Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moving Forward After the Election

Now that the election has been decided, this blog will cease to have new posts. However, as there are plenty of issues that remain for the new CDU/CSU-FDP coalition (including their own coalition negotiations), AICGS will continue to produce its traditional knowledge and insights on our website, Please check our home page regularly for new analysis of the election results and the impact on transatlantic relations.

Additionally, you can sign up for the Institute's biweekly email newsletter, the AICGS Advisor, to stay informed about German-American relations and to receive the latest AICGS publications and invitations to AICGS events. To sign up for the newsletter, please click here.

Thank you for your interest in the Institute's coverage of the 2009 election, and we thank all of the authors who contributed to the blog over the past several months!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Greens: A New Centrist Party?

At their party convention in November 2008, The Greens approved a new agenda called the “New Green Deal”. Referring to Roosevelt’s New Deal, they claimed to establish a package of economic programs in order to overcome the crisis. Particularly, it included social and ecological investments and tried hard to sound neither too socialistic nor too liberal. The Greens started the 2009 election campaign as a new centrist party.

The green election campaign itself was quite successful. The ecological party managed to integrate economic issues. It promised to create about one million new “green” jobs by e.g. investing in renewable energy. Further, for their supporters The Greens still seem credible in their main issue nuclear energy: For this reason, they rejected “Jamaica” as an option at the “Länderrat” (party conference) on September 20th.

After all, The Greens won about 800,000 more votes than in 2005 (+2.6% of the valid votes). Though, there are two upcoming problems for the “new centrist” green party and it is hard to say whether it is a winner or a loser.

Firstly, the new German party system involves one more relevant party: The Left. Thus, The Greens become a less important fraction of the Bundestag 2009 – although they got more seats than in 2005. Further, unlike within the New Green Deal, they will have to decide whether to support rather socialist or liberal ideas. When the SPD and The Left ally against Black-Yellow, there is no place for the centre position anymore: If The Greens would simply change their political direction and coalition partner any time, they might lose credibility (what this means: see Michael Weigl’s Article last week). And whatever they choose, they will only become “Number Three” within the potential coalitions SPD-Left-Green or Jamaica.

Secondly, the occupation of its “green” issues by the SPD and, in parts, by the CDU/CSU, might become another problem for The Greens. E.g. Sigmar Gabriel, the designated new party leader of the SPD and former Federal Minister for the Environment, did a very successful election campaign against nuclear energy. Are The Greens still necessary for pro-ecological policy? The answer to this question will be decisive for the party.

It is to be seen if so-called "climate chancellor" Merkel will stay on a pro-ecological course in a coalition with the FDP. It is also to be seen if she will undo the nuclear phaseout. This might solely legitimate the existence of a green centrist party. Otherwise, Trittin, Künast et al. must either decide for one political camp or play the role of a “Mehrheitsbeschaffer” (majority engineer).

Last week, The Saarland-Greens opted for Jamaica. Though, they pointed out that their decision has not been made with regards to contents. Saarbrucken is not Berlin, but the Saarland-Greens’ justification is kind of symptomatic for the New Green Party’s orientation: They seem indifferent.

--Oskar Fischer

Friday, October 9, 2009

All You Need is Credibility (Whatever This Means...)

There is a new 'magic word' in the world of politics: credibility. It was, of course, always important that voters believe in the word of politicians. When the German Liberals accepted a coalition under the chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) in 1961 although they promised in their campaign to prevent Adenauer, for example, this corrupted the mutual trust of voters for the Liberals for years. But when you listen to statements of politicians and experts, it seems that credibility has never been more important to win elections than within the last years. Is the reason why the Social Democrats are losing one election after the other the lack of credibility as everyone claims? Is the reason that the CSU lost its dominance in the Bavarian party system due to lack of credibility? Is credibility the reason that the FDP is as strong as never before in history? -- Credibility won in eleven years of opposition?

Everybody -- even politicians themselves -- talks about credibility; everybody is repeating the same old phrases, me as well. But in doing so we forget to ask what credibility really means. One detail of this year's election result seems to be traitorous.

The basic message of the FDP-campaign was that they will not sign a coalition's agreement that does not stipulate expansive tax reductions, especially for the middle class. The other parties tried to reveal this as a lie in pointing out that due to the serious national budgetary situation tax reductions will be impossible for many years. And what is the opinion of people? The majority believes that within the next legislative period a tax increase will be unavoidable. However, this did not prevent them from voting for the Liberals. It is surprising that even most of the liberal voters do not expect that people's net income will increase in the future.

Scarcely anybody believes in the FDP's campaign pledge -- but this did not keep them from empowering the Liberals. In other words: In former times credibility meant foremost that politicians implement their promises after an election. Now it seems that this is not a precondition for credibility anymore as people reduced their expectations of politicians. To be precise voters do no longer believe in anything they say anymore.

German politicians and parties are confronted with people's "basic mistrust". Many polls support this evidence. In this context the call for credibility -- especially from the media and experts -- seems to be not more than the permanent evocation of a wish whose fulfilment nobody is really expecting. Thus, apparent analyses become the character of self-fulfilling prophecies. The disappointment about supposed lies of politicians is only faked. We had always known better.

Nowadays credibility is literally a synonym for the strained relationship between politicians and people (media and experts included). We, journalists and political scientists, should be more careful with our diction. Politicians should give us less opportunity to encourage our ego. Until then everything will stay the same: Credibility remains the ne plus ultra and no election can be won.

-- Michael Weigl

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why Did the SPD Lose the Election?

There might be three winners of the Bundestag election: The FDP, “Die Linke” and Angela Merkel. The FDP got its best result in history and managed to get back into government after eleven years in opposition. “Die Linke” conquered large parts of Eastern Germany and got over five percentages in Western Germany, too; thus, Lafontaine/Gysi’s party definitely became a part of the new German party system. And Merkel, at least, stays chancellor.

But there is one clear loser: The SPD. Germany’s oldest living party lost over eleven percentages of the party votes and many of its electoral districts, too. What has been special about the 2009 Bundestag election campaign? And why did the SPD lose the election?

The case of Ulla Schmidt did cause some damage, but as I already pointed out in August, it was not the case itself that harmed the SPD but the public’s negative expectations about Social Democracy. Furthermore, the “Deutschland-Plan” was not a bad idea. It received rave reviews by some economists. Though, the plan was not credible for most people – they simply ignored it, due to negative expectations, again.

Being a part of the Grand Coalition, the SPD was not able to mobilize voters by its core competency social justice. Actually, they did an anti-FDP campaign. But “Die Linke” did more. Finally, Steinmeier did quite well at the TV Debate. Afterwards, his party got better results in the polls. But there was no last minute swing like in 2002 or 2005.

Summing up, the SPD’s campaign was not worse than others’. All parties’ campaigns have been unspectacular (see almost any blog entries). Though, unlike other parties, the SPD’s major problem is the voter turnout. Thus, the unspectacular election campaigns harmed the SPD most. In 2009, there was a voter turnout of about seventy one percent, seven points less than in 2005.

Furthermore, the SPD found itself in a kind of self-fulfilling dilemma: According to most of the polls, Steinmeier would have lost anyway. Because there was no hope to win, less people supported the SPD. Thus, the SPD got worse polls – and so on. Unlike 2002 and 2005, there was no major issue available to end this process. The SPD needs such an issue or it will continue losing, due to current majorities.

--Oskar Fischer

Friday, October 2, 2009

Election Day Reflections

On election night last Sunday, I was fortunate enough to make it to a couple of parties. First, I stopped by the Left Party event, which was open to all comers (but they charged for beer and pretzels) at the Kulturbrauerei in eastern Prenzlauer Berg. Despite the party's 19th century slogans, everything was very 21st century with multiple television screens to show the first results and numerous media stations so that the networks could shoot dramatic live shots. The crowd was typical Berlin grunge with a plethora of message t-shirts and dreadlocks on white people. I ran into my old communist 68er roommate who was ecstatic about how well this "real" left-wing party was doing. I had to eat crow later because I predicted that the party would receive 11% maximum and, as we all know, it did much better than that.

After a stint at the Bundespresseamt, I was able to procure a pass for the CDU's party. SPD passes were available, but I was not in a mood to attend a wake. By the way, what an absolute disaster for one of the oldest parties in the world! Of course, the polls had long predicted this outcome, but it still comes as a shock. The left-wing newspaper Junge Welt wrote afterwards that this was the worst defeat for the party since 1893 shortly after Otto von Bismarck revoked the anti-Socialist laws ( This is arguable--the 149 seats that the party will receive are far more than the 110 they achieved in 1910 or the 100 in 1924. Still, this is an absolute debacle--the 10 million votes the party received is exactly half what they got in 1998. Already, there have been major leadership changes with Sigmar Gabriel and Andrea Nahles taking over. The bloodletting was much swifter than I expected.

In any case, the CDU party had quite a different mood than that at the Left Party's party (I couldn't resist). Admittedly, by the time I got there after 10 PM the venue was half empty and the remaining celebrants were rather young (in contrast to the geriatric rally from the day before). There was a candlelight, Riesling-sipping ambience in the tents and throughout the architecturally striking Konrad Adenauer Haus on the edge of the Tiergarten. Shortly after I arrived, a cover band started to play up-beat songs (like ABBA hits) in the grand foyer with massive photos of the ancient Adenauer looking down. This was disjunctive to say the least--I always expect oompah-pah music in such a context. I was also reminded that Germans (and CDUlers) are not world champions at funky dancing--there is a reason why techno and Rammstein are German specialties. A Brazilian visitor who also observed the Junge Union types gettin' down, literally could not find words to describe the scene. Interestingly, I saw exactly three people of color amongst the hundreds still there: one party member (identified, I think, by his uniform--a three-piece suit), the lead singer of the band--and I was thanking God that Petra Zieger did not repeat her performance of her 1985 hit "Superfrau" from the previous day's rally ( --and a waiter. This reinforced the massive work the CDU needs to undertake to reach out to this fifth of the German population with a migration background. I should also mention that the Left Party's event was similarly lacking in diversity.

Finally, and I know this reinforces stereotypes (which in this case are true I think--see today's New York Times article, "Munich Journal: Raise Your Mugs to German Efficiency", but I was extremely impressed with the absolute efficiency of the whole process. The first election prognoses came in around 6 PM (when polls closed) and there were surprisingly few changes to the numbers over the course of the night. By 8 PM, the election was called and the losers accepted defeat. At 8:15 the major party leaders met on the televised Elephantenrunde and engaged in an election postmortem and started to look ahead to forming the new government and opposition blocs. By 10 PM the parties were winding down and by 9 AM the next day it was back to business-as-usual.

It was almost as if the election never happened.

--Eric Langenbacher

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Upcoming Event: A Party System for the Future?

The ballots are counted and the German people have spoken: For the next four years, Germany will be governed by a center-right coalition between the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Liberals (FDP). Why did Germans vote the way they did and what role did economic and foreign policy issues play? What does this mean for German domestic policy? How will foreign policy change under a new foreign minister, presumably Guido Westerwelle (FDP)? And above all, what does this mean for the United States and its transatlantic and global agenda, which includes formidable challenges such as a nuclear Iran, continued violence in Afghanistan, and reforming the financial system? Will Germany remain an ally or will its foreign policy goals differ from the United States?

On October 5, 2009, AICGS will analyze these topics in a conference which will look beyond the election results by presenting an in-depth analysis of the election’s impact on the transatlantic relations. The conference on "The German Elections - A Party System for the Future?" will feature multiple well-respected panelists commenting on the election results and developments within the German party system. Held one week after the elections, this event will focus on the election’s political implications for the parties, the outlook for economic reforms, and expectations for foreign policy. We hope you can join us for this timely event.

To view the event's agenda, please click here.

To RSVP for this event, please click here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Results Are In

The votes have been counted, and result is a black-yellow coalition between Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU and Guido Westerwelle's FDP. Please check back for analysis of the results here on the blog!

Image copyright Der Spiegel.