Germany: Only high vote for left will send strong message

Issue 

The upcoming federal elections in Germany, scheduled for September 22, are unlikely to change the character of German politics regardless of the outcome.

The two main parties remain committed continuing to represent the interests of German corporations over its people.

Die Linke (The Left Party) provides a left parliamentary alternative, but it has not succeeded in convincing ordinary, working people that a break of the status quo is possible.

However, a higher vote for Die Linke would send a strong message of warning that people may be starting to question the rhetoric of a “strong economic base” in Germany.

Federal elections in Germany are held every four years. The parliament has one chamber (Bundestag). There is also the federal council (Bundesrat) which represents the regions, however, its members are not elected.

The Bundestag nominally has 598 members, half of which are elected in single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting. The other half is allocated from statewide party lists, elected according to a form of proportional representation.

The last federal elections in 2009 resulted in a coalition government between Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) with 33.9% of the vote and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) with 14.6%.

In 2009, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) received 23%, Die Linke 11.9% and the Greens 10.7%.

German politics occurs in the context of a huge wealth redistribution from the bottom to the top as a result of austerity measures imposed by an SPD-led government in coalition with the Greens from 2003.

This was characterised by wage dumping, casualisation of the workforce leading to an exploitation of working people, a rise in the pension age to 67, cuts to health entitlements and a cut in the top income bracket from 48.5% to 42%.

From 2005, the CDU and SPD acted in unison, imposing austerity and structural adjustments onto eurozone countries.

Even after being voted out of government in 2009, the SPD continued to support Merkel's eurozone policies, often providing support during key parliamentary votes.

At the start of the year, the rate of unemployment in some southern European countries exceeded 25% and youth unemployment reached 55% or even 60%. The dramatic drop in growth and employment was triggered by the fall-out of the global financial crisis of 2008/2009.

The German mantra of “austerity as the only solution” as articulated by finance minister Wolfgang Schauble, was imposed across Europe.

The adjustment programs as prescribed by the European Central Bank, under the leadership of Germany, have worsened the situation for the affected euro countries.

The fiscal adjustments, that is cuts in government spending and tax rates have resulted in a fall in government tax revenues and increases in public expenditure for social security and unemployment benefits.

The imposed structural reforms are essentially aimed at labour-market reforms in form of wage cuts.

As it stands, there is a real danger of a break-up of the eurozone and possibly the European Union. The role of Germany is perceived as aggressive. Remarkably, there is no discussion about the Euro crisis during this election.

CDU and SPD alike have an interest in avoiding the issue and the only party that has consistently voted against all austerity measures, Die Linke, doesn't get a hearing in the media.

Die Linke, despite polling about the 9%-10%, far more that the government coalition partner FDP that is polling about the 5.5%, recently managed to get a bit of a media presence after offering a “red-red-green” coalition option to the SPD (involving SPD, Greens and Die Linke).

The offer was raised by Die Linke founding member Gregor Gysi, and has been hotly debated within Die Linke and among the public.

The positions of Die Linke reflect the balance of forces internally between those who aim to be part of government no matter what and are willing to compromise Die Linke's policies to do so, and those who are unwilling to compromise on key positions, making coalition governments impossible.

The option of 田ritical support・ ― that is, Die Linke parliamentarians allowing a government to be formed by the SPD and Greens without actually joining the government, is not openly explored.

Nonetheless, on September 9, Die Linke published a plan of 10 themes that would have to be guaranteed for the party to support a red-red-green coalition government.

These include: a minimum wage of 10 euros an hour and strategies to reverse the casualisation of the workforce; a lowering of the retirement age and raising of the pension; raising the top tax rate to 53%; increased access to health services; withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; no bailout of private banks in the euro-zone; and a range of other strategies covering renewable energies, social rights and democratic participation.

Die Linke's push around a potential coalition has managed to raise its media profile. The SPD's leading candidate, Peer Steinbruck, has backtracked from his definite “No” to a potential coalition with Die Linke to a more nuanced position, arguing that this would depend on the ability of Die Linke to demonstrate its capacity to function in such a coalition.

These statements need to be seen in the context of the latest polls. The CDU is polling at 40.5%, the SPD at 25.2%, the Greens at 11.1%, die LINKE at 8.3% and the FDP at 5.5%.

As the FDP needs 5% to enter parliament, it could be that either a CDU-CSU-SPD “great coalition”, or a “red-red-green” coalition will be on the cards.

If the elections end up with one variation of a coalition involving the parties committed to austerity, politics within Germany (and probably across Europe, where Germany dominates) will continue as is.

Only a strong vote for Die Linke could change the playing field to the left.

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