of the Unified Socialist Party (SED) from the former GDR (the former communist MPs entered the Bundestag one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall) - the PDS was the Left Party's predecessor.
6 political parties are represented in the Bundestag:
– the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), founded in 1945, led by outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel in office since 2005 - 194 MPs;
– Christian Social Union (CSU), created in 1946 and led since the end of 2008 by Minister President of Bavaria Horst Seehofer - has co-operated electorally with the CDU since 1953. According to their agreement the CDU does not put any candidates forward in Bavaria and the CSU only runs in this Land
. The CSU has 45 seats;
– the Social Democratic Party (SPD) founded in 1863, is Germany's oldest political party - led by Sigmar Gabriel - 146 MPs;
– the Free Democratic Party (FDP), created in 1948, led by Philipp Rösler - was for a long time the kingmaker in the German elections. It took part in all of the CDU governments in the 1980's and 1990's ; in the 1970's it also took part in the government coalitions led by the SPD. It has 93 seats;
– the Left Party (Die Linke) - a far left movement - formed on 16th June 2007 after the merger of the Democratic Socialism Party (PDS), that came from the Unified Socialist Party (SED) of the former GDR, with the Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG), a movement created on 22nd January 2005, which brings together the former communist elite and those disappointed by social democracy. Led by Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, the party has 46 MPs;
– the Greens formed after the merger in 1993 of the Alliance 1990 –a civic rights movement in the former GDR and the Ecologist Party - 68 seats.
The German parliament also has an upper Chamber, the Bundesrat, comprising members of the governments of the 16 Länder. Each region has at least three votes; those with more than 2 million inhabitants have four votes; those with more than 6 million, 5 votes and finally those with more than 7 million have 6 votes. In all the Bundesrat has 69 members.
The most recent poll by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen , published on 17th August last forecasts that the CDU will win 41% of the vote on 22nd September far ahead of the SPD, which is due to win 25%. The Greens are due to come third with 13%. The Left Party is due to win 8% of the vote and the FDP only 5%. Together the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats are due to win 46% of the vote - against 38% for the left (social democrats and greens). "Those who think that these elections have already been decided upon and that Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor whatever happens may find things very different after the polling stations close. The result of the election is everything but certain,
" stressed the outgoing Chancellor. The poll published by ZDF television can but confirm her fears since this revealed that nearly three-quarters of the electorate (72%) were not ruling out choosing a party other than the one they say they are going to vote for on the day.
"The federal elections are always played out in the last six weeks,
" maintains Nils Diederich, a political expert from the Free University of Berlin. The last month in the campaign will therefore be decisive.