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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Live from Berlin

It is about 8:30 in the evening in Germany and I am writing from the Bundespresseamt, as the major party leaders are engaged in an election postmortem on the "Berliner Runde." Of course the final results are not yet in, but everyone (including the party leaders) already have called this one.

And there will be a (partial) change in government, with a likely majority for the CDU/CSU-FDP--even without the much maligned Ueberhangmandate (which will stop the charges of a potentially illegitimate victory for Black/Yellow). Worringly, participation is estimated to have sunk to a low 72%.

The current results are (as of 8:59 PM):

CDU/CSU 33.8% This is less than most surveys were predicting (around 35%), but not bad at all, about 1 % less than 2005. One major reason was another drop in the CSU vote in Bavaria. Of course the CSU is already blaming the FDP for "stealing" second votes. Guido Westerwelle (probably the next foreign minister) reacted critically to this charge. Westerwelle, by the way, appears rather uptight and testy on TV right now. But, Merkel says that she is satisfied with this result and will stay in office.

SPD 23.1% This result (although long predicted) is the worst result for any party since 1949. The party lost 17% of the vote (compared to 2005) in the less than 30 age group; 12% in the 30-44 cohort, but only 5% in the over 60. Steinmeier just announced that he wants to stay on as opposition leader, but we'll see about that. There must be blood! Recriminations already have begun.

FDP 14.5 One the best results in a long time and a clear victory for this party, which will join the government for the first time since 1998 (its longest stint in the opposition since the Federal Republic was founded). Clearly, many Germans split their votes, giving their Zweitstimme to the Liberals. In Baden-Wuerrtemburg, the party gained about 18% of the second votes. This strong result will empower the party to play hardball in the coalition negotiations and to demand even more cabinet posts.

Left Party 12.1% This is a real victory for this party--slightly higher than most of the last polls were predicting. Oskar Lafontaine is clearly happy and is rubbing this result in the face of his old party comrades in the SPD. Even though many analysts think the party will have major challenges retaining unity, this result will be a major motivator to stay together. This result is also an indication that there are still many unhappy folks in the country--especially in the East where they appear entrenched.

Greens 10.5% Clearly, this is a disappointment for the party, even though this is about 2% more than 2005. But, they have lost about 3-4% of what they were polling several weeks ago. I think they had a real problem defining their profile in this political environment. Also, leaders like Trittin and Kuenast appear tired. Renewal is necessary here as well.

Others 5.9% Apparently, the media darling, "Pirate Party" garnered as much as 2% of the vote. Political scientists will have to mull over what this rather high result for other parties indicates.

Personally, I am happy with this outcome. I agree with the Economist that Angie needs to be uncaged. I think Germany needs the kind of reforms that a Black-Yellow government will be able to push through. Moreover, the SPD needs nothing more than a spell in opposition to rebuild itself and to deal with its left flank. The Left Party will have to watch out.

Now the real fun begins with coalition negotiations, a new governmental program (hopefully addressing the policy backlog that the grand coalition necessarily ignored), the internal party bloodlettling (in the SPD, Greens and probably the CSU), and, of course, the analyses by pollsters and political scientists. Certainly, there are many concepts that need to be up-dated and addressed--the death of the catch-all Volkspartei, reform to the arcane electoral system, the deep structural reforms that the country needs.

As Merkel just said at the end of the Berliner Runde (presumably thinking that the microphone was off)--in an exhasuted, but business-like voice: OK. Manager Merkel is ready to get on with things.

--Eric Langenbacher

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Election Day Notes of a Proud Political Junkie

So, this is election day. Finally. Being both a political junkie and the proud product of our post-war West German democracy (even granting myself the occasional bout of that specific, timid patriotism that Germans have developed for themselves and which they still find so difficult to embrace), election day always gives me a slightly elevated feeling of eminence, duty and suspense. I imagine this feeling to be the mini-mini-version of the kick that supposedly gives politicians the adrenaline they live off.

With this peculiar emotion serving as the backdrop, here are my final notes before the results will be rolling in on Sunday night.

1. Yes, it was boring

There have been numerous attempts to counter the common perception that this was a boring campaign. I think they are misguided. The widespread perception that this was a dull campaign wasn't just the product of media framing, as was obviously suggested by some pundit at a conference the other day (see Friday's blog entry by Eric Langenbacher). It was simply the truth.

Political pundits are never bored about any campaign because they don't need any content to get excited. All they need is the daily tactical manoeuvring of parties and candidates, a steady flow of minor scandals, and of course the latest poll numbers. For them (and this includes myself), this campaign was a feast because that was all there was.

However, for the regular Joe in the street who couldn't care less about petty inside-the-beltway-babble, this was indeed the most boring campaign he can remember. It was also the campaign that gave him the least orientation and guidance as to where he should check the ballot this Sunday.

To be sure, there were many attempts to insert some substance into the debate -- tax policies, the minimum wage, nuclear energy, banker bonuses, you name it. But nothing caught any traction. All issues disappeared after just a few days in the limelight (and sometimes even quicker). A curious phenomenon that deserves a few closer looks once all this is over.

2. Merkel's campaign triumph

There is already one winner in this election, and it's Angela Merkel. Her triumph is substantial: she got exactly the kind of campaign she wanted: very little conflict, very little substance, no promises.

It remains to be seen whether this will produce a result she could rightfully call a victory. But her triumph lies in the fact that none of her contenders, neither Steinmeier and the SPD, nor the Greens, the Free Democrats, or the Linkspartei, were able to undermine her strategy. None of them managed to drag her out of her corner and to seriously challenge her presidential pose. "It was all so mediocre", Derek Scally, the Irish Times' very perceptive and clever Berlin correspondent told me during an extended late-morning breakfast session in Kreuzberg on Saturday. "She just got away with it."

But this triumph can very quickly turn into a problem for the chancellor. "If this strategy does not produce the intended result, there is no-one she can blame except herself," Scally said. He's right. A Merkel campaign it was from beginning to end. And Merkel will harvest what she has sown -- one way or the other.

3. Good bye, old republic

The meaninglessness of the campaign and the fact that a second edition of the grand coalition looks increasingly likely are witnesses to the end of Germany as we know it. The boringness might mark the end of the old ideological battles, as Berthold Kohler suggests in Saturday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It certainly marks the end of the old party system which was the hallmark of the Bonn republic. It is evidence of the utter stability of German democracy that this system, built around two Volksparteien, survived for so long after it got transplanted from West Germany into the freshly unified country.

Now, 20 years after the fact, it simply does not serve its main purpose any longer, i.e. the fabrication of clear majorities and stable governments. The post-unification era is over. The new republic will emerge in the upcoming years -- probably rather sooner than later. And the process is already under way. Both the SPD and the CDU will be confronted with disastrous election results. Returns between 25 and 35 per cent are a far stretch from the self-proclaimed aspirations of catch-all parties (and there are no brilliant party ideologist and strategists, such as old CDU's Heiner Geissler or old SPD's Peter Glotz anywhere on the horizon to rise to the occasion and redefine what it means to be Volkspartei.) The other three parties have stabilized themselves at roughly equal levels somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent.

It's now common talk that this will lead to new, formerly unthinkable coalitions, and it's true. But few people realize that this will also change Germany and its political culture beyond recognition. Let's not be nostalgic about the old order of things. It served the nation well. Now something new is on the horizon. We don't know what it will look like. So allow your humble blogger a personal remark on this election day that means so much to him: let's make it an even better Germany than the great one we have lived in over the last decades. So that president Horst Köhler is proven right: Germany's best days are still ahead of her.

PS.: a good first step would be to go out there and vote, everybody!

The Final Stretch

Today, I attended the last big CDU rally in Berlin at the Arena in Treptow. The venue was full, but the average age of the audience was probably about 60 years old (I don't know what this says about the CDU's or Germany's demographics). In any case, Merkel arrived shortly after the event began and engaged in a rather weird "chat" with Ronald Pofalla and two moderators. Then we went live to Munich and there was a casual back-and-forth with Horst Seehofer at a CSU rally. Everybody talked about how much they love each other and can't wait for a positive election result.

After an extremely cheesy rock back interlude ("Superfrau"), Merkel took the stage alone and delivered what was supposed to be a rousing campaign speech. Yet, the lack of an enthusuiastic response was palpable. Perhaps it had something to do with the age of the audience, suboptimal staging, or Merkel's visible exhaustion (she did just get back from the G20 Summit). Maybe Merkel's lack of charisma was once again evident--or maybe this lackluster response was symbolic of the entire campaign. In any case, the noise level did not really rise and the applause was only sporadic.

Substantively, I thought Merkel was quite good. She spoke about the need for global economic rules ("exporting soziale Marktwirtschaft"--a new German nationalism?) and the necessity of never again letting such an economic and financial crisis occur. Retaining and creating jobs and returning to pre-crisis levels of propserity were major emphases. She also spent quite a bit of time talking about family and educational policy. Interestingly, she did not directly attack any of her challengers (she didn't even mention Steinmeier by name). She mentioned various anniversaries, especially the fall of the Wall and noted that the CDU was always for unification.

Her most frequent points, however, had to do with the necessity of maximizing the CDU-CSU's share of the vote--especially Zweitstimme (earlier she quipped that her job is contingent on these second votes). She implored people to vote "simply," implying that vote splitting and other strategic forms of voting are highly dangerous this year. Towards the end of her appearance, she mentioned the desirability of a Black-Yellow coalition--but in my opinion, she really de-empahsized this possible outcome--many have long thought she would prefer another grand coalition--at the least she is hedging. She also mentioned the high pecentage of undecided voters and thus the necessity of vigorous last-minute efforts (although as the pollsters noted yesterday, higher levels of turnout usually benefit leftist parties).

The uncertainty that I blogged about yesterday was evident in Merkel's speech. It is a rare occurence that a major democratic leader has to lecture voters (repeatedly) about the intricacies of the electoral system. But, she is right to be worried. The last polls released by Forsa show the left and right camps even at 47% and the CDU down from an average of 35% to 33%.

Let the voting begin ...

--Eric Langenbacher

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Nailbiter

I have been in Germany since Thursday on a study tour organized by the International Association for the Study of German Politics and the DAAD. There are 54 academics, mainly from the UK and USA here, engaged in a variety of election-related activities--political rallies, one-on-one meetings with politicians and roundtables with electoral researchers and pollsters. Of course, the best thing about being in Berlin is the opportunity to absorb the Stimmung in the last days of the campaign.

And what a difference a few days makes. All of a sudden, the "most boring campaign" in living memory--likened to a city council election in Würzburg by Roger Cohen in the International Herald Tribune--has become interesting. With the polls tightening, the outcome is not assured. And when things are so tight, all prognoses are within the margin of error. The big topic here is whether the CDU/CSU-FDP will win a majority of seats thanks to Überhangmandate, but will lose the popular vote. I also think that we need to have be skeptical towards these polling results--we should not forget that the polling institutes overestimated the actual result for the CDU last time by 5-6%.

But, according to the folks from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen and Infratest dimap, a Black- Yellow government is still the most likely outcome, even though no one knows how crucial the Überhangmandate will be. Moreover, the % of undecided voters is at an all-time high--at 19% of the electorate (11% in 2005). The pollsters offered up several tantalizing tidbits of information:

° The incidence of vote splitting--voters choosing one party for the territorial representative and another for the all-important party list vote has continued to increase--to 27% this year (22% in 2005). Richard Hilmer from Infratest dimap thinks that vote splitting, particularly CDU voters giving their second vote to the FDP was responsible for the unexpected outcome in 2005. This situation may recur this year.

° Yvonne Schroth from Forschungsgruppen Wahlen notes that never has there been such a volatile electorate, with an unprecedented level of readiness to vote across ideological divides. For example, 24% of CDU voters would vote for the Greens (unthinkable 20 years ago). Still, 15% of voters are unsure about their choice on Sunday (up from 11% at this point in 2005).

° Viola Neu from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation concluded that she just doesn't know what indicators or factors will matter for the final result--too much is in flux this time around. Only 25% of the German electorate are still Stammwähler, meaning that 3/4 are floating voters. She also thinks that it is scandalous that a peripheral topic--the Überhangmandate--have taken on so much importance. She points out that all of the media attention was generated by an esoteric mathematical academic model. She also asserted that the media are responsible for the widespread belief that this election has been boring and content-less. Apparently, media figures vacationed in Berlin when everyone else was abroad in August, concluding that the election was boring at that time, and, in a classic example of media framing and narrativizing, the reputation has stuck.

° Wolfgang Gibowski thinks that the SPD needs to return to opposition to maintain the overall stability of the German system. He thinks that the country needs two catch-all Volksparteien and if the SPD stays in power in a continuation of the grand coalition, it will continue to lose support and will cease to be a Volkspartei.

There was quite a bit of talk about the Überhangmandate. Reinhard Bütikofer of the Greens said that if Black-Yellow gets its majority this way, it would be as scandalous as the 2000 U.S. Presidential election result and, thus, fundamentally illegitimate. (But he also said that the only reason a Black-Green coalition has been working in Hamburg is because von Beust is gay). Hilmer noted that reform and modifications to the electoral laws will be on the political agenda, especially if the winners of a majority of seats lost the popular vote.

There is obviously much more to report and I will check in again tomorrow. But, finally the election has become interesting and we will all be up late on Sunday waiting for the final results of this nailbiter.

--Eric Langenbacher

Where to Win the Race – Electoral Incentive Systems in the U.S. and in Germany

To reach out for voters is at the core of a political campaign. Where and when this is done is different in Germany and the US. One reason is of course that in German campaigns much less money is spent. But there are other reasons, too and the one I want to talk about today is a rather strong incentive: the electoral system. The US majority system leads to different campaign styles than the German proportional representation.

A US presidential campaign is strongly focused on battleground/swing states, because a majority in a state usually brings all electoral votes. So it makes sense to invest huge amounts of money to gain the few crucial percentage points in e.g. Florida to win the majority there although the same two percentage points would have been way cheaper in a New England state for example. But in the latter the majority would not have been affected.

In Germany, due to PR, there is no need to invest in a majority in a certain state (except for the CSU, which is campaigning only in one state). So in Germany there are no Battleground states.

Though, this year we had something that comes at least near to battleground states. Prior to the Bundestagswahl there were elections in several states. But not the electoral outcome itself is interesting for the Bundestag election campaigns, as the results do not affect the allocation of the seats in the Bundestag directly. It works rather like the Iowa caucus. A winner there may gain crucial momentum for the campaign. (Jörg Siegmund has written about it.)

But another part of the German electoral system is majoritarian: the district vote. Roughly half of the members of the Bundestag get their ticket through a majority in a district. The incentives here are the same as in the US: the majority wins and thus investment in the last few percentage points is well worth it. At least for the candidates. But parties usually do not really care about who is elected directly because the number of seats a party gains is determined by proportional representation (with the exception of the surplus seats). So in the US there is not only a local, but also a federal interest in district races, because those races affect the majority in congress. That is different in Germany. Typically the major interest is in the share of the proportional vote, not in the district outcome.

But as Jörg Siegmund has pointed out, the surplus seats may be crucial this election. In states where party A has a good chance to win surplus seats, party B has a strong incentive to go for district mandates, as every single district which party B wins, will eliminate one extra (!) seat party A might gain. Here it is: a party incentive for actively supporting a campaign in a certain district. And, as gerrymandering is not (yet) as affluent in Germany as it is in the US, there are quite a lot competitive districts. 70 out of 299 were won with less than a 5 percentage points lead in 2005.

So for German parties within this election it makes perfect sense to work the competitive districts. Perhaps this is the last time around, as the possibility of surplus seats will hopefully have vanished in the next election. The incentives for winning direct seats then remain mainly with the candidates.

But in my eyes it would be a problem if German parties focused only on the proportional vote. A district candidate can be a standard bearer for a party. And as personalization is very effective, there is a high chance that a candidate, who scores a good result for himself, may also boost the electoral outcome for his party. So national parties should invest in district campaigning in some form even without a chance for surplus seats or incentives by the electoral system.

--Matthias Kuhn

Elections? Look at What's Coming Afterwards!

Now that the pre-election period is drawing to a close, let's take a glimpse at what to expect after the big day. As I wrote in this blog earlier, post-election Germany will be a much bigger source of political drama than it is now -- regardless of who is going to win on Sunday. So what will keep the country and the next government occupied?

1. The Budget Squeeze

A handful of leading politicians (among them Finance Minister Steinbrück and Economics Minister Guttenberg) have alluded to it, analysts are saying it all the time, but it still has not permeated the public: Austerity will be the governing principle in the years to come. There will be severe cuts in the government's budget after the elections, and the pains coming from that will be substantial. The trouble shooting during the financial crisis has cost a fortune and the government will be forced to lend money at an unprecedented rate. As roughly one third (this is not a joke!) of the federal budget is in one way or another earmarked for social transfers, this will be the quarry from which most of the drastic savings must come. Other parts of the budget will shrink, too.

Interest groups, trade unions, retired people and students will be up in arms, and the big debate about neo-liberal cold-heartedness and brutality which is supposedly undermining social cohesion will be headline news for some time to come. Some say that in light of this horror scenario, a grand coalition might be the more convenient and less conflict-ridden political constellation for the next four years. Could be, but whether the SPD can survive another round of Agenda 2010-style politics without imploding remains to be seen.

2. Party Re-Alignment

After these elections, Germany will most likely undergo the most profound re-alignment of its party system in recent history. Much of it will happen silently and over a protracted period of time, but some it will make noise alright.

It is the SPD that has the biggest problem. Agenda 2010 and the unloved grand coalition have melted down the ideological core of the party. Unlike the British Labour Party under Tony Blair, the SPD has never fully embraced a third way, and then-chancellor Schröder never put much effort into firmly anchoring the new course in the party. Consequently, real left-wingers branched off and embraced Die Linke or stayed at home and did not vote. After the elections, the SPD will have to pull off the almost impossible: somehow reconciling itself with its left wing and with Die Linke without alienating too many middle-of-the-ground voters. This will make for great political drama, including the inevitable change of personnel. Should the party join another grand coalition, this re-orientation process will only be postponed. Avoiding it will be impossible.

The Greens, who will likely end up in opposition, have a different task to manage: Can the successful fusion of its left-wing, alternative, pacifist core with its not so left-wing, BMW-driving urban professional constituency last? If so, the party has great prospects as the potential king-maker in future coalitions and might even be able to score election results substantially over 15 per cent. The Greens have used their time in the parliamentary opposition over the last four years brilliantly to position themselves well. The next big question will be whether coalitions with the center-right parties are a model for the future. If it is the Greens have turned themselves into a small Volkspartei. If they can complete their travel from eco-movement to "bürgerlich" without risking internal strife Germany is in for some very interesting new political options.

3. Crunch Time in Foreign Policy

I mentioned this third element in my previous blog entry. Huge tasks will be on the plate for whoever governs Germany as of next month. But the German people are fundamentally unaware of the dramatic changes in the international system and the consequences this has for Germany. More will be asked of the country very soon, with Afghanistan and Iran being only the hottest issues. The future of the EU and NATO will be as much part of the package as increased terrorist risks and increasing demands for German assets in the world. All that in a country that is openly lobbying for a permanent seat in the UN security council but finds it difficult to lead on any of these issues.

To sum it all up: the combined force of these upcoming fundamental conflicts will change the country. The lame campaign of 2009 almost looks as if the political players a desperately clinging to the old order of things. They, and everybody else who is now musing about the "miracle of dullness" might be in for a big surprise as of next Monday. Germany will be one of the most interesting political phenomena to watch in the years to come.

PS.: Lest I forget - remember that the next elections are already in the pipeline! Watch out for Northrhine-Westphalia, Germany's largest state, to go to the polls on May 9th, 2010.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Manufactured Majority?

With only three days to the election, a new topic has quite unexpectedly emerged and is dominating both the public and the academic debate on possible outcomes of next Sunday's vote. It's not a policy issue, it's not the performance of the top candidates, it's not even the well-known coalition game that now equally grabs the attention of politicians, the media and other observers. Instead, almost everybody in Germany seems to be electrified by the fact that so-called surplus mandates (Überhangmandate) may perhaps decide which parties will be able to form the next government. Admittedly, surplus mandates are a rather technical aspect of our electoral system, and neither voters nor many journalists do really know what they are and how they arise. Therefore, four questions should be answered briefly to understand the current debate: What is a surplus mandate? Why are they said to be so important in this year's election? How does this influence the electoral campaign? And what is, after all, the problem?

To start with, surplus mandates emerge if a party wins more constituency seats in any of the Länder than the number of seats to which it is entitled according to its share of second votes. Okay, okay, no worries, I'll explain it step by step. Each citizen has two votes, right? With the first vote, he can choose his favorite candidate in one of the 299 single-member districts. In each district, the candidate who has won the plurality of first votes is elected to the Bundestag. With the second vote, a voter chooses a party list. These party lists are valid for only one of the German Länder, i.e. the SPD has set up 16 different party lists, for example. The total (!) number of seats in the Bundestag is now distributed to the different party lists according to their share of total valid second votes. This distribution involves several steps in fact, but I hope you don't complain if I omit some of the details here.

We then know how many seats a party has won in a certain Land. However, as I explained before, this party may have already won some constituency seats in this particular Land, so they must be discounted from the total number of seats the party is entitled to in the specific Land. Only the remaining seats are then distributed to candidates on the particular party list. If, and that's the crucial point, the constituency seats won by a party in a Land outnumber the seats this party is entitled to by its share of second votes, the party retains these constituency seats as surplus mandates. In consequence, the Bundestag will then consist of more than the regular 598 members.

Why is all this so important now? As it seems today, the CDU/CSU and FDP, long seen as the undoubted winners of the election, can only expect a very small, if any, majority of popular votes. This would transform in either a similarly small or no majority of seats. Especially the Conservatives may, however, obtain several surplus mandates -- some observers expect up to 30 of them. To name but a few reasons, split-ticket voting (first vote for CDU/CSU, second vote for the Liberals) or an almost equal share of votes won by the second and third largest parties (i.e. the SPD and the Left Party in many Länder) contribute to a rising number of surplus mandates. These seats may then determine whether a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition gains a parliamentary majority.

As my remarks on the reasons why these "additional" seats emerge shows, the parties that expect to win constituency seats can influence the electorate in order to transform some of them into surplus mandates. And in fact, this is what the parties do right now by encouraging split-ticket voting. Chancellor Merkel declared on Friday last week that she is willing to form a coalition with the Liberals even if its parliamentary majority was secured only by surplus mandates. She was quoted saying that "a surplus mandate is no second class mandate."

Her party, the CDU, then started to ask liberal voters to cast their first vote for the conservative candidate in their constituency. The Liberals, at least in some of the Länder, have recently posted "Second vote for FDP", a less explicit, but still effective way of convincing their supporters to vote for the Conservatives with the first ballot. On the other hand, the Social Democrats and the Greens have sought to build a similar alliance at the state level. The struggle for surplus mandates has, therefore, become an important aspect of the election campaign.

If so, is there any problem related to the whole issue of surplus mandates? Those who will most probably benefit from them in the 2009 election argue, not very surprisingly, that there's no problem at all. CDU/CSU and their political ally FDP point to the fact that surplus mandates are a, perhaps peculiar, consequence of the German electoral system, which is undoubtedly a proportional system. They argue that the Constitutional Court has never declared the electoral system or the surplus mandates unconstitutional.

That's certainly true -- but not the whole truth either. As the SPD and many political scientists point out, the Constitutional Court has indeed accepted surplus mandates and their effects in past elections, but the judges stated very clearly at the same time that there are certain limits beyond which they would have to reconsider the whole issue. And if in 2009 these "additional" seats reversed majorities, this would almost inevitably lead to an intervention by the judges. They always argued that our electoral system strives above all for fair proportional representation. What in Britain or the United States is commonly accepted -- that a party without a majority of popular votes gets a comfortable majority in parliament -- is unknown to the German system. Here, manufactured majorities are widely rejected and considered unconstitutional.

At the end, the debate on surplus mandates and the controversy about their legitimacy have induced at least some notion of conflict to the election campaign. If the next government depends on this kind of seats in parliament, the Constitutional Court has to decide whether this is a sufficient basis for ruling the country. On Sunday, the election is certainly over, but the struggle for power may well continue.

Jörg Siegmund

Well Roared, Bavarian Lion!?

Much has been said about the restrained tone of the 2009 election campaign. However, one voice could be heard loud and clear: The Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU). Horst Seehofer, party chairman and Bavarian Minister President, runs a campaign which has not always been in accordance with the strategy of Angela Merkel and the CDU. On the contrary, the CSU repeatedly provoked with independent positions, culminating in the presentation of a crash program for growth and employment just a week before the election. Needless to say that the Christian Democrats are not amused about the solo attempts of the sister party (although some might have wished their own leadership was more offensive).

But what’s behind the CSU strategy? Above all, the CSU fights for its status as a strong regional party that plays a major role on the national level. The basis for its strong standing in Bonn or Berlin has always been the unchallenged position in Bavaria. More than forty years the CSU was able to govern with an absolute majority. But times have changed since a while. The CSU was defeated in a landslide in the 2008 regional elections. As a consequence a coalition with the FDP had to be built in Munich. It might be hard to imagine from an outside perspective, but coalition building alone means a new cultural experience for many within the CSU ranks – for politicians and partisans alike. The perspective to be the smallest partner in a CDU/CSU and FDP coalition in Berlin does not seem too promising either.

One of the prior goals is thus to distance the CSU from the FDP. That is why the party leadership, first and foremost Horst Seehofer, tries hard to present the CSU as the advocate of the man in the street. Dismissal protection, minimal wages in certain branches, stricter regulations for manager salaries and compensations, all these issues are targeted a) at attracting voters who feel the need for more social justice in this country; and b) against the FDP which is branded as a neo-liberal party. There is no doubt, that the current and prospective coalition partner at the same time is the main rival of the CSU.

The friendly fire from Bavaria disturbs Merkel’s presidential campaign. Yet, a strong CSU is also in the interest of the Chancellor. Firstly, any CSU seat in the parliament counts for the parliamentary group of the Union. Secondly, a wounded Bavarian lion roars even more loudly to demonstrate its strength and independence. Nevertheless Seehofer’s strategy is risky: Possible CSU gains in Bavaria might go at the expense of the CDU in other regions. After all, the competing parties welcome the opportunity to point at the rivalries within the liberal-conservative camp.

Manuela Glaab

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Foreign Policy, Anyone?

As the journalists of the world unite in Berlin for a quick glimpse at the wonders and oddities of the German electoral process ("Überhangmandate" easily being the total favourite of everybody I have talked to), one question is being asked more frequently again: What does all this mean for German foreign policy?

The quick answer would be: not much. There does exist a pretty stable cross-party consensus on fundamentals of Germany's external relations: Firm embeddedness in the EU and NATO, good relations with Washington, pragmatic ones with Moscow, affectionate ones (if possible) with France. All that topped off with a good moral commitment to the United Nations. With the exception of Die Linke (which is still dreaming about dissolving NATO), there is no viable force in the country that wants to go elsewhere. So it really would not make much of a difference whether Guido Westerwelle or Steinmeier will be the next foreign minister. Consequently, the campaign remained silent on any foreign policy issue. The simple truth is that, with the exception of the Linkspartei, no party deemed foreign policy a worth-while battle ground to generate votes on.

Some observers might find this boring predictability reassuring as it makes Germany a more reliable partner, and there is certainly a grain of truth in this. But behind this big consensus lurks a substantial danger. The reason is that most people in government, practically all think tankers, a majority of the more level-headed journalists, and even a handful of members of the Bundestag realize that the current German foreign policy posture is not sustainable. All of them know that Germany's new book-keepers approach to the EU, its disappointing lack of intellectual commitment to NATO, and its general disregard for its own size and the responsibilities that come with it won't be sufficient for what lies ahead. With America being relatively weaker and with the demand for global stabilizing service increasing, Germany will soon be faced with more requests for money, troops, and leadership, none of which is in ample supply.

It is understandable that foreign policy was left out of the campaign. The problem lies in the fact that no political leader and no party program is bold enough to confront the widespread German parochialism in order to prepare the people for the uncomfortable times ahead. But soon enough, reality will bite. The Afghanistan issue was only postponed, the Iran problem is approaching decision time, a new strategic concept for NATO is under way, the EU will have to partially re-invent itself no matter whether the Lisbon treaty enters into force or not. Piracy won't disappear any time soon, and neither will fundamentalist terrorism. In most of these fields, Germany is being perceived as a follower, not as a leader.

The German political elite will at some point have to explain all this to the people, not only because they owe it to the electorate but also because only the truth will buy them the political manoeuvring space they will need at crunch time. If they remain silent, they should be reminded of Humphrey Bogart's famous advice for Ingrid Bergman in the end of "Casablanca": You'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Internet Campaigning 2009: Leap Forward in Quality, Running the Spot in User Statistics

Barack Obama’s legendary campaign in last year’s race for the White House was called the first ‘internet election’, as it mobilized volunteers at grass-roots level and raised the bulk of funds via the digital war room ‘myBarackObama.com’. It was on myBO, where the enthusiasm for America’s first internet president took its starting point. Hence, German campaign managers have been trying hard to copy Obama’s successful online strategy. They had a long way to go: In 1998, they were addressed as “Neanderthals of cyberspace” (Foerster, U.: Neandertaler im Cyberspace, in: Der Spiegel, September 28, 1998) as their first attempts to internet campaigning went awry. Still in 2005 online campaigning was pale in comparison to TV ads or hustings. Campaign homepages presented mostly written information on candidates and political programs; top-down communication was standard.

In the 09-battle for the German Bundestag, however, they manage a great leap forward:
The ‘big five’ of Germany’s party scene (CDU, SPD, Bündnis90/Die Grünen, FPD, Die Linke) attach decisive importance to the internet, they allocate more funds and campaign staff to the digital channel. They set up a complex website architecture on the internet, reaching out from party homepages to mirco target groups via Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. and even operating own social networks.

Angela Merkel on Facebook

Networking platform of Bündnis90/Die Grünen

Their campaigns offer the full range of up-to-date multimedia applications, such as vodcasts and animated design.

SPD-Homepage featuring the blogspot of chancellor candidate Steinmeier

Typically, they engage in a web 2.0-mode of communication, publish laid-back blogs and stage private life on Twitter. User generated content is welcomed on their websites, too. Interactivity rules, actually: Volunteers at grass-roots level are involved in program debates, virtual testimonials, mobile campaign reports, and mailings to political opponents. Fund raising plays a prominent role on the internet as well. On- and offline campaigning is knit together: Web volunteers are supposed to support their party demonstrating or positioning election posters in real life.

Comparing the performance of the above mentioned German parties,
Bündnis90/Die Grünen clearly gain the lead in the internet election. They strike the right note in addressing the digital natives and prospective voters likewise. Their website architecture comes as close as possible to the single point of entry-benchmark, their participatory offers hit the creative mark, grass roots are effectively instructed. The party’s roots in the bottom-up and participatory environmental movement may partly account for this success.

Concerning adequate style of communication and mobilization of volunteers FDP and Die Linke are scoring well, too; while their homepages rather relate to web 1.0, multimedia-based content is relatively scarce.

CDU and SPD, in turn, have a tough time adjusting to the style of web 2.0 – their language is sometimes too chumming up, sometimes too authoritarian. Moreover, the grand coalition parties suffer from the resentment of the digital community caused by unpopular internet legislation (‘Netzsperrengesetz’). On their homepages, however, the two parties offer a top-notch multimedia-based, dynamic design; they display the full scope of innovative participatory options. Moreover, they strike a balance between specific targeting of voters and limited points of entry.

Notwithstanding the great leap forward in quality of online communication, the current efforts will not make history as the first German ‘internet election’ as the response of voters is only marginal: None of the five parties has attracted more than 25.000 supporters on external social networks, no party-owned platform counts more than 35.000 volunteers. Only 20 percent of politically interested German users are planning to visit the homepage of a party or politician before Election Day. Compared to an electorate of roughly 60 million and an audience of fourteen million for the chancellor candidates’ TV debate the online campaigns won’t carry too much weight for the election’s outcome. In fact, the internet comes in second as a medium for political information. However, German users do not stop by campaigning spots, they still rely on websites of newspapers and TV stations or chat politics with their friends in social networks. In short, German parties cannot do without online campaigning in 2009, but users can do on the internet without the parties.

For more information about Online Campaigning in the battle for the German Bundestag see also the respective CAP Working Paper (German version available only).

--Kathi Wimmer

New Media in German and U.S. Campaigns

I have long thought that U.S. President Barack Obama has been committing one of cardinal sins of political life--actually believing his own rhetoric. And the degree to which much of the American and global media aid him in this process, taking what he says as the gospel truth, never ceases to amaze me. One such belief is Obama's "magisterial" use of the Internet and social networking sites in particular, largely credited with handing him victory last year.

This belief seems to be the standard to which the German parties and politicians are held--in a pseudo Marxist "the more advanced country shows the less advanced a glimpse of the future." Certainly, this is the gist of a recent Washington Post article as well as blog posts here and elsewhere about the German "Internet Manifesto." Conventional wisdom is that Americans have started to exploit fully the potential of Internet connectivity and the Germans--as in so many other areas--are woefully behind the curve. Despite the high overall number of Germans using the Internet, the number using it for political purposes is quite low. (Although I don't understand why all new media attention is focused on the Internet and no one ever mentions the much greater use of cell phones in Germany and Europe compared to the United States). Moreover, when Germans do go on-line they are overwhelmingly getting information from the mainstream media or the parties' own sites. Only very few are using social network applications to disseminate information or their own opinions.

But what was the reality in the 2008 U.S. election campaign? According to a Pew Study, 18% of Internet users actively used an online forum; 83% in the 18-24 age group had a social networking profile and 2/3 of such individuals engaged in political activity; 1/3 Internet users forwarded political content to others. Interestingly, McCain supporters were more likely to go on-line, but as expected, Obama supporters were more likely to use the potential of social networking, and, all importantly, were more likely to donate money on-line.

So far, conventional wisdom is supported--the Obama campaign exploited the potential of the Internet especially for fundraising purposes and within the youngest political cohorts. Nevertheless, there are several counterpoints.

* Despite perceptions, there was a (slight) decline in the number of eligible voters who actually voted in 2008 compared to 2004 (See USA Today). Although the overall number of voters increased by 5 million, they were almost all minorities, especially African Americans. And, according to Pew, only 8% of all political internet users are African Americans (11% of the population). Thus, it is unclear that the Obama campaign's use of the Internet was crucial in motivating minority voters to go to the polls.

* Only 49% (up from 47% in 2004) of the much ballyhooed 18-24 age group voted. Under-30 voters (2:1 for Obama) were not critical to the result, except arguably in North Carolina and Indiana.

* Finally, all such studies have shown that political users of the Internet rapidly are moving away from websites with no point of view to those that reinforce their own political predisposition--preaching to the converted.

In my view, these findings make the parallels or lessons for German campaigns much less valid. I might even go so far to say that current U.S. trends are far from welcome or desirable. First, the youthful groups of voters (in both countries) most likely to use social networking sites are the least likely to vote and are not decisive for outcomes. Second, increased political Internet use is exacerbating political polarization and general nastiness. Indeed, there are real advantages to the much-derided "mainstream media" with real journalistic professionals maintaining their gatekeeping role and making efforts to achieve balance.

Third, I have not even mentioned the whole debate regarding "grassroots" versus "astroturf"--and the mounting evidence that the Obama campaign conveyed the illusion of bottom-up participation, but actually rather strongly controlled the message and used such technologies as another way of exerting top-down influence. If this is indeed the case, then the German parties' usage of the Internet is already up to "advanced" standards. Finally, the one real advantage that Obama had with the Internet--fundraising--is much, much less important in Germany in light of the generous public financing regime. In the U.S., the Internet has made the collection of money much easier and is helping to exacerbate the campaign finance inflation rate.

Thus, we ought to treat "Internet Manifestos" with a hefty dose of skepticism. At the least, we ought to subject assertions--that the Internet was the secret to Obama's success and that the anachronistic Germans should get with it--to real scrutiny. Perhaps the Internet is not the re-democratizing panacea that its acolytes have made it seem. Maybe there are advantages to a more old-school media approach and campaign style that the German parties still embody.

--Eric Langenbacher

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Traffic Lights in Germany Are Turned Off - and the Ship to Jamaica is Not Sailing

This weekend the Free Democrats and the Green Party held party conventions in Potsdam and Berlin to send a last-minute signal to voters before next Sunday’s election. Beyond the slogans “Germany Can Do Better” and “The Path Out of the Crisis is Green,” the main message of this weekend was about possible coalitions. As a consequence there is little room for maneuvering left if all parties keep their election promise.

The FDP voted unanimously in favor of a coalition with the CDU/CSU, ruling out a coalition with the SPD and the Greens (a so-called traffic light coalition) and leaving the door open for a Jamaica coalition with the CDU/CSU and the Greens. The Greens ruled out the Jamaica option and the SPD has promised not to form a coalition with the Left Party on the federal level. As a result, only two realistic options are left as outcomes for the election: either a center-right coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP, or a continuation of the current grand coalition - unless, of course, one party changes its mind after the election. As for now, this seems unlikely to me. Neither a traffic-light nor a Jamaica coalition was ever successfully tested on the state level. The FDP was invited to join a coalition with the SPD and the Greens after the last federal election but refused to do so. And as long as Steinmeier and Müntefering lead the SPD it is hard to see them in a government with their foe Oskar Lafontaine from the Left Party.

This situation leaves the Green/ SPD campaign in a strategic dilemma. The Greens have no real power option left, so how can they convince the many undecided voters to join their camp? The potential sympathizer could feel that his or her vote would be lost if the Greens end up in the opposition. Similarly, the Social Democrats will have difficulties arguing convincingly how Frank-Walter Steinmeier can become chancellor. All they can ask the voter for is to strengthen the SPD in yet another grand coalition, but the campaign message up until now was to end it and not to ask for a renewal of this pact. As for the FDP, they seem to know game theory and made a smart yet controversial move by betting everything on one option only. They put the electorate in a position in which they must decide to either vote for the relatively unpopular grand coalition – thus voting for the SPD – or in favor of change by voting for the Free Democrats.

And where does this leave Angela Merkel and her CDU/CSU? In her presidential way of campaigning she has not taken part in this game since under all of these options she will remain chancellor. Therefore she is attractive to those voters seeking stability but at the same time is threatened by a loss of votes to the SPD and the FDP. If this analysis turns out to be correct, she will still be the head of the government but her position as the leader of the CDU will be weakened.

--Tim Stuchtey

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The ‘Internet Manifesto’: Media Coverage and Political Campaigning 2.0

German feuilletons are currently engaged in a heated debate on the role of mass media and politics in the era of Web 2.0. It has been ignited by the ‘internet manifesto’ published by the stars of the local blogosphere (such as Markus Beckedahl, Sascha Lobo) just in time for the conclusion of the election to the German Bundestag. The German successor to the famous ‘cluetrain manifesto’ comes up with 17 provoking theses on how journalism works today. A short recap:

  • There is no such thing as a gatekeeper on the internet: the compilation, classification and publication of content is no longer tied to “media companies, research centers, public institutions,” and barriers between amateurs and professionals are getting blurred. In other words, “the Internet is a pocket-sized media empire.”
  • The Internet matches the paradigm of the process: while social networks conquer our everyday life top-down, distribution of standardized finished goods is replaced by infinite ‘multilogues’ and all content is constantly revised and only the “outstanding, credible and exceptional” attracts attention. “Quality remains the most important quality.”
  • “The Internet is the new venue for political discourse”: It allows for the active political participation of the public and amplifies “freedom, both for the individual as well as society as a whole.” Hence, the open architecture of the Internet is the “basic IT law,” “copyright becomes a civic duty” and the freedom of the press is aimed at amateurs as well, it equals “freedom of opinion.”
Indeed, a new ‘balance of power’ between German media, citizens and politics is on the horizon, as the current elections to the Bundestag prove: Citizens, politicians and political parties alike have entered Web 2.0, they blog and twitter campaign news, discuss clips on YouTube and post their favorite picture on Flickr. The stage of political discourse is now open to everybody, regardless of profession, income or prominence. Inspired by Web 2.0, German parties have equipped their 2009 campaigns with innovative ways of political participation: digital grassroots campaigning integrates citizens via virtual testimonials, mobile campaign reports, online donations. etc. The scope of participatory options is significantly enlarged, and political dialogue is definitely invigorated.

Are mass media rendered unnecessary as users generate political content and citizens and politicians communicate directly via the Internet? This strategy does not (yet) add up: Even if the Internet comes in second as a medium for political information, no party attracts more than 70.000 supporters on popular social networks. In fact, a recent survey reveals that only 20 percent of politically interested users are planning to visit the homepage of a party or politician, and less than five percent of blog readers are interested in election related blogs. Considering a total base of 60 million voters, this represents just a tiny minority of the populace. Instead, 80 percent of politically interested users rely on the online sites of traditional mass media. Thus, the Internet has established a further channel for direct communication between citizen and politician and among citizens, but in light of current statistics, the gatekeeping role of mass media is clearly still in effect, both online and offline. If quality and large audience is what counts, mass media companies relying on a team of trained journalists, a marketing and sales force, and professional production equipment should firmly remain in the pole position. Amateurs may only win the competition in niche markets or in quick on-site or authentic coverage. Accordingly, the ‘constitutive role’ of the mass media for the German democracy seems unthreatened.

As suggested by the manifesto, the regulation of the Internet has become a major issue in the current election: the fierce debate on the “Netzsperrengesetz”, a law to ban internet sites due to child pornography, has been called the wake of the political consciousness of the German Internet community. Profiles on social networks of the CDU and SPD – the parties that passed the contended bill – are still packed with negative comments from the enraged Internet community. The Pirate Party has cashed in on the netizens’ resentment to the established German party scene. It focuses solely on Internet policy and basic digital rights, such as privacy of correspondence for emails, and communicates in Web 2.0-style. Referring to the number of online campaign supporters, the Pirate Party is even excelling over the otherwise leading CDU. Nonetheless, polls reckon only with a few percent for the Pirate Party in the election to the Bundestag.

Considering today’s status quo of politics and media in Germany, the Internet manifesto may be blown out of proportion. Considering future developments, however, it offers a thrilling and optimistic foresight.

--Kathi Wimmer

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Out-dated Format: The TV Debate and Its Alternatives

Nearly a week has passed since the German TV debate. Newspapers wrote about self-centered interrogators, a shy chancellor and a surprisingly persuasive but altogether still too weak vice chancellor. Many called the debate boring, others even useless. Particularly, it has been criticized that the debate was of no value due to the lack of the opposition leaders. Some pundits did not identify a clear winner but two losers (see Michael Weigl’s article). So who benefited from the debate? Furthermore, journalists as well as pundits expressed normative doubts: Is it reasonable to exclude the whole opposition? Are there better ways to inform people and to mobilize sympathizers?

First, why did the candidates agree to the actual format? Assume that Merkel and Steinmeier act rational and take the TV debate as a kind of game. The participants would not agree to the design if they didn’t benefit thereof. Moreover, they could be expected to make the best of the actual game. Here is the design: There are two candidates (Merkel and Steinmeier), four interrogators (two from the public and two from the private networks), 90 seconds per response and a total of 90 minutes. Every two interrogators ask every one question per policy issue. Both candidates may respond to the question as well as to the other candidate’s response. It is permitted but not obligatory to engage the rival in a debate.

But a controversy has not been taken place: The four (!) interrogators changed the subject all the time. Unlike the candidates, they acted quite aggressively and constantly interrupted Merkel and Steinmeier. The crucial point is that the interrogators did not act that “nasty” due to their personality but due to the debate's design – they tried to compensate the missing opposition. Defending themselves against the four journalists, Merkel and Steinmeier tended to cooperate with each other. For example, after Steinmeier's “nine percentages”-attack on Merkel and the FDP, the interrogator Kloeppel doubted Steinmeier's credibility in the matter of Afghanistan. Merkel could hardly attack Steinmeier on “Afghanistan”; she forgave him his previous attack. Altogether, the candidates were able to establish low-risk cooperative strategies thanks to the absence of the opposition leaders.

Actually, it is not likely that Merkel and Steinmeier were able to stir possible voters into action, due to the absence of real rivals. But face the alternative: Especially the presence of Westerwelle and Lafontaine would make low-risk strategies impossible. Considering Merkel’s and Steinmeier’s obvious risk aversion, they preferred the previous setting. In other words, the debate was designed best possible – at least from two candidates’ point of view. So it is no surprise that Merkel and afterwards Steinmeier canceled the so called Berliner Runde (a panel discussion with the party’s top politicians) as well.

Second, is such a TV debate desirable for the voting public? Important criteria for the public might be relevance and fairness. Though the candidates have been forced to be fair in dealing with each other, the debate has been unfair towards the opposition. And since no controversy has taken place, the TV debate has not been relevant as well.

Third, are there alternative formats that fulfill those criteria? There are: For instance, this week a radio competition took place. Listeners from all parts of Germany asked questions about different issues, especially concerning the youth (missing at the TV debate). Unlike the TV debate, Merkel and Steinmeier participated separately, Steinmeier on Tuesday and Merkel on Wednesday. But as they anyway would not engage each other in a debate, that did not make a difference. More important, they have neither been interrupted all the time nor been forced to defend the Grand Coalition. All in all, these interviews seemed to fit better in order to inform people.

Besides, the opposition leaders arranged two “small TV debates”, including only the small parties. Unlike the big TV debate, controversy has taken place. There have been only two interrogators who acted less aggressively. The format encouraged the participants to attack each other. Unfortunately, this program lacked public attention because is has not been announced as a “duel” between two possible chancellors.

Finally, the actual debate’s format seems out-dated. Maybe the era of German “duels” is over. Considering a political system that involves five important parties, there are two options for the next Bundestag election: Either replacing the debate by interviews – or allowing controversy by inviting the Liberals, the Greens and the Left as well.

--Oskar Fischer

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sucked-empty Parties Going from Dull to Silly

Many observers had hoped that the eagerly anticipated Merkel-Steinmeier TV debate last Sunday would insert some freshness into the campaign, and at first it looked like it would. But it now turns out that instead, the battle for the Bundestag has just turned from dull to silly. And even though some observers might consider this progress, less cynical analysts are rubbing their eyes: what's happening?

It all started when Müntefering and Steinmeier, in an eager attempt to break out of the SPD's big strategic dilemma (i.e. the fact that the Social Democrats, given the polls numbers, are so far unable to explain how they intended to realistically win the chancellory for the SPD), publicly announced that a coalition of SPD, Greens, and the Free Democrats would now be their coalition of choice. Not only was this an unexpected twist -- it bordered on the ridiculous.

The SPD's main target in this campaign has so far has been the FDP. Steinmeier and his troops have tirelessly been trying to depict the FDP as being the very "neo-liberal" perpetrators whose ideologies have triggered the international financial crisis and who, if in power, would cripple the German welfare state and destroy social cohesion ("sozialer Kahlschlag"). But suddenly, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Müntefering and Steinmeier were musing about a three-way coalition including the Free Democrats, claiming that Westerwelle's party could cultivate a much stronger pro-business profile there than it could in a coalition with Merkel's CDU. What?

This last-minute attempt to recalibrate the SPD's campaign strategy, as understandable as it might be, illustrates the party's total desperation in the run-up to these elections. As the poll numbers fail to move upwards for the SPD (thereby shattering all hopes for a 2005-style eleventh-hour rally), the party is now embracing whatever phantastic short-term tactical manoeuvre promises some instant relief. To top it all off, on the same day, the SPD's popular finance minister, Peer Steinbrück, said in a video interview that the SPD should fight for a continuation of the grand coalition as it was the lesser risk for his party compared to losing power altogether. Even though there is some important truth in this, it was of course undermining Steinmeier's candidacy, and thus Steinbrück was forced to correct himself a few hours later. The damage was done, of course. Everybody was confused.

But also the CDU/CSU has provided its share of pre-election silliness. Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian CSU's strongman, announced yesterday that his party would soon present its own post-election "100-day-program" for economic growth -- without the CDU. The CDU had previously rejected Seehofer's idea to set up such a program together, claiming that it would irritate voters shortly ahead of election day.

To show such disharmony between the sister parties is of course highly unprofessional and potentially damaging. However, it illustrates the growing uneasiness within the CSU (and even parts of the CDU) about Merkel's content-free campaign. The deliberate strategy to neither attack nor provide too much substance is increasingly perceived as being too risky by conservatives. The move also shows how eagerly Seehofer is trying to get its Bavarian party back on track as the only viable political force in his home state. The CSU has never shied away from a certain kind of populism in order to cement and consolidate its still impressive power base in this southern German state. But it is of course too late now to credibly present a half-baked quick fix for the economy.

The episode serves as an indicator on how much in disarray the conservative camp in Germany is -- a fact long overshadowed by the publicly celebrated unravelling of the SPD. But it is not only the SPD that had its marrow sucked out of the party's backbone by this unwanted grand coalition. CDU and CSU will also be forced to embark on a thorough soul-search after the elections. As I said before in this blog: this might be a dull pre-election period. But boy, how interesting the post-election period will be!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is Something Rotten in the State of Germany?

Party competition is an essential part of democracy. For a free and fair election it is critical that every party can take part in the ballot. In Germany, a council called "Bundeswahlausschuss" (Federal Electoral Committee) decides which parties may participate. If the party has at least five deputies in either the Bundestag or any of the sixteen state parliaments, they automatically stand for election. For all other political organizations the Bundeswahlausschuss decides whether or not they qualify to be a party.

This year the Bundeswahlausschuss, a committee which consists of the Bundeswahlleiter (Federal Returning Officer) and eight delegates chosen by parties represented right now in the Bundestag, rejected among others the appeal of three splinter parties: "Die Grauen", "Die PARTEI" and the "Freie Union". "Die Grauen" and "Die PARTEI" were banned from the ballot because, at least in the eyes of the Bundeswahlausschuss, they are no parties as they could not proof to have active state branches and are seriously participating in public political life. The "Freie Union" was eliminated due to a formal mistake: a signature was missing, or more correctly was given not by the party head but instead by a deputy on her behalf.

Those three cases gained major publicity in Germany as each of them is at least questionable. "Die Grauen" have elected members of local parliaments in the state of Berlin. Considering that party competition is a precious good, this alone should proof that a political organization is actively taking part in the political life and hence is a party. "Die PARTEI" says they have branches in nine states - the main reason why they were banned from the ballot was because the Bundeswahlausschuss believed there was only one such state branch. And a missing signature, as in the case of the "Freie Union", is something that can be healed easily and justifies in no way such a harsh "punishment". "Die Grauen" wanted to file an objection against the decision of the Bundeswahlausschuss just to find out that this is legally not possible.

A Group of nine, the Bundeswahlausschuss, is able to finally decide whether a party may be elected for the Bundestag or not? At the moment this seems to be true. It is even more disturbing, that the eight delegates are chosen by parties which are in the Bundestag right now, thus forming a kind of cartel against splinter parties.

Even the Bundesverfassungsgericht rejected the appeal formally because by law an appeal is possible only after the election. The court said nothing about the case itself.

Nonetheless: An immediate objection is not possible. The only way to object is to appeal against the whole election - after the election. And the chances for a success are slim. Only if the allocation of the seats in the Bundestag is affected the Bundesverfassungsgericht will vote for a repetition of the election. Obviously that is not the case for splinter parties that would score well below the 5% threshold.

So is something rotten in the state of Germany? I think it is. The electoral system needs reform in this respect: there has to be a possibility to appeal against such a decision and still take part in the election. Just imagine how the German party system would look like if the Bundeswahlausschuss had decided in the late 1970s that "The Greens" were not a party.

--Matthias Kuhn

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Manager Merkel

Angela Merkel once delivered a speech as opposition leader at Georgetown University in which she outlined a more pro-Bush, pro-Iraq war foreign policy. During the Q &A I was lucky to ask her a question about how she justified such a stance in light of the poll numbers showing over 90% of Germans against the invasion of Saddam Hussein's regime. I don't remember all of the specifics of her response--I think she mentioned something to the effect that leaders need to lead and that opinion polls are not the be-all and end-all of politics. But, I do remember being extremely impressed with the eloquence and forcefulness of her answer and concluding that she was undoubtedly chancellor material.

I think that her tenure as chancellor thusfar has proven her abilities--managing a fissiparous grand coalition, steering the country through the worst economic crisis in decades, pushing through needed reforms in family policy, strengthening foreign partnerships and continuing efforts to deepen the European Union. She has proven a brilliant manager, but not quite the leader that I saw several years ago.

There has been no real vision or unifying theme to her chancellorship. Of course, she was burned in 2005 by having too sharp a profile, has had to manage an ideologically diverse government, and, like any politician, must always think about re-election (in the context of a risk-averse electorate). Moreover, there is nothing wrong with being managerial--a well-respected leadership type--which is especially welcome in light of the recent charisma overload in Europe with Putin, Berlusconi and Sarkozy.

But, as many others have pointed out, there are major costs to such a timid persona and campaign strategy. Naturally, like every election some have tried to dramatize the moment as a major crossroads and caesura. Maybe 2009 is not one of these existential moments, but there certainly are a variety of pressing policy issues that need more than mere management.

In foreign policy, for instance, the Afghanistan deployment needs to be addressed. No longer is the Lebenslüge--that the Bundeswehr is not involved in combat--tenable. Prescient commentators noted years ago that actual combat was going to happen sooner or later and that the armed forces (and general public) would have to prepare themselves for this eventuality. The current situation--deteriorating security, questionable decisions generated by an unwillingness to engage in combat--is doing more harm than good. German leaders are at a decision point--withdraw or commit fully. Unfortunately, none of the parties or their leaders has prepared the German public (or allied governments) for either of these policy shifts. Instead we get grandstanding from the likes of Schröder and Steinmeier--and faux populism from the Left Party. The list of other similar policy challenges is rather long: the demographic time bomb, bureaucratic red tape, education, export dependency, or energy policy.

I don't want to contradict myself. I am not advocating a dramatic campaign with clear policy differences, real debate and fundamental choices offered to the electorate. But, I do wish that the major candidates would appear more presidential, so to say. Admittedly, I have had very low expectations for the SPD this year. The party has long struck me as exhausted from governing, bereft of leaders and in need of a longish spell in opposition to regenerate (and to deal with its exposed left flank). Even Steinmeier's better-than-expected performance in the television debate has not changed my opinion (although it does reinforce the point I made in previous posts about a late SPD surge).

But, I was really expecting more from Merkel. Of course, she has proven time and time again that she can surprise everyone. In fact, some have pointed out that underestimation of her abilities is a calculated and very effective tactic. But, there comes a point when it is appropriate to ask if that's all there is. I fear that with her timid, dispositionally conservative demeanor (as chancellor and campaigner), she will lose her opportunity to rise from a great manager to a real leader. I'd like her to heed her own advice and see her actually lead.

--Eric Langenbacher

"Campaign for Connoisseurs"?

The story of the TV-debate can be told with only few words: In the first half Frank-Walter Steinmeier scored with statements on social justice. In the second half, when the economic crisis was the main issue, Merkel was better than her opponent. In the end there was no real winner and it is not likely that this debate was a breakthrough for one of the candidates (see the article from Jan Techau).

Afterwards an observer, Heribert Prantl of Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the most important German newspapers, disagreed with the popular estimation that this year's campaign to the Bundestag is boring. He emphasized that the times of great ideologies are over. Therefore it would only be self-evident that campaigns are no longer dominated by questions of principle. Helmut Markwort from the magazine Focus added that the election campaign 2009 is a "campaign for connoisseurs".

Prantl is right. The election for the Bundestag is no longer a determining factor on the direction of Germany as it used to be. Meanwhile, there are nearly no differences between the parties in the essential goals. The only thing that is disputed is to reach these goals in different ways. Therefore, it is to be agreed with Eric Langenbacher, for whom this year's campaign does not really stand out as exceptional, because most Bundestag campaigns have not had elementary policy choices (see his article). However, this year's campaign is notable.

The aim of an election campaign is to convince as many people as possible of the own party and people within. Therefore, it is necessary - especially in a media dominated world - to acuminate the own positions, to wrap them in easy phrases and to polarize between the rivals. However a "campaign for connoisseurs" that concentrates on details that can only be understood by experts is no campaign. It is a deliberate strategy to prevent failure. For Merkel as well as for Steinmeier it was much more important not loosing the TV-debate than winning.

The real winner of the TV-debate was the opposition that was not invited to this "duel". Polls after the debate make clear that many people missed explicit and clear statements from both candidates. For them the duel confirmed the criticism of the opposition that it will be nothing more than a less exciting discussion between the chancellor and the vice-chancellor who have a lot in common. For these people it makes nearly no difference if Merkel or Steinmeier will be chancellor. It is not far-fetched that for these people the choice between them is the choice for the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, the polls after the debate asked which one of the candidates was better, not which one was good.

A campaign "light" without clear positions is no good for democracy. It is a campaign for an elite, not for the masses. Nobody expected a highly emotional campaign for the Bundestag - but it should at least be more than a "campaign for connoisseurs".

--Michael Weigl

Sunday, September 13, 2009

After the Debate: Total Synchronicity

Here are some quick observations from tonight's much-anticipated TV debate between chancellor Angela Merkel and vice-chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her main contender in the Battle for the Bundestag and the Chancellory.

1. Polls conducted immediately after the duel have produced contradictory results. While a ZDF poll saw Steinmeier as the winner (albeit by a narrow margin), a survey by Stern magazine gave the victory to the chancellor (by an equally narrow margin). In both polls, viewers said that Steinmeier surprised them by having performed better than they had expected. Also, both polls indicate that undecided voters favoured Steinmeier's performance over that of the chancellor.

2. Overall, this was a debate by two candidates who, over the years, have so thoroughly synchronized their political agendas and policies that very little room for a real fight was left. On practically all major issues, from Afghanistan to banker bonuses to minimum wages, the differences were either minimal or non-existent. Since 2005, both Merkel and Steinmeier politicians have been forced to sell the same political compromises to their respective sceptical party basis. As a result they almost looked like political twins tonight. The few remaining elements of dispute (such as musing over whether Germany's social market economy needed "new ideas" or a "new start") sounded like lip-service to old party lore, not like a real substantial disagreement.

3. The only real moment of tension came when Merkel offered doubts about the SPD's firmness of conviction concerning the party's strict no to a coalition with Die Linke. Here she touched on the SPD's big dilemma and Steinmeier reacted rather nervously by trying to interrupt her. But she would not have that, silenced him and continued with her point. While he generally looks like chancellor material, at this moment it was absolutely clear who was the chancellor and who was just serving in her cabinet.

4. Those parties offering a real alternative to Grand Coalition policies, the FDP with its pro-business reform platform, and Die Linke with its social welfare populism, were not part of the debate. The debate's hosts had invited only those two people who have a credible chance of becoming chancellor. As understandable as this might be, it makes little sense in Germany's parliamentary system where party constellations are at least as important as the candidates themselves for who forms a government and becomes chancellor.

5. Given the poll results before the debate, Steinmeier needed a very decisive victory in the debate to at least slightly narrow the wide gap between his party and the CDU. If he won, I do not believe that his victory was great enough to get anywhere near that point. This was not Steinmeier's equivalent to the Schröder moment in 2005, when the then-chancellor's excellent performance against Mrs Merkel in the second debate marked a turning point after which the SPD gained a substantial amount of votes.

6. Tonight, Merkel's was a teflon-coated performance. She started more nervously but became more presidential as time progressed. In turn, Steinmeier had a few good improvised lines in the beginning but became more nervous over time. His final statement was long-winded and wordy. Hers was that of a self-assured incumbent, more concise, and more personal.

Will this debate change the political situation for September 27th? Not really, I would guess. By mobilizing a few potential SPD voters it might have increased the chances for a renewed grand coalition a wee bit. But it certainly was not the decisive death blow for a potential CDU/FDP coalition the SPD had been hoping for. This debate leaves everything open. The fog has not lifted.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Boring Campaign?

The consensus among pundits and journalists is that the 2009 Bundestag campaign is one of the most boring and inconsequential ever. At first, folks seemed to think that this was a temporary situation that surely would change once the "hot" phase set in. But now, just over two weeks before voting booths open, it is pretty clear that things will not change.

Of course, the media have tried to make certain events and policies into hot-button issues. There was the Ulla Schmidt government car incident, bickering between the FDP and CSU, the results of the various Landtag elections a couple of Sundays ago with the boost that this may have given the Left Party, danger that Opel with its 25,000 jobs would be destroyed (now probably averted), and the botched airstrike in Afghanistan. Yet, none of these issues really took off and gained traction. Certainly, public opinion polls do not show any major shifts (rather some gradual changes).

One explanation for the nature of this campaign centers on the personalities of the main political players, especially Angela Merkel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, noting that both are relatively placid, even timid campaigners. Second-tier players like Guido Westerwelle, Franz Müntefering, Horst Seehofer, and Karl-Theodor Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg also have difficulty rousing a crowd--in stark contrast to Gerhard Schröder, Joschka Fischer or even Helmut Kohl (in his own way). Indeed, there appears to be a dearth of charisma in German politics today--with the exception of the Left Party leadership.

There are other explanations. One set revolves around the entrenched policy consensus. Germans are deeply satisfied with the social market economy deeply embedded in multilateral and European institutions and are reluctant to envision anything that might upset this idyll. (This is one reason why the "neoliberal" version of Merkel did so poorly in 2005). A corresponding risk aversion and a certain conservatism is dominant today. The shock and continuing uncertainty from the global financial and economic crisis are reinforcing this disposition--especially because Germans widely believe that this crisis was "made in America" (or Britain), that there was nothing fundamentally wrong at home and thus that there is nothing really in need of change.

Another explanation is that with the exception of the Left Party (but even it governs in much more centrist manner than its rhetoric implies) the other four main national parties are all invested in current policies. Take the (tepid) neoliberal reforms associated with Agenda 2010/Hartz IV--pushed through by the SPD and Greens, yet resonating with many core principles of the FDP and CDU/CSU. The same applies to Afghanistan, European policy, etc. Merkel has reached out to Germans with a migration background, thus occupying policy ground traditionally associated with the left. The only real policy differences revolve around secondary concerns such as nuclear energy and waste removal, or around methods to achieve broadly accepted goals (e.g., increasing employment, public financial health).

Yet, when was the last time that a major, hot button issue dominated a Bundestag election? I was thinking back over the decades and realized that most elections were not fought over major policy differences. Exceptions were the elections of 1949, 1969, and 1972--the latter largely fought over the new Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt and Walter Scheel. Certainly, there were contentious existential decisions--such as rearmament and joining NATO, the peace movement of the early 1980s, or the various treaties that created the European Union--but they did not come to dominate Bundestag campaigns. The unification election of 1990 was obviously important, but the overriding issue (unity) was not contentious. Obviously, there were low-level disputes in most years (like 2009) and often colorful, charismatic leaders (unlike this year) who could create campaign issues out of very little. No one was better than Schröder at seizing upon and exploiting a relatively minor issue (such as flooding in eastern Germany or opposition to a potential war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which, let's not forget was still 6 months in the future). Yet, it is one thing to amplify a minor issue--it's another thing entirely to develop clear policy responses to pressing concerns and then campaign on them. In my view, most Bundestag campaigns have not had such policy choices, so this year's campaign does not really stand out as exceptional.

Moreover, why on earth would we want a dramatic campaign with major policy disputes and differences? Isn't it a mark of the stability and success of the Federal Republic shortly after the 60th anniversary of its founding that things are so damn boring? Doesn't it speak to the ideological maturity and pragmatism of the German parties that there is such a degree of consensus on most of the policy issues? I can't help but think of the (apocryphal) Chinese curse: "may you live in interesting times."

--Eric Langenbacher

The Latest Polls, a Real Issue (gasp!), and a TV Duel

With little more than two weeks before election day, three things are keeping campaign observers busy at the moment.

First of all, out of nowhere, Die Linke has gained up to four (4!) points in recent opinion polls while SPD, Greens and CDU are losing a point each and the FDP remains stable. Where does this mini-surge come from? Some observers have suggested that the recently flared-up Afghanistan issue is behind the numbers, but this can't be, as the polls were conducted before last Friday's incident. Others suggest that, finally, Die Linke gets rewarded for being the only party that has stubbornly been trying to insert issues into the campaign when everybody else was trying to avoid it. Could be, although the credibility of most of Die Linke's promises and announcements is rather doubtful. While I am not an expert number cruncher, my feeling is that the increase is solely the momentary result of the party's recent successes in the Thuringia and Saarland state elections. Winners tend to generate such psychological bonus effects in the polls. While this most certainly won't lead to a Red-Red-Green coalition, it should make the SPD think very hard. Despite its eager attempt to exploit the CDU's disastrous results in the state elections, they have actually lost votes, instead of gaining some. So the real interesting question coming out of the new polls is why the SPD keeps on losing support when it is already so weak. I do not have an answer.

Secondly, though it's hard to believe, a real policy issue has snuck into the campaign! A rather technical dispute over the treatment of German nuclear waste has resurrected the "Atomdebatte" in Germany. This is one of the few issues where there's actually a real policy difference between Steinmeier's SPD (which is for abandoning nuclear power altogether) and Merkel's CDU (which believes nuclear powers is necessary for some time to come). Theoretically, this should work in favour of the SPD, as there exists a rather broad anti-nuclear-power consensus in the German population. But whether this issue will stay on the agenda in this campaign remains to be seen. If it does, it is unclear whether it could deliver decisive percentage points for the SPD on election day. As the Allensbach polling institute points out in Wednesday's Frankfurter Allgemeine: There's a majority in Germany in favour of abandoning nuclear power, but there is also a majority of people that believes that this is an unrealistic goal. Not exactly the stuff a heated debate is made of.

Thirdly, those who have not yet dozed off or turned their backs on this rather un-thrilling campaign are eagerly expecting Sunday night's big (and only) TV duel between Merkel and Steinmeier. A recent poll suggests that a strong majority of people expects the chancellor to do better than her opponent. This, of course, is bad news for Mrs Merkel, as high expectations are the biggest enemy for anyone involved in this kind of modern day gladiator's fight. Steinmeier did very well in a recent "town hall meeting" program. It will be very interesting to see how these two politicians, who are known to have a relationship of trust and mutual respect, will make use of one of the last opportunities to really make a case for themselves. Your humble blogger will keep you posted!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Disharmony Among Prospective Partners

From the perspective of an ordinary voter, the current election campaign is fairly boring because the outcome seems pretty obvious. On the one hand, the conservative and the liberal parties, CDU/CSU and FDP, would like to form the next government and may perhaps actually win the necessary majority of seats. On the other hand, there is no single party or other coalition model both willing and realistically able to claim power for itself. SPD and the Greens, who governed the country between 1998 and 2005, have lost so much popular support that they reasonably can't expect more than 36 or 37% of the vote. The only option that would bring them at least close to forming the next government again would be a coalition including the Left. Both have repeatedly ruled this out. So, their foremost priority is to prevent a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition - a rather sad priority and far from anything like an attractive policy project on its own that could fascinate the electorate.

If this wasn't bad enough, a closer look at the Conservatives and the Liberals may also astonish if not disturb many voters. Although Chancellor Merkel, the CDU's party leader, has declared the alliance with the FDP the only source of governmental stability for the next few years, the parties involved haven't yet behaved like partners but have quarreled about their reliability and competencies on an almost daily basis. Especially the CSU, the Bavarian sibling of the much larger CDU, hasn't missed many opportunities over the last weeks to complain more or less overtly about the Liberals, some of their policy proposals or the personal competencies of the party's chief staff.

These days, the major theme of their dispute is whether they can trust each other on whether the envisaged coalition is the only option to form the next government. The Conservatives and the Liberals are wary about the other not fighting strongly enough for the common victory as they indeed do have alternatives. Still today, the FDP's general secretary, Dirk Niebel, is cited on the party's homepage: "We are clear and the union [i.e. the Conservatives] is not."

The dispute between potential partners, which may seem surprising to the public, can be attributed to several reasons:

First, the joint victory of the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition seemed almost certain over the last months. As a result, it was logical for each party involved to try to increase its share of the votes at the expense of the other and thereby gain more influence in the future government. Particularly the CSU and the FDP are keen on outperforming each other.

Second, these two parties already form a coalition government in Bavaria since last year's state parliament elections which ended more than four decades of uninterrupted CSU rule. Of course, this party's first priority now is to restore its traditional role at the state level as soon as possible, and a good result at the Bundestag election would be an important step towards that aim.

Third, the FDP is more than irritated by the current popularity of the federal minister of the economy, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (CSU), who is perceived as threatening the Liberal's claim to this ministry after the election, as the economy is one of their core policy domains.

Fourth, Angela Merkel needs to improve the CDU/CSU election performance as both parties only got 35.2% of the vote in 2005, a result that was viewed by many in her party as a disaster. Now, Angela Merkel has to prove that she's able to win elections (or at least to secure a share of the votes the party was used to for many years).

Fifth, and finally, the Conservatives disagree with the Liberals on some policy issues, for instance on how much regulation the finance sector needs or on the right balance between strengthening security measures and protecting civil rights.

From the point of view of CDU/CSU and FDP, these are five good reasons, at least, for them to attack each other and try to gain additional support in the election. However, too much discussion and disagreement between potential partners certainly does not attract many voters who will eventually question the parties' ability and willingness to form a stable government. So, it might be wiser for them to quit their dispute and seek the confrontation with their common opponents. And by the way, the latest polls published yesterday showed that CDU/CSU and FDP have lost support over the last days. They can expect 48 or 49% of the vote at the moment, maybe enough to build a government, but one cannot be sure. It will be interesting to see how they react now.

--Jörg Siegmund

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

World Champion or only No. 1 in Europe?

For decades Germany has been running a trade surplus, which is caused by its strength in exports. But as the diagram below shows, it was only in the last couple of years that the surplus really skyrocketed. Its export strength earned the country the nickname 'export world champion.' However, recently China overtook Germany in this discipline and while some see this as a sign for a loss of competitiveness and relevance, others welcome this development. Germany is being criticized from economists at home and abroad (including some prominent members of the profession in the U.S.) for being partly responsible for the current economic crisis because it was on the other side of the equation of the large global macroeconomic imbalance, together with China and Japan. The huge current account surplus was only possible – so the argument goes – because the United States acted as the consumer of last resort.

There is little talk about these issues during the election campaign that so far has not been about much else than coalition options and the misuse of chauffeur services. But within the ministries, the think tanks, lobbying groups, and in academia, the pros and cons of Germany's export dependency is being hotly debated. And it is probably no surprise that the Germans cannot easily let go of a trophy that many envied them for in the past. To me the question whether and how this export-dependency should be tackled should be thought through thoroughly before the country walks down this path.

The political left in Germany uses this discussion as proof for their general economic concept of higher minimum wages, a general higher wage increase, more social spending, more government investment or in general a politically induced increase of domestic demand. Instead of producing more than we consume, the gap, in their view, shall be closed through government intervention into markets. On the other side of the political spectrum the arguments are less obvious but in my view worthy of consideration for the U.S. critics of Germany's export driven growth model.

Germany's trade is mostly with other members of Euroland. Focusing on Germany's trade statistic with the rest of Euroland is much like looking at California's trade relations with the rest of the U.S. If one takes out the trade with other EU member states, Germany is downgraded from ‘world champion’ to ‘European champion,’ and its remaining current account surplus is insignificant for the rest of the world.

Germany is an aging society. Its population pyramid has for some time lost the shape of a triangle as can be seen below. In only a few years from now the size of the population will dramatically shrink and a smaller share of society will be at an age in which they can productively contribute to produce the GDP. Taking this into consideration, a capital outflow now (the other side of running a current account surplus) is like building a capital stock for the future in which the country as a whole will be less productive. If one follows this argument Germany as a whole acts rationally and a bit like a sovereign wealth fund of an oil-rich nation that will one day in the not too distant future run out of its natural resources.

Even if one does not buy these arguments, the current debate about Germany's export-driven economy will unlikely lead to any political consequences and cause a shift towards the production of more goods and services that are being sold domestically. The virtues of a higher degree of the international division of labor should not be traded in for a balanced current account. If anything the debate will put forward different policy options that try to strengthen domestic demand and therefore increase imports (instead of reducing exports).

Here the election campaign offers two competing parties that were recently very successful in the state elections on August 30. The Left Party can convincingly offer the whole portfolio of policies redistributing income to lower income groups and promises higher government spending on social programs and public investment. In contrast, the FDP has for years repeated its mantra of strengthening the middle class through lower taxes and leaving the most productive part of society a bigger share of their earned income, thereby strengthening domestic demand as well. It will be interesting to see which policy will be put into practice following this month's election.

--Tim Stuchtey