Most parties are therefore increasingly fighting for the group that brought the German SPD back to power after 16 years in opposition in 1998 (under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the now defeated Steinmeier leadership): Die neue Mitte. However, voters in the “new center” do not reflect the Social Democrats’ traditional corps of voters. The SPD’s natural voters were the 20th century industrial proletariat with its political program welfare state, trade union rights and income equalization for trade unionized industrial workers. These have become far fewer, even in Germany with its traditionally high proportion of industrial workers in the mechanical industry, car and hardware production.
Secondly, the SPD has not had any alternative economic program to meet the challenges of the new age – globalization. It is no easy task to explain to one’s own voters that while the German export industry and large corporations make big profits in a globalized market where favorable production conditions are just a keystroke away, it is the “man in the street” who must bear the costs in the form of reduced social benefits. and lower wages for longer working hours. Alternatively, the jobs are automated away, or disappear to low-cost countries in eastern Europe or to Southeast Asia. Under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, it was precisely the SPD that launched the painful economic turnaround operation “everyone knows” that Germany must go through.
4: Government parties are punished
Schröder’s reform program Agenda 2010 entailed comprehensive reforms in the labor market and major cuts in generous welfare schemes that the German state, for economic as well as demographic reasons, will hardly be able to maintain in the long run. The attempt cost him the post of chancellor in 2005. Merkel and the CDU voted in their time for Agenda 2010, but the only reform her grand coalition has implemented is to raise the retirement age to 67 years. Even this move, the SPD has been strongly criticized for accepting.
Nor does the global financial crisis seem to have benefited the SPD at the ballot box. Here, too, a more European pattern can be seen. The results of the European elections in June this year and the current opinion polls show that most Social Democratic parties in government positions are punished by the voters. The financial crisis’ discrediting of the neoliberals and their release of the economy should normally increase support for the Social Democrats, who have traditionally stood for a Keynesian approach with more state, public intervention and political control over the economy. It has not happened.
There was no shortage of warnings about the consequences of the Grand Coalition in the autumn of 2005. A polarization of the electorate, the downfall of the two people’s parties and a strong emergence of extremist parties were predicted. Die Linkes and FDP’s good election results testify to a certain polarization. Here, however, a strategic vote became noticeable when many CDU / CSU voters voted for the FDP to ensure a bourgeois governing coalition.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that German voters in 2009 have not turned to right-wing extremist parties for solutions to economic challenges, increased immigration or other issues on which right-wing extremists have traditionally managed to mobilize voters. It is thought-provoking that in a country where close to 20% of the population – 15 out of a total of 82 million – have a foreign cultural background, well under 2% of voters vote for anti-immigrant parties.
5: What does this year’s election mean?
What can we expect from Merkel in the next four years? And what does the FDP’s government participation mean? The “black-yellow” government platform is ready and the ministerial posts are distributed. The FDP got its party chairman Guido Westerwelle as foreign minister and deputy chancellor in the government, as West German political tradition dictates.
Although Merkel’s former and new government partners – the SPD and the FDP – appear to be strong opposites in economic and political rhetoric, there is no insurmountable gap between the two parties. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, they even ruled West Germany, a country located in Europe according to mysteryaround.com, together. In addition, the FDP, despite its own by-election, is a junior partner in a government coalition where the CDU / CSU has a total of 33.8% of voters behind it and 239 seats in the Bundestag. The FDP has 14.6% and 93 parliamentary seats. More importantly, the CDU / CSU’s relative weight in the government has increased considerably compared to the Grand Coalition, where only 1% separated the SPD from the CDU / CSU. The CDU also has Chancellor Merkel, who enjoys great personal popularity.
Some changes can still be expected from Merkel’s change of partner from SPD to FDP. Central FDP slogans are “private rather than state” and “freedom over equality”. The party won well over 1.1 million votes from its government partner CDU on its demand for tax relief, and perhaps even more importantly by presenting itself as a party with far more competent economic policy. They want increased competitiveness for German business and industry also through the tightening of professional rights. And they have criticized Merkel’s halt in the restructuring of the welfare system. The welfare state must be demolished, says FDP.
How the FDP’s wishes will be combined with Merkel’s promises to her own CDU voters and the half a million “SPD voters” who voted for her, mainly because she promised to continue an economic policy with active state control and equalization, will be interesting to see. The real economic consequences of the financial crisis are still high and rising unemployment, low domestic consumption and large government budget deficits after a year of large government crisis packages for industry, banking and finance.