UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



Konrad Adenauer 16 Sep 194915 Oct 1963 CDU
Ludwig Wilhelm Erhard 16 Oct 1963 01 Dec 1966CDU
Kurt Georg Kiesinger 01 Dec 196621 Oct 1969CDU
Willy Brandt 21 Oct 1969 07 May 1974SPD
Walter Scheel (acting) 07 May 197416 May 1974FDP
Helmut Schmidt 16 May 1974 01 Oct 1982SPD
Helmut Kohl 01 Oct 198227 Oct 1998CDU
Gerhard Schröder 27 Oct 199822 Nov 2005SPD
Angela Kasner Merkel 22 Nov 200508 Dec 2021CDU
Olaf Scholz 08 Dec 2021xx xxx 2025SPD

In some countries, such as the UK, there is a fairly widespread cynical view of politics. In Germany, people might not have much respect for politicians, but they think politics is a serious thing.

Germans, who view dependability as a great asset in politicians, do not like it when their leaders show signs of weakness. And, usually, they do not want to know about it either. In the past, reporting on the health of chancellors has been the exception rather than the norm. In the 1970s, the then-chancellor from the center-left Social Democrat party, Willy Brandt, experienced long periods of depression unbeknownst to the public. Similarly, in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl survived an attempt by his conservative colleagues to oust him at a party conference while he was in excruciating pain from a prostate illness. No one knew that Kohl was unwell at the time.

Politicians in Germany are also afforded more privacy than in other democracies where the topic of leaders' health is dealt with differently. In France, it is not improper to discuss the president's health; likewise, in the US, the press even reports on the president's bloodwork. But that level of transparency hasn't always been the norm. Former presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were seriously ill while in office, but the public were provided few, if any details.

As Europe’s strongest economy, Germany is sometimes expected to take the lead in the continent’s foreign policy. German politicians, including Merkel, have been hesitant to take political and military leadership of Europe, for fear of evoking the specter of Nazi Germany. But analysts say Germans have no problem taking the lead of Europe’s economy, shown no hesitation in imposing unpopular measures to save Europe's common currency.

Every four years the electorate votes to determine the political composition of the Bundestag, the German parliament, which is normally made up of 598 members. The Bundestag stands at the center of the country's political life and is the Federal Republic of Germany's supreme democratic organ of state. Its central duties include law-making. New legislation is debated and passed in the Bundestag. During the 16th legislative period the parliament enacted some 600 laws. In addition to this important legislative role, the Bundestag is also responsible for electing the Federal Chancellor and scrutinizing the Federal Government.

Refugees in Germany remained the major sticking point in German politics. When hundreds of thousands of refugees made their way into Europe in August and September 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to engage in an open-door policy toward the newcomers.

The number of people arriving in Germany from other countries has increased in recent years. More than two million people came to Germany in 2015, and nearly one million left the country. All in all, by the year 2016 mor than 17 million people with an immigrant background live in Germany, according to German Integration Commissioner Aydan Ozoguz. Many people felt threatened by the 890,000 refugees who arrived in the country in 2015. The German government stressed that the 2015 situation will not be repeated. But there was one constant: most people were coming from war-torn Syria. In March 2016, the government introduced a two-year suspension on family reunifications for persons only entitled to subsidiary protection, a lower-level refugee status that fell short of full asylum. Many refugees from Syria, for example, were only granted subsidiary protection because they were fleeing from a civil war, but couldn't prove they had been personally persecuted, as required for asylum status under the Geneva Convention.

Many in the CDU and CSU were concerned about the negative impact of too much immigration on the German labor market. In March 2016 the populist right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won seats in three regional elections. The rise of the far-right, anti-immigration AfD which took millions of votes from mainstream parties.

One issue that played a big role is equality - especially in terms of education. Every child is supposed to have the same chances in life, but that's a far cry from reality in Germany at this point. A child whose parents are well educated has a much higher chance of graduating with a university diploma than a child from a family with a low educational background.

Then there's the debate on fair salaries. There are many people who work all day long, but get such low wages that they can't make a living off it. That's why there have been many arguments of late in favor of a mandatory minimum wage - for all employees, in all of Germany.

The German health care system is also under fire, since those on a private insurance plan get better treatment than those who on compulsory public health plans. And who will be able to pay for the care of the elderly and the sick, some ask, if numbers of older people rise while the number of young people paying in to the program decrease?

On the energy front, Germany made a lot of progress since deciding to phase out nuclear energy and switch to renewables roughly two years ago. At this point, some 23 percent of Germany's energy needs are met via solar panels, wind turbines and biogas plants. Germany's ambitious goal is to hit 35 percent by 2015. But the project has hit a snag: There are not enough pipes to transport electricity where it's needed.

In the election of 24 September 2017, the Social Democrats suffered the worst election result in their history. The once-proud national party plummeted in the polls, gaining just 20.5 percent of the vote. Following its election disaster in September 2017, the SPD initially promised to go into opposition in the next legislative period. Most political pundits agreed at the time that this made sense, because the four years in a centrist coalition with Merkel had drained the party of identity and policy ideas. And the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered parliament for the first time, securing 12.6 percent of the vote.

On 19 November 2017 Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dream of a so-called "Jamaica coalition" collapsed. The political constellation consisting of the conservative union parties (CDU/CSU), the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and the pro-environment Greens — whose colors together reflect those of the Caribbean country's flag — was to not be.

Angela Merkel's CDU and the SPD agreed 12 January 2018 on a blueprint for formal grand coalition [Grosse Koalition = GroKo] negotiations. The left wing of the Social Democrats appears to have been forced into the most concessions. The new agreement represented an important stage victory in the marathon negotiations for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who would certainly prefer a grand coalition to the other two options currently on the table: heading an unstable minority government, or a new election. The negotiation paper included a phrase that might be seen as a breakthrough for Germany's anti-arms trade activists — "The government will with immediate effect not approve any exports to countries as long as they are involved in the Yemen war."

After protracted talks, Angela Merkel's conservatives made a deal 07 February 2018 with the Social Democrats for a new coalition contract in Germany. Negotiators from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU); their Bavarian partners, the Christian Social Union (CSU); and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) finally hashed out a contract for a new grand coalition government — probably ensuring that Angela Merkel will stay in office for a fourth tenure as German chancellor.

In Austria, the coalition stood before Christmas. Merkel's coalition agreement covers 167 pages (without preamble), less than Strache and Kurz (182 pages). But Berlin needed much longer - over four months was negotiated. Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, will have a rather thick book of issues to work through during the three-and-a-half years that remain in this legislative period.

One of the last major hurdles was the allocation of ministerial posts, always a thorny issue and typically among the last detail to be confirmed. The SPD to now have three major portfolios: finance, foreign affairs and labor. Merkel's CDU gained the Economy Ministry and smaller posts, but gave up the influential Interior and Finance ministries. Germany would have a new government by Easter.

Bavaria's CSU, which advocates a tougher line on immigration than Chancellor Merkel, took over the Interior Ministry. The CSU's Ministry of Interior is to be expanded to include Heimat ["homeland"]. The Ministry of the Interior is "upgraded", the department gets extended competences. The CSU had been playing high and obviously winning. Party leader Horst Seehofer becomes Minister of the Interior. In addition, his department will be expanded to include the area "Homeland and Homeland Security" [ Innen- und Heimatminister]. In Austria, this was also a demand of FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache in the coalition negotiations with Sebastian Kurz. However, Strache was unable to prevail - he met with vehement opposition from President Alexander Van der Bellen. The fact that the term "Heimat" (homeland) has been inserted into the title of the Ministry of the Interior (something that has long been the case in Bavaria) came as a bit of a surprise. Especially in light of ongoing nationwide debates about German identity and globalization.

In an 03 October 2017 speech, German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned, "We must not let those who construe Heimat in terms of 'us against them' have a monopoly on the longing for Heimat. They cling to idiotic blood and soil ideologies…" Blood and soil was a term used by German National Socialists, and the Nazi concept of "Heimat" was defined as a place reserved for a select segment of the country's citizenry, namely those who could prove their Aryan heritage.

The German term "Heimat," often translated as "homeland," was long thought of as tacky, regressive, and even politically dubious. For decades, politicians avoided using the term. Its image seemed irreparably tarnished by associations with concepts from Germany's Nazi past. Historically, the term Heimat is also much more emotionally charged than its English translation "homeland," or its French equivalent "patrie." But since the 2017 election, German politicians across the spectrum were using it once again. The Christian Social Union (CSU), the conservative Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had evoked lederhosen and beer as the essence of 'Heimat' in its election campaigns.

The two sides agreed to tighten Germany's arms export controls — last updated in 2000 — and will specifically exclude all countries taking part in the war in Yemen. This would be a significant change, as it would mean that Saudi Arabia, historically one of the best customers for German arms outside the EU and NATO, will no longer be receiving German weapons. The pesticide glyphosate, a source of much friction between the CSU and SPD, will be banned, along with genetically modified crops.

The opposition Greens hit a record high in a June 2019 opinion poll, pulling ahead of Angela Merkel's conservatives. The center-left SPD have dropped even further, slipping behind the far-right Alternative for Germany. A Deutschlandtrend poll by Infratest dimap has put the environmentalist Greens up 6 percentage points at a record 26%, one point ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and sister party Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU). For party preferences, respondents put the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) at 13%, just ahead of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). The business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) remained at 8% Thursday, while the socialist Left party slipped to 7%.

In a separate YouGov survey, the most preferred future coalition for 25% of respondents was an alliance of the Greens, the SPD and Left party. A so-called "Jamaica" alliance between Merkel's conservatives, the Greens and FDP came next at 15%, with a conservative-Greens scenario relegated to 14%. Among Green party voters, 54% hoped their party would enter into an alliance with the SPD and Left party. Only 25% wanted a Greens-conservative model, along the lines of the governments in the regional states of Hesse and in Baden-Württemberg.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 15-12-2021 18:43:46 ZULU