Democrats & Liberals Archives

Die Wahl 2005

On Sunday, Germans go to the polls to choose their next Chancellor. The process if very different from how we select Presidents, but many of the debates and issues would seem at home in America. If all goes as expected, the leadership of Germany will be different, but it’s possible that nothing will change.

The main competitors for the Chancellorship are the incumbent Gerhard Schröder of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Angela Merkel of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU). Most observers expect Schröder not to be re-elected, with Merkel taking his job. However, the electoral system in Germany is more complicated than America's (even considering the Electoral College), so some interesting things might happen.

Germany has a complex parliamentary system, so the voters will actually be casting two votes, neither for Chancellor. One vote is for a local representative member of the Bundestag and the other is for their preferred party (more details from Wikipedia). The Chancellor will be the person who can build a large enough coalition in the Bundestag to have at least 50% support. Because "third parties" are much stronger in Germany than they are in America, the success of those parties will be instrumental in determining who the Chancellor will be and the government that the Chancellor will be able to form.

For example, the SPD didn't have enough representation in parliament by itself after the last two election, so they've been allied with the Green Party. Currently the SPD is polling at about 34% and the Greens at about 7%, so that coalition most certainly will not continuing governing the country. They would come close to the necessary majority if the formed a coalition with the formerly-Communist Left Party (polling at about 8%), but that's unlikely because the SPD does not want to make that coalition.

On the other side, the CDU/CSU is polling at about 42% and their coalition allies, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), are polling at about 7%. The total of 49% is just shy of the necessary total to make a governing coalition.

Other minor parties take up the last few percentage points that either coalition would need to be able to govern.

So, the result seen as most likely (but desired by no one) is that the next government will have to be a "Grand Coalition" of the SPD and the CDU/CSU. Merkel would be selected as the Chancellor since her party had the most seats, but she would lead a weak, divided government. Schröder would probably return to the private sector. The only previous German government to have such a coalition was Kurt Georg Kiesinger's utterly forgettable tenure in the late 1960's. Merkel would very much like to avoid such a scenario, because a Grand Coalition would be too divided to make significant changes in Germany's course.

The changes Germany needs most are economic. Germany's economy is not doing well. It's not a bad situation when compared to most Asian, Latin American, or African economies, of course, but Germany is not keeping pace with its European peers. For example, Germany is currently last in the EU in terms of job creation; according to the CDU/CSU numbers, Germany lost 1000 jobs/week last year. Additionally, with the expansion of the EU to include poorer eastern neighbors, Germans feel a lot of pressure about losing their jobs to lower-paying competitors in Bucharest, Krakow, etc.

It was largely these economic concerns that lead to having the election this year. Unlike America, in which federal elections happen at regular intervals defined by the Constitution, elections in Germany can happen at any time within a four-year period. Typically, the elections are almost fully four years apart so that the ruling party keeps hold of their power as long as possible. This time, however, Schröder called an early election because state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia gave surprising support to the CDU/CSU because of the week economy, weakening the SPD in Berlin to the point that Schröder had lost his mandate. He called early elections on the hope that he would be able to take advantage of his greater name-recognition and electoral experience and eke out a victory against the favored Merkel. Most likely, the strategy will fail.

If Merkel wins, the biggest change could be in taxation and fiscal policy. The German economy is currently a "social market economy", meaning that they have sacrificed some financial growth and agility in order to maintain a high standard of living for all. In many ways, this has been remarkably successful, as Germans have significantly more vacation, better health care, lower infant mortality, and more social services in general than Americans have. However, after the €1.25 trillion cost of reunifying East and West, some are questioning the approach. Ireland and the United Kingdom have had much better economic growth the past few years than countries like Germany and France by allowing their economies to be more flexible while providing less security to individuals. Rejection of this approach (called neo-liberalism and often derided as "heartless" or "American") was one of the primary reasons that the French voted against the EU Constitution in May.

One specific change proposed by Merkel's controversial shadow Finance Minister, Paul Kirchhof, would drop Germany's complicated income tax system in favor of a flat 25% tax. Given the reaction to such proposals in American, one can imagine the responses this proposal has received here, from enthusiastic approval by the free-market-oriented FDP (motto: "as much government as needed, as little government as possible!") and strident opposition from the formerly-Communist Left Party.

Interesting side stories abound in the election. For example, will left-leaning women vote against their party to support Merkel, the first women ever to be a major candidate for Chancellor in Germany? How comfortable will the traditionally conservative and Catholic CDU/CSU be if they are lead by a coalition with FDP since Merkel is a divorced Protestant woman, and the leader of the FDP, Guido Westerwelle, is gay?

As an American expatriate living temporarily in Germany, I found watching the process to be interesting. The election cycle here is much shorter than it is in the U.S., so there seems to be much less time for fund-raising and mud-slinging here than in the U.S. I've seen only a few TV commercials, and none of them have been attack ads like we saw last year in Bush-Kerry. The primary means of promoting candidates seem to be setting up tables and tents in public spaces and posters. Often, there are posters on every tree or lamppost for a block, and sometimes there are huge billboards.

I also watched the second and final debate a couple days ago with a few Germans. Instead of simply pairing Schröder and Merkel, this debate also included the leaders of their respective potential coalition partners. My German isn't good enough to have understood it all, but they talked a lot about the economy, immigration, and Iraq. The candidates all made points that made my hosts nod in agreement or hoot in laughter. More importantly, the candidates answered the questions they were asked and often talked directly to each other.

I was jealous. I wish our debates were that useful. I also like the idea of having the election on a Sunday (when few people work) instead of on a Tuesday.

In all likelihood, the Chancellorship of Germany will change next week. Angela Merkel will be the next Chancellor of Germany, but she might be saddled with a large, ungainly, and unstable coalition that means that Germany will continue having trouble addressing its economic and foreign policy issues.

(poll numbers from here)

Posted by LawnBoy at September 15, 2005 9:38 AM
Comments
Comment #80617

Good post LawnBoy. I’m sure nobody in the US cares, but it’s big news here in Singapore.

One of the possibilities is a Grand Coalition with the SPD and the CDU forming a joint government.

Can you imagine a Republican/Democrat government, where Democrats get Defense and Treasury, and the Republicans get State and Homeland Security. Yikes!

Posted by: American Pundit at September 15, 2005 10:57 AM
Comment #80621

It is so alien to our winner take all methodology, imagine building coalitions instead of partisan politics. Not that they always play nice but they are forced to play together.

Posted by: vague at September 15, 2005 11:32 AM
Comment #80682

It’s also interesting because governments can fall at any time. In America, the President (at least is party) is guaranteed 4 years in control of the government. It’s just not true in parliamentary systems.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 15, 2005 2:42 PM
Comment #80721

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how those Euoropean countries who the American left holds up as ideal, are such economic basket cases.

Raging unemployment, rampant and uncontrolled immigration, growth-stifling tax systems—what exactly are we supposed to like about this?

Posted by: sanger at September 15, 2005 4:41 PM
Comment #80766

Lawnboy,

Didn’t Merkel’s numbers plunge because of the flat tax proposal? She was odds-on to win this election a week or two ago, but since then she’s plummeted.

To what extent is Germany’s problem still linked to the reunification?

Posted by: Paul at September 15, 2005 6:40 PM
Comment #80815

Reunification is definitely a factor. The burden of absorbing a massive population without modern job skills, and the inheritance of East Germany’s crumbling infrastructure, has lingering effects.

But on the other hand, if you have pro-growth economic policies and incentives in place, these problems are surmountable. Look at India. They have similiar obstacles in bringing their population and infrastructure into the modern world, and on a far greater scale than Germany’s. But their economy is booming. So what’s the difference?

Germany, basically. Europe, basically. The population’s demand to work few hours, take long vacations, and let anybody and everybody from around the world arrive and go on the public dole.
While meanwhile taxing to death any person or corporation which shows signs of life.

“What, you want to work? Great. The rest of us don’t. Now hand over your cash.”

Posted by: sanger at September 15, 2005 10:21 PM
Comment #80821

Good article, Lawnboy. No comment really. I would be glad to be rid of Schroeder and Fischer, but as you indicate, they may be hanging around like a fart in a phone booth for a long time to come.

The Germans are in serious trouble. It is a gentile, slow motion collapse, but it is a collapse nevertheless.

Do you read David Medienkritik (http://medienkritik.typepad.com/blog/)?

Posted by: Jack at September 15, 2005 10:44 PM
Comment #80827

It’s not just Germany, though. It’s all of Western Europe (with the exception, maybe, of Ireland).
The reason this discussion has been confined to Germany is that they have an upcoming election which has drawn attention to the problem.

When Donald Rumsfeld made his famous comment about “Old Euorope” the reason it got so much attention is that it touched what so many know in their hearts know but don’t want to face. And it also explains the displacement of so much anger on the US, although we’re actually a friend to Europe and will always support them in the end.

Germany will either undergo radical and painful changes or continue its slide toward third-world status. The Germans and other Western Europeans know this, but so far cannot summon the will to draw back from their failed self-destructive socialist-utopian experiment.

For their sake (and all of ours—because Europe is still a treasure trove of culture and thought) let’s hope they’ll get their act together before its too late.

Posted by: sanger at September 15, 2005 11:05 PM
Comment #80830

Indeed. Germany and the rest of Europe should be like the US where the poor are left behind to die in hurricanes while the rich flee.

Oh wait. That’s right. It’s the poor’s fault they all died!!! Isn’t that right, sanger?

Posted by: Aldous at September 15, 2005 11:10 PM
Comment #80832

sanger, not correct. It is not western Europe. It is a few larger countries mired deeply in the transition to global on demand economic relationships and caught with the pendulum swung too far left on social programs. The majority of W. European countries are making these transitions without the huge negative effects being experienced by the UK, France and Germany who are the biggest economic engines in the EU. France is actually making progress in fits and starts. The UK has adjusted its course again and again under Blair and is actually moving closer to a sustainable and more stable mixed economy allowing it to compete globally without foresaking its citizens. Their immigration control initiatives are going to have long range beneficial effects that won’t be realized for another 5 years or so, but their ship of state is actually turning.

I think it is a mistake for one to look at European countries through the lens of the EU. Each of their member countries has their own unique set of problems and strengths, and you are painting European countries with too broad a brush as if they were a United States of Europe. They aren’t. They are much more a coop, than and union of states, and each must be assessed individually. When they are assessed individually, the data indicates most are actually economically more viable in their futures than the U.S. is.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 15, 2005 11:19 PM
Comment #80834

Oh, good. Aldous is here.

To Aldous: How many actually are known to have died in New Orleans as the result of Katrina?
Media-hype aside. Nancy Pelosi’s talking points aside. Howard Dean’s shrieks aside. How many?

Got a number? Okay, now how many died in the French heat wave while their family members were sunning their bellies on the beach and Mr. Chirac was counting his UN oil-for-food dollars? Google it if you have to.

Compare the numbers. Therein lies the answer to your question.

Posted by: sanger at September 15, 2005 11:24 PM
Comment #80838

sanger:

Interesting that you limit your dead to a single city while require the entire body count of France in comparison…

Since you don’t watch the news, they are still counting the bodies. To be fair, let us include the dead in all three States affected, eh?

By the way. Since you brought it up…. Whatever happened to the 8 BILLION DOLLARS of Iraqi Money the US misplaced? A lot of Republican Crooks/Politicians/Supporters must be very wealthy indeed after that one. Wonder when the Investigation starts?

Posted by: Aldous at September 15, 2005 11:42 PM
Comment #80842

Okay, let’s compare all deaths in all American states to those in all of France. To be fair.

Or if you prefer, limit it to a comparison of the over 5,000 in Paris alone to the 700 in New Orleans alone.

To make it easier, let’s ignore the fact that the roads to New Orleans were underwater and people were TRYING to reach victims while everybody who was supposed to be taking care of Paris’s victims were sipping beer on the beach.

Posted by: sanger at September 16, 2005 12:10 AM
Comment #80850

sanger said: “Oh, good. Aldous is here.”

That got a chuckle out of me! Thanks.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 16, 2005 12:54 AM
Comment #80851

sanger:

The heat wave in France was an unexpected event. I am sure that if the French had 3 days warning, they would have done far better than the US. As for the vacation time, maybe the US should remove Thanksgiving and Christmas? Then the US would have NO vacations at all.

Posted by: Aldous at September 16, 2005 1:03 AM
Comment #80852

sanger:

BTW. You made no mention on the 8 BILLION DOLLARS stolen by the US from Iraq. I did notice you dropped that measly oil-for-food thing though.

Posted by: Aldous at September 16, 2005 1:05 AM
Comment #80855
To make it easier, let’s ignore the fact that the roads to New Orleans were underwater and people were TRYING to reach victims while everybody who was supposed to be taking care of Paris’s victims were sipping beer on the beach.

And that was a real scandal indeed.

What always suprised me then and since is that about half of victims (check it, it’s in article you link) were in fact supposed to be taken care by the staff of their old people’s houses. The staff they paid do help them. And believe me, it’s not cheap.

Oh, BTW, a huge part of the houses are private.

Hey, I guess someones saw since years how to balance regular staff vacation issue and profit: simply understaffing during holidays. And don’t invest in air-conditioning, too.
Ironicly, they billed them the same amount during summer months than any others year’s months!

The public sector was to blame too, obviously. Emergency rooms were too understaffed.

Hum. We’re offtopic anyway here, right?

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at September 16, 2005 1:14 AM
Comment #80859
Didnít Merkelís numbers plunge because of the flat tax proposal? She was odds-on to win this election a week or two ago, but since then sheís plummeted.

Yeah, her coalition was polling above 50% a couple weeks ago, and now it’s lower. A lot of the media is saying the announcement of Kirchhof’s proposal backfired. However, the change was really too small to be sure.

To what extent is Germanyís problem still linked to the reunification?

There’s still a huge disparity between the regions. Der Spiegel says the reunification has cost €1.25 trillion, but I’m not sure how much those costs continue.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 16, 2005 2:24 AM
Comment #80860
Do you read David Medienkritik (http://medienkritik.typepad.com/blog/)?

I hadn’t before, but I’ll subscribe to the RS feed now.

Thanks

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 16, 2005 2:30 AM
Comment #80861
Germany will either undergo radical and painful changes or continue its slide toward third-world status.

This is vastly overstating the case. Germany’s sick, but it’s still one of the richest countries in the world. It will never fall to third-world status.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 16, 2005 2:33 AM
Comment #80888

Aldous

More people died in France during a heat wave last year than died in our hurricane. Those people - mostly old and infirm - were just abandoned in their hot apartments. There wasn’t even a natural disaster. You are going down the wrong path here if you start to talk about uncaring societies. The U.S. can be bad, but not if you compare it to most others.

Posted by: jack at September 16, 2005 9:53 AM
Comment #80903

Jack,

More people died in France during a heat wave last year than died in our hurricane. Those people - mostly old and infirm - were just abandoned in their hot apartments. There wasn’t even a natural disaster.

You don’t classify heat wave as climate exceptional event? What about snow storm and cold wave then?
Do you mean this heat wave was fully man-made disaster!?
If you do, then you should really consider acting against Global Warming ASAP…

Plus, as previously stated, half of victims were NOT abandonned in their own apartments but under the responsability of (private) old people’s houses paramedic staff they paid big money for.
But apparently the staff didn’t care that much about their… customers and these houses managers prefer understaff during summer than use rents to buy air conditioners and pay interim staff, which is shamefull *and* criminal.
To this day, no one were sued. I really don’t know why, when the failure was so high.

The other half of victims responsability fall on all us: we abandonned them during summer, we all share the shame.
Since this event, we work for free one day per year to fund aids to old & infirm people.

You are going down the wrong path here if you start to talk about uncaring societies. The U.S. can be bad, but not if you compare it to most others.

Agreed, it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

- From Euroland.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at September 16, 2005 11:07 AM
Comment #80909
Look at India. They have similiar obstacles in bringing their population and infrastructure into the modern world, and on a far greater scale than Germany?s. But their economy is booming. So what?s the difference?

The difference is that the vast majority of Indians live in crippling poverty, while Germans are well cared for.

I was in India a while back, and it’s a shitty place. Literally.

Posted by: American Pundit at September 16, 2005 11:20 AM
Comment #80916

Sanger,

It’s interesting that you describe Europe as a failed destructive socialist-utopian experiment. Perhaps you’d like to provide some facts to back that up. Perhaps based on quality of life, standard of healthcare, levels of poverty or crime. Or since we’re so backwards-looking, surely the US must have higher ownership of PCs, access to the internet etc, so maybe you could quote me some of those figures.

Or will you just say GDP growth, like right wing Americans always do, as if GDP growth is something you can eat, or will make you better if you’re sick.

Come on, get some universal free healthcare, education and pensions - you know you want it really, and stop with the failed neoliberal experiment…

Posted by: Paul at September 16, 2005 11:50 AM
Comment #80930

Germany’s GDP growth isn’t as good as America’s, and the unemployment rate is higher. However, the quality of life for the middle class is much better in Germany than in America.

It’s a choice a society has to make, and it’s short-sighted of the right to ignore the benefits of the choice Germany has made.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 16, 2005 1:08 PM
Comment #80931

Paul,

GDP is the key…without it, the rest of your “wants” will eventually kill a country.

Posted by: Discerner at September 16, 2005 1:11 PM
Comment #80939

LawnBoy,

Please detail what makes the “quality of life for the middle class” better in Germany.

Thanks.

Posted by: jimf at September 16, 2005 1:54 PM
Comment #80958

Significantly more vacation. Vastly better child care. Improved healthcare. More public transportation.

etc.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 16, 2005 3:28 PM
Comment #81072

Germany will either undergo radical and painful changes or continue its slide toward third-world status. The Germans and other Western Europeans know this, but so far cannot summon the will to draw back from their failed self-destructive socialist-utopian experiment.

Posted by: sanger at September 15, 2005 11:05 PM

Dream on sanger. Germany, despite it’s current problems, is still one of the richest countries in the world, with perhaps the best Medical Care, along with France. It is the worlds largest exporter, and what it exports in not principally chocolate. Alongside with the most aspirational cars globally, They are still renowned for their engineering excellence and their science and technology. The Germans may be undergoing difficult times, but they will come through, only stronger. For all the talk of Americans about Germany, it is nowhere near as indebted either publically or privately as the US. Americans are living off tomorrow’s money, their own and their childrens. Which only goes to prove, that none of our countries are perfect, despite many Americans seeming to fall for the idea of American exceptionalism and being the greatest country in the world. Indeed the US is a great country, but there are many more of them around too.

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at September 16, 2005 10:12 PM
Comment #81249

Early exit polls predict a Grand Coaltion.

The CDU/CSU is at 35.9% and the FDP is at 10.6%. Together, their coalition would be at only 46.5%, far from close enough to build a coalition.

SPD is at 33.6%, the Greens are at 8.4%, and the Left are at 8.6%. A Red-Green coalition (SPD + Green) would be at 42.0%, and a Red-Red-Green coalition (add the Left) would be at 50.6%. That’s enough to form a government, but it lokely won’t happen. The SPD and the Greens both have been adamant that they wouldn’t work with the Left, and the CDU/CSU would get the first chance to try at a coalition because they polled higher.

Also of note, these results would show that the SPD weakened in favor of the Left, and the CDU/CSU weakened in favor of the FPD (compared to the last election).

Of course, these are just exit polls.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 18, 2005 12:24 PM
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