The result of Germany’s general election was not what pundits had expected (and hoped for). While the hubris of Europe’s poltical establishment continues unabated, reality ruins the Chancellor Merkel celebation.
Mathew D. Rose is an Investigative Journalist specialised in Organised Political Crime and an editor of BRAVE NEW EUROPE.
German media termed the result of the national election a political “earthquake”. Well, maybe. The two parties that have dominated German political life since World War II both lost 20% of their voters. Their results were the worst in over half a century. One of these, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), seems well on its way to political oblivion, like many other social democratic parties in Europe. An ultra-right party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), made impressive inroads, receiving nearly 13% of the vote and thus tripling its results of four years ago.
The election results were not all that surprising though, being very similar to those in the Netherlands in March of this year: More parties, a broader distribution of votes. The political parties are not solving society’s problems and this has been reflected in the election.
The cardinal rule of understanding German elections is that a large number of voters do not vote for a party or its policies, but against one. It is a sort of showing the middle finger gesture, but not terribly conducive to positive political decisions.
The problem facing German voters is that among the established political parties there are no real differences anymore. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, its sister party, the Christian Social Union (together known as the “Union”), the Social Democrats, the Liberals (FDP) and the Greens are all neo-liberal parties. The Left Party (Die Linke) talks the talk of anti-neoliberalism, but as soon as they join a coalition government in one of Germany’s federal states, one can hardly distinguish them from the neo-liberal parties.
An example of this voting against a party is the Liberal Party, the FDP. It hasn’t really had a political programme for years, except selling favours through the creation of laws and delivering government contracts to the benefit of the highest bidder. In the 2013 elections, following serving as junior coalition partner of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, for the first time since World War II they did not receive the minimum number of votes to enter Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. In the current election, they doubled their vote. The party solely had the advantage of not being in the headlines and could hardly offend anyone.
It is interesting to note that almost 1.6 million Union voters switched to the FDP. This could have two causes. The first is rather simple: they wished to show the Union that they were not happy with its policies, selecting a similar right-wing, but more racist, party. The other is more complex.
Voters have two votes in Germany. One to elect their local candidate, the other to select the party that bests represents their interests. The second vote is a proportional vote. That means if a party receives 10 percent of these votes, they also receive 10 percent of the seats in parliament reserved for proportional votes (about half). In the past Union voters have occasionally voted for their own direct candidates, but given their proportional vote to the FDP to provide them with enough seats in parliament to secure a majority for a Union and FDP coalition. Being too clever by half, this may be what occurred; the result is a debacle for Merkel’s Union.
The ultra-right AfD was simply the newest protest party on the block. Of course it has become the haven for many racists and neo-Nazis, but almost one million voters left Merkel’s Union and half a million abandoned the social democrats to cast their ballots for the AfD. Either the Union and SPD have been the hospitable harbour for 1.5 million racists and neo-Nazis all these years, or these are normal citizens who decided they wanted to send a message to their parties.
So, with 25% of Germans not bothering to vote and a large percent of those who did vote, having not voted for a party, but against one, what conclusions can we draw concerning German politics? While German media did their best to make it appear that the election was all about refugees, there were more important issues that were ignored by most of the media because they did not fit in the German neo-liberal political discourse.
If one looks beyond the racists and neo-Nazis, who is voting for the AfD? The party is especially strong in the areas that constitute the former German Democratic Republic. The AfD even received the most votes of any party in the federal state of Saxony. The reason is very simple. Following reunification the Eastern part of Germany was subjected to a brutal neo-liberal programme. Most factories and jobs were lost. To make matters worse, the neighbouring impoverished Eastern Bloc countries, were –and still are -offering incredibly low wages and taxes, as well as weak labour and environmental laws. Why invest in Eastern Germany when neo-liberal nirvana is around the corner? Many young people in Eastern Germany who wish to earn a decent wage have to immigrate to western Germany. Parts of Eastern Germany are becoming ghost towns, scantily populated by pensioners, poorly paid workers, and wind turbines.
In Western Germany there are similar problems, but not as drastic. Wages are hardly rising, while rents are skyrocketing; the state having privatised a major portion of public housing. German unemployment may be low, but most new jobs are temporary and part time. Almost a quarter of the German workforce currently receive a “low income” wage (less than two-thirds of the median wage).The only EU nation with a higher proportion is Lithuania. While Germany has one of the highest inequality rates in Europe, the danger of citizens falling into poverty has increased radically. This is having major consequences for young people. For the first time in post-war Germany the age group between 25 and 35 is on average not seeing an increase in its wealth. It is therefore no wonder that the Union and SPD received well below their national average among voters between 18 and 34.
The current economic situation in Germany was hardly an issue during the election. Instead the campaign followed its usual course. One always knows that it is election year because first the state pensions are increased. Pensioners tend to vote above the national average for the Union and the social democrats and a much higher percentage cast their ballots in comparison to younger voters. As always in an election year the social democrats tried to transform themselves into a truly social democratic party ignoring their consequent neo-liberal policy ot the past twenty years. Not having a candidate who could remotely convince anyone of this, they re-imported the hardly known – and thus hardly discredited – EU politician Martin Schulz. This was not successful, as Germans have become accustomed to this ritual and hardly take it seriously. As the average age of the SPD members is around 61 and many of its voters are of a similar age, the party has become increasingly dependent upon the mortality rate and less upon political issues. The same holds true for the Union.
What this election has proven once again is that Europe’s politicians, this time in Germany, are either out of touch with political reality, or hope with the help of mainstream media to dictate the political agenda. That this repeatedly fails seems not to faze them in the least.
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