Reflections on the German Elections


Sam Sherraden just returned from Berlin where he was on a study tour with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a think tank associated with Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP).
The Free Democrats (FDP) and the Christian Democrats (CDU) put together enough votes in Sunday’s national election to form Germany’s next coalition government. Since 2005, Germany was awkwardly governed by a “grand coalition” of the somewhat directionless Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the CDU led by Angela Merkel.
On Sunday, German voters showed their displeasure with the grand coalition by abandoning the SPD for other parties, or by simply staying at home on election day. An estimated 1.6 million SPD voters simply didn’t show up to vote. The results were devastating for the party, which received fewer than a quarter of the votes, the worst result in SPD history. CDU, the other partner in the grand coalition, took a small hit and received 33.8% of the votes, 1.4% less than in 2005.
Germany was once a three party system, dominated by the SPD and the CDU. But recently, voters have moved away from the center and toward the left and the right. On the right, the FDP received 14.6% of the vote, 4.8% more than in 2005. The Left party received 12% of the vote, a 3.3% increase since 2005. The Greens also improved, receiving 10.7% of the vote, a 2.6% increase.
With the growing support of the FDP and its party chairman, Guido Westerwelle, Merkel will now be able to form her preferred CDU/FDP coalition government. On election night Merkel smiled from ear to ear at the prospects of the new coalition. The next day one headline in a German newspaper read, “FDP Saves Chancellor Merkel.”
Merkel’s new partners agree more with her politics, but the new coalition will unlikely lead to an overhaul of German policy. Much of the electorate remains to the left and parties like Die Linke, the Left, and the Greens are gaining popularity. While the economy finds its footing, it will be difficult for Merkel and Westerwelle to dramatically change course. This would also be contrary to Chancellor Merkel’s leadership style, which is defined by continuity and stability.
One reform that the FDP must deliver is a tax cut. Before the election, one FDP official told me that his party would not enter a coaltion government that did not include a plan to cut taxes. While taxes are important to the German electorate, only 19% of those who were polled thought the FDP had a good tax plan. This will make tax reform difficult, particularly at a time when deficits are high. The FDP may agree to a plan to cut taxes in 2011 by combining it with cuts to social programs. This would allow the FDP to fulfill their election promise and would give them a boost before the election in four years.
While the FDP campaign focused on taxes, the public is most concerned with jobs, the economy, and education.
On employment, the new coalition has reason to worry. Germany’s export-dependent economy will find it difficult to increase employment when the world struggles to create sustainable demand. Many also speculate that large German companies were under political pressure to avoid layoffs until after the election. This could create a post-election unemployment hangover that will make life difficult for the CDU/FDP coalition. The previous government also passed a measure to provide part-time employees full-time wages. If demand does not pick up, this program will come under pressure and some of the 1.3 million Germans enrolled in it may find themselves without a full-time income.
The major challenge for the center-right coalition will be to achieve a post-stimulus economy that gets back to exporting goods and creating jobs. The major threat will be weak foreign demand. Merkel and Westerwelle have little control over this, but regardless they will have to field criticisms from a growing group of parties on the left to keep their coalition together and build a case for their free-market platform.
— Sam Sherraden


14 comments on “Reflections on the German Elections

  1. DIrk says:

    Looks like there are already problems in the coalition talks between CDU and FDP. The FDP want to:
    Drop the time requirement to give workers notice
    Drop the minimum wage
    Drop the mandatory national service
    Drop Health Funds
    Eliminate Foreign Aid and close that ministry
    Both Merkel and many in the CDU are calling these out of the question. One quote from the CDA is: “The FDP can stand on its head. There won’t be any change in the Notice requirement.” Another from the conservative CSU(CDU sister party): ” Totally nuts.”
    Its ironic that the CDU is the voice of reason at the moment and the FDP is voicing extremist positions that would be par for the course in today’s US Republican party.


  2. confusedponderer says:

    Germany uses a different political terminology than the US. That is important to keep in mind.
    The FDP is about center, without the social emphasis that the Christian Democrats tend to have. The FDP often come acrosss as a special interest party of business owners.
    Right wing in Germany means DVU, Republikaner i.e crypto nazi parties. The CDU is center-right.
    The Greens are interestingly not so much left as their environmentalism would suggest. They’re center-left. Aside of opposing nuclear power as a raison d’etre, they’re in other fields offering a mix of conservative and liberal views.
    I’d personally have wished for a Green-CDU coalition. The Greens are far less likely to serve business interests than the FDP.


  3. Outraged American says:

    Germany’s stance on Iran -from someone who seems informed
    about the BS EuroIsrael is fronting:
    From a poster at who calls himself MoonofA, but I
    think might actually be me, because I’m at least as fluent in
    German and German politics as this obvious poseur:
    In the NYT today Broad, Mazzetti and Sanger write: A Nuclear
    Debate Brews:
    Is Iran Designing Warheads?
    The Israelis, who have delivered veiled threats of a military
    strike, say they believe that Iran has restarted these
    “weaponization” efforts, which would mark a final step in
    building a nuclear weapon. The Germans say they believe that
    the weapons work was never halted.

    German intelligence officials take an even harder line against
    Iran. They say the weapons work never stopped, a judgment
    made public last year in a German court case involving
    shipments of banned technology to Tehran. In recent interviews,
    German intelligence agencies declined to comment further.
    The NYT is lying here.
    There were reports back in July that the German secret service
    BND had said something like the above. In July there was a piece
    in the German weekly magazine Stern and the WSJ printed an
    opinion piece by one Bruno Schirra (who is know as not-so-
    reliable in Germany):
    Germany’s Spies Refuted the 2007 NIE Report
    The BND refuted the Stern piece:
    Germany’s BND denies report on Iran bomb timing.
    [A] BND spokesman said the article did not reflect the view of
    the agency, which is that Iran would not be able to produce an
    atomic bomb for years.
    “We are talking about several years not several months,” the
    spokesman said.
    The German NPT and arms control guru Oliver Meier took the
    WSJ opinion piece apart:
    Iran Weaponization Intel: A Cautionary Note
    Schirra uses the Court’s 30-page legal opinion and a press
    release by the Court to claim that the BND “has amassed
    evidence of a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons program
    that continued beyond 2003.”
    However, the information publicly available about the Court’s
    ruling does not support such a broad claim.
    A week ago the head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, was on public TV
    Ernst Uhrlau im PHOENIX-Kamingespräch
    Des weiteren widerspricht Ernst Uhrlau einem Stern-Bericht,
    demzufolge der Iran kurz vor dem Bau einer Uran-Bombe stehe:
    “Dieses Zitat deckt nicht die Aussage des BND (…), denn der Iran
    ist nicht in der Lage innerhalb eines halben Jahres nuklearfähig
    zu sein.” Es gehe dem Iran auch nicht darum, ob “er innerhalb
    von einem, zwei, drei oder vier Jahren eine nukleare
    Schlagfähigkeit” erreichen könne. Der Iran ziele darauf ab,
    “durch die Beherrschung des doppelten Brennstoffkreislaufes die
    Fähigkeit zu erwerben, zu entscheiden, wann eine Nuklearwaffe
    für den Iran Sinn macht oder nicht.”
    My rough translation
    Additionally Urlau refuted a Stern report which said Iran was a
    short time before building a Uranium bomb.”That quote does
    not fit the statements of the BND (…) because it is impossible
    that Iran can have nuclear weapon capability within a half year.”
    It would not be Iran’s point “to reach nuclear weapon capability
    in two, three or four years”. Iran is aiming at “mastering the
    nuclear fuel cycle and gaining the ability to decide when and if a
    nuclear weapon makes sense for them or not.”
    The BND says that Iran’s (civil) nuclear program continues. It did
    never claim that a Iranian nuclear weapon program exists or
    So the BND has multiple times denied what the NYT says it has
    This is “Curveball” and Iraq WMD all over.
    The NYT is again manipulating for war.


  4. John Franklin says:

    Some nasty posts here. All death metaphors and political jargon
    aside, the elections in Germany reflect a move towards progress,
    despite what toxic criticism you or anyone else may have for the
    leadership there and/or the U.S. Here is a more balanced look at
    these recent events:


  5. WigWag says:

    That may be true, confusedponderer, but in the United States the convention is to consider libertarians right wing.
    We also think politicians who hate unions are right wing, that politicians who obssess about high taxes are right wing and that politicians who want to water down the social safety net are right wing.
    It’s perfectly obvious that the right wing in Europe is mostly to the left of the Republicam Party in the United States, but so what?
    Where would you consider the FDP to be in relation to the Greens or the SDP, to the left or to the right?


  6. confusedponderer says:

    It is silly to say that the FDP is a right party.
    The FDP is not on the ‘right’ as the term is used in Germany – they are liberals and libertarians – in that sense they are for individual liberty and individual responsibility – and individual rights. They are staunchly pro-industry and likely to support and enact neo-liberal policies.
    If you told an FDP member that he is a right winger, odds are that he would give you a look asking you if had something wrong for breakfast.


  7. Outraged American says:

    Ben, girlfriend, you’ve obviously missed what the Wig Wagster
    and others have hurled at me.
    I’ve been accused of wanting to nuke Canada, which I do, if only
    to inherit my father-in-law’s mansions in Vancouver and Maui.
    I can’t remember what else — oh wait — I’ve been accused of
    calling both Questions and myself 47 -year-old virgins/
    hermaphrodites, which is patently untrue because I’m 46 and
    slept with Steve during a drunken foray.
    Which Steve probably doesn’t remember because he was both
    talking to Holbrooke about whatever nutzy stuff they pretend to
    talk about and sleeping with his arms wrapped around his teddy
    bear ( which does bear a striking resemblance to Chuck Hagel)
    at the same time. Let’s put it this way, and not to disparage
    Steve, but I did all the work.


  8. Ben Rosengart says:

    I hope that Steve doesn’t let OA’s gross personal attacks stand.
    As for samuelburke, sir, I think you ought to post with either
    more context or less heat, because your comment, “americas
    nation within a nation is like a plague,” recalls the worst anti-
    Semitism. *You* may know that you don’t mean that, but *I*,
    your reader, don’t.


  9. samuelburke says:

    funny stuff….outraged.
    americas nation within a nation is like a plague.


  10. Outraged American says:

    Wig said “the first thing they do is light the crack pipe.” Which
    was probably the first thing Wig did after sundown last night.
    I was speculating that Wig would be getting it on with the small
    end of a broomstick in celebration because all of her… sins…(do
    they use the word “sin” in the Talmud? ) had been atoned for.
    Nadine’s going to spew in here any minute now because the
    Leveretts are obviously self-hating Jews, and that cannot be
    BTW: Nadine, my self-hating Jew college professor friend is
    coming to visit next month so here’s your chance to kill us all at
    Use a Qassam rocket because they’re really effective. Our dogs
    will probably think it’s the Forth of July and cower under the bed
    like the people in Sderot.


  11. JohnH says:

    FLYNT LEVERETT and HILLARY MANN LEVERETT came out with a well thought out opinion piece. It advocates a “strategic realignment” with Iran.
    It’s a refreshing departure from the ape-like chest thumping that typically passes for informed opinion these days.


  12. WigWag says:

    “The results were devastating for the party, which received fewer than a quarter of the votes, the worst result in SPD history.” (Sam Sherraden)
    What happened to the SPD is being recapitulated all over Europe. Whether it’s Berlusconi in Italy, Sarkozy in France or the right of center governments in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary; the left is being eviscerated everywhere in Europe. Things are looking very bad for the left in Spain and the Netherlands and David Cameron is sure to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
    What’s particularly amazing is that the right is ascendant at just the moment when the economy is teetering and the free market is viewed suspiciously by Europeans and Americans alike. It’s a sign of how out of touch the left has become that they can’t take advantage of what, in another era, would have been an ideal time for social democrats to take power.
    The recent elections to the European Parliament, where right wing ant immigrant parties were victorious throughout Europe, just demonstrates that left wing politics in Europe no longer has any traction.
    There’s no question that Europeans have rejected both the domestic and foreign policy prescriptions of the left. It’s clear that Europeans are voicing a resounding “no” to Turkey’s admission to the EU (Westerwelle opposes Turkish membership as much or more than Merkel and Sarkozy do). Europeans have also made it clear how suspiciously they view the Muslim world. Equally interesting is the fact that throughout Europe, the most powerful nations are governed by leaders who support close ties to the United States and hard-line policies towards Iran, Hamas and Islamic fundamentalists in general.
    Can there be any doubt that European leftists view the crushing defeat of the SPD with the grim forebodence of a patient who has just received a terminal diagnosis?
    The German results should also be instructive to the Republican Party in the United States. By selecting mainstream, prudent and centrist leaders, right of center parties in Europe have managed to seize power while marginalizing their leftist opponents.
    Instead of promoting incompetent extremists like Palin and Huckabee the Republicans
    would be far smarter to seek out and nominate centrist, main-stream Republicans who actually have a chance of winning.
    If Republicans learn from the right in Europe they have a chance to resurrect their electoral chances. If they don’t they face a future as bleak as the European left.


  13. cwolf says:

    Why should anyone believe Merkel & the FDP, with its tax-cutting agenda won’t drown the german government in a bathtub…
    just like the US has been drowned in a bathtub,,,
    and whose corpse now circling the drain.


  14. TS says:

    “But recently, voters have moved away from the center and toward the left and the right. On the right, the FDP received 14.6% of the vote, 4.8% more than in 2005.”
    Not really. People have not moved to the left and right, and the FDP is not really to the right of the CDU. What has happened is that the left side of the spectrum has reorganized, splitting the traditional voter block of the SPD into several pieces.
    This in turn has changed the set of possible coalition governments in a way that might make it more attractive for certain strategic voters to vote for the FDP.


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