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Germany on the campaign trail

by Jerome a Paris Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 05:49:05 AM EST

It's not the holidays for everybody this month in Germany:

Schroder hits campaign trail to sway voters

With fewer than 50 days until the September 18 election, Gerhard Schröder, Germany's embattled chancellor, took to the campaign trail on Wednesday night, accusing the election favourites, the opposition Christian Democrats, of "being unfit to govern".

Looking bronzed and unusually rested after a short holiday, Mr Schröder told a rally of his Social Democratic party in Hamburg that globalisation and an ageing population meant there was no alternative to his government's tough - but unpopular - welfare and labour market reforms.

"We fought for these and it's worth fighting to continue them," he said. But among the cheering supporters in this working-class quarter were hecklers to remind Mr Schröder that he is on the defensive. "You're destroying the welfare state," shouted a man with a middle finger raised.

So unpopular are the reforms, pushed through by the coalition between the SPD and Green party, that the two combined trail the conservative opposition of Christian Democrats and Liberals by 15 percentage points in national polls.


But to remind voters of reductions in state benefits or to flag new measures could infuriate his party's left wing and further boost the new Left party, a thriving alliance of east German former communists and dissident Social Democrats.

Nevertheless, a gravely weakened SPD could still return to government after September 18. The conservative bloc of Christian Democrats and Liberals is now teetering at 50 per cent in some polls. Should it fail to gain a majority of the vote, only a "grand coalition" of Christian and Social Democrats could control parliament.


This has divided the SPD's grandees and spurred a vociferous debate about the best outcome for the party on voting day: opposition or grand coalition?

Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, argues that an alliance of left and right would agree only on lowest common denominators and thus hinder further reforms. "The SPD would lose its profile and many voters would drift to the left and abandon us," he said. The new Left party was, after all, already sapping the SPD's strength.

I have a question for our German readers on this:

Does this represent a shift away from the center and towards their "hardcore" bases for both parties, or general move to the right of the German electorate, with a strong reaction against this from the harder part of the left? Or is it just a movement against Schroeder?

I think most swing voters are just fed up with how things are going, lost faith in Schröder, and go to the CDU for lack of alternatives. Most people don't consider the new Left party an alternative, and in a poll I saw last week, even most of its likely voters don't, and intend their vote as protest vote. (Now, I don't think the CDU is any better, but that's my opinion.)

However, Schröder pretty much destroyed the SPD from the inside. Partly members left in droves over the past few years - no real "hardcore" base left behind. I think neither party focuses much on wooing the hardcore base anyway, both now try to appear as the pragmaticist who is up to making hard decisions. (Which are bad ecisions and no solution, but that's my opinion.) But that means a general shift to the right - by the political elite.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 06:08:35 AM EST
And why are the Greens not profiting from this?
I've heard of the visa scandal at the Foreign Affairs Ministry (visa given much too easily to Eastenr European nationals, including what turned out to be human trafficking rings) that has really embarrassed Joshka Fischer (the minister and leader of ther Greens), nut is that enough to explian their mediocre recent performance? Or am I missing something?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 06:23:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the Greens are having a problem motivating people other than the base.  I've just read through their (incredibly boring) election manifesto and it reads like a leftist wet dream: a welfare states with a basic support (health, pensions and also basic living) for all, emphasizing honorary social work, and moving towards a society where everybody works less, so everybody has at least some work, along with a strong overarching commitment to sustainability.

However, they really have a low profile in all welfare things and their manifesto is awfully short on numbers and specific details.  This, along with the fact, that they helped push through the latest SPD reforms makes them pretty unattractive for disappointed SPD voters.  Which is really sad, because if anybody is looking for a strong left party, the Greens are the obvious choice, IMHO.

I'm not really sure about the implications of the visa scandal. Joshka Fischer was our most popular polutician in the last 7 years with a 70+ approval rating and he's tanked a little.  The Greens however stayed pretty much at 8%, no loss, but also no gains.

by hesk on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 11:06:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, by "incredibly boring" I meant the style, not the substance.  I was quite astonished to read such a strong commitment to leftist ideals there.
by hesk on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 11:09:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(After all, they were my first conscious political allegiation when I was in Germany, would vote for them if I moved back there, and they are the pushers of alternative energies and feed-in laws I praised here...)

hesk: by "incredibly boring" I meant the style, not the substance.

I'm relieved to read :-)

In the last few years, I saw a few polls on German voters' desires regarding the best party combination to govern. It was indeed distressing to see that for most voters as well as most SPD voters, a Grand Coalition or Union/FDP was preferred to anything with Green involvement - even tough, as I saw it, most successes of the Schröder government were tied to the Greens, and most failures to the SPD.

On the other hand, as you write, the Realo wing rule had some unfortunate effects. The Greens used to be taunted for being dreamy-eyed crusties, but now come the yuppies - the guy representing the Greens on TV debates I saw before the Schleswig-Holstein elections threw me off, he would have fitted perfectly into Westerwelle's Spaßpartei...

Anyway, I wish them well, and if they will have to be the opposition of a Grand Coalition, I hope the result will be double digits for them in the next state elections.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 02:26:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, fortunately, the Realo wing in the Green Party still consists of a lot of dreamers, so much is evident from the manifesto.  And if you look at what they have achieved (or tried to achive) in the last 7 years, they realized some of the dreams.  Ie, exiting nuclear energy, a new citizenship law, an eco-levy on energy, strong consumer protection laws and so on.  I'm a bit disappointed that there are so few specifics in the manifesto, I'll have to take a look at their web site to find out more details about their proposals.

The problem with the Greens is that they fail to inspire anybody that is not already voting for them.  They are also very much a western party, except for Berlin they have a very weak showing in the east.  Maybe they should work more on the local level (like the PDS in the east) to draw more people towards them.

by hesk on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 04:00:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL The Greens are the party I tend to identify with in Germany as well. But unlike you my sympathies gravitate towards the Realo wing.
by MarekNYC on Sat Aug 6th, 2005 at 01:50:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the fight between the Realo and the Fundi wings of the Greens is long over.  The winner being the realistic dreamers (such as me).
by hesk on Sat Aug 6th, 2005 at 04:25:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've also wondered at the Greens' seeming inability to move much past their base.

I'm curious as to whether the Left Party is any closer to being seen as a viable coalition partner or are they still as untouchable? Would a SPD-Green-Left coalition be possible?

by gradinski chai on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 08:06:16 AM EST
Neither the SPD nor the Left want a coalition.  The Left Party just said today that they don't want a coalition in the short term, but maybe in the long term.  The SPD elite has ruled out a coalition, however, to put things in perpective, they did the same years ago, just before the SPD and PDS were forming partnerships in some eastern states.
by hesk on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 10:55:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read a few minutes ago that the Left Party even ruled out the outside support of a minority government.

By the way, hesk, what do you think would be less bad: a Grand Coalition or CDU/CSU/FDP? (On the short-term, on the long-term?) What difference would it make to Europe?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 02:29:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some choice quotes (translated by me) from a recent Spiegel Online article (Link):

The Left Party wants to achieve a "different intellectual climate" in Germany, said Gysi at the introduction of the election manifesto. The other partys are all dominated by the neo-liberal zeitgeist and assume that by reducing taxes for corperations and high earners the economy would be stimulated, said Gysi.  This is a dead end.


Gysi ruled out a coalition with the SPD in the "foreseeable future." "We cannot tolerate a neo-liberal policy", said the top candiate. This applies both to the policies of the CDU candidate Angela Merkel and of chancellor Schröder (SPD).  "But we have not lost the hope, that the Social Democrats will find back to their actual values.  But this won't happen over night."  Things might be different in 2009.

BTW, in the same article they write that Gysi and Lafontaine have said that if the rich citizens would pay as much taxes as they pay in the US, Germany would have 50 billion Euro more each year.  Is this for real?  After Bush's tax cuts?

As to what's better, CDP+FDP or grand coalition, I don't know, I don't like either very much.

by hesk on Fri Aug 5th, 2005 at 04:15:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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