Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some thoughts about the German election campaign

It's only a little more than a month until a new parliament will be elected in the largest state in Europe. European politicians are awaiting the election results in Germany before the European Parliament can approve the designated commissioners.

Germany is currently experiencing a very astonishing development. You could almost say that the voters have no clue what they really want. In the pre-election survey "DeutschlandTrend", the journalist Jörg Schönenborn observes that "the anger about banks and financial actors, the renewed feeling of injustice and the increasing wish for a more solidary society are normally signs for a [...] leftist majority. However, in the judgement of parties and persons, this is currently not reflected at all" (my translation). Quite the opposite, the more effort the SPD puts into its election campaign, the more the number of supporters seem to drop.

Before blaming the voters, it has to be said that the parties are not making it easy for them either. Over the last years in the grand coalition, it has become more and more difficult to divide the most important claims of SPD and CDU/CSU apart. While many citizens believe that the SPD has turned away from its social-democrat roots, the CDU has begun to talk about a social market economy. Not many of the common achievements in the grand coalition were attributed to either party and both sides are now trying to show what they have achieved over the last few years.

The young Green politician Jan Seifert believes that a new grand coalition may mean a further drop in popular support as voters perceive they don't have a real choice in the elections any more. Likewise, he believes that this could lead to a stronger radicalization of the small parties who lure the frustrated voters into their own camp with populist promises. I could add that those who vote for the small parties in order to end the grand coalition will lead to a weak SPD and CDU, which again will leave only triple coalitions (ruled out by all parties) or another grand coalition as an option.

What very much frightens me - and there I have to blame the citizens - is the hostility that voters show toward the election campaign in general. Politicians have to justify why the political parties - accepted vehicles for the aggregation of political ideas and the finding of solutions - dare to voice their proposals for the future of the country to the sovereign. For a week, the so-called "affair" about SPD minister Ursula Schmidt's business car has caused more attention than the political proposals of the parties. And in my view the German media have to take a share of the blame for that kind of coverage.

Final thought, I haven't seen any real campaigning emerge yet. Neither of the big parties has a real star. The CDU is trying to push the popular economics minister Theodor zu Guttenberg, but sooner or later in this campaign he will have to show his profile more clearly than he did so far. Commentators hold against him that he can say a lot of beautiful words without making a statement, but I believe that won't get him through the campaign.
The SPD has a few young talents, but I haven't seen them voice their ideas very clearly yet. We may have to wait a little more until the Steinmeier team really kick-starts.

Secondly, neither of the big parties has voiced a very clear campaign topic yet. The CDU is trying to gain voters with the promise of a vague tax reduction while the SPD is speaking out against nuclear power plants and in favor of renewable energy. I wonder if the topic of energy can be sharpened so much that there will be a public debate about it. Clearly, with the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen coming up in December and the recent Desertec initiative, there is a lot to talk about. But the issue will have to be framed by politicians and the media in a way as to appeal to the daily life of the citizens.

I think the next few weeks will be interesting one way or another. It'll be exciting to see what topics will interest the citizens the most...

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