Archive for the 'Germany' Category

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A Big Coalition?

The campaigns by SPD, Green Party, CDU/CSU, FDP and Linke turned up the heat. Three days to go, several politicians already announced they would rally until the last booth closed (which is going to happen at 6.p.m. on sunday). There’re still a lot of people – about a third of the electorate leo electorate – who haven’t decided yet who to give their vote to. Compared to a half year ago, when polls foretold the death of the SPD/Green Party coalition. Today, CDU/CSU lead by only a few percents, which is tremendously dissappointing compared to the expectations of a bold change and strong, new government.

Currently, chances are people vote for a big coalition between SPD and CDU/CSU: In a recent poll, 34% are all for it. The politicians are nowhere near this kind of enthusiasm. Angela Merkel (CDU) and potential (first female) chancellor already ruled a big coalition out. On monday evening, during the so called “Elephant Round” (with heavyweights from all major parties participating) she said that her party never could form a new government with a party they have criticized as much as they did in the last years. A reason fair enough, but there’s another reason as well. If both of the big parties are not in the opposition, then who is? A good government needs a good opposition. It’s the same in economics (a field I have to confess I know less about than is good for me, but this I do understand): If there’s no competition, sooner or later you get sloppy and unmotivated, the product you’re selling is not as good as it could be, but hey, you’re the only one who has it, so who cares? People will buy your product anyway.

In politics, accordingly you need someone who leads and someone who checks – and thus does the balancing. This is true on both levels, within the government and the opposition as well as on the government-opposition level. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good examples if you look around in the world what happens when you have a too strong government and an inefficient or even non-existing opposition, if too much power concentration leads to the whole ship leaning towards one side. In Germany, a big coalition of SPD and CDU would probably leave the Green Party, FDP and Linke in the opposition. In the case of the latter, having a party with extreme positions unbalanced by other parties in the opposition is certainly not a healthy thing – it is questionable the two other parties will be doing a good job in that respect.

Another problem with a big coalition: Traditionally, the SPD or the CDU form a coalition with a smaller partner. In a coalition, the big party is the People’s party in the positive sense of the meaning, the small party is responsible for the flavor. The major stream goes either more left or right, but it is the small party’s task to give it a certain spin, balancing the big partner’s motivation and aims in respect to reforms and new laws. Note that in the SPD/Green Party coalition the Green Party has a much smaller weight than the SPD, they never could push through everything they’d like to, but neither can the SPD – but the emphasis is on the latter’s political program in any case. In a big coalition, you have two People’s parties who are not used to have a tantamount partner, which would probably lead to even more friction than it is usually the case. In the worst case, the SPD and CDU would neutralize each other.

Trying to see it from another angle, there’s something politicians from both major parties certainly have thought about, but they’re not going to talk about it: If SPD and CDU form one government, they shoulder the responsebility equally. They couldn’t finger point as easily as they are used to do it one forming the government and the other being in the opposition. Most probably the concensus within the government would diminish to the smallest common denominator. In regard to the reforms which are neccessary to support the economy, a stalwart program needs to be pushed through, if nothing happens history could repeat itself. Germany already experienced a big coalition, and it didn’t go well. As it could happen again, SPD and CDU weren’t unable to tackle unemployment together. One result was that an opposition was formed outside the parliamentary structures and society was destabilized through radical factions as exemplified by the RAF, Germany’s left-wing terrorist group.

Ironically, Germany already had some kind of informal big coalition in the last few years. Most political decisions have to be accepted by the government and the Bundesrat (federal council) . It consists of the 16 Bundesländer (federal states) and is dominated by the CDU/CSU. After Chancellor Schröder lost North Rhine-Westphalia, the CDU/CSU was in the position to block any reform the government proposed. Interestingly enough, Merkel couldn’t do just that but had to agree to some of the ideas the government tried to put through since they were going into the right direction. CDU/CSU would loose all credibility if they blocked the government’s reforms just to suggest the same reforms later. In a big coalition, they would have to do just the same, cooperate instead of block and blame the other side. Problem is, it did’t work in the 60s, chances are it won’t work now. No party likes to blame its own government if the situation doesn’t improve, so a gridlock is the most likely outcome.

Thing is, if the people vote for it, they want it.

German Media in English

If you’re interested about the German media landscape, Sign and Sight offers a great daily insight, focusing on cultural and intellectual life in Germany. Unlike other sites (see below), Sign and Sight strives for objectivity and gives overviews. I recommend the digests and articles about Merkel’s new middle, What do the conservatives want? and Writers warn about Linkspartei.

If you’d rather read news yourself instead of digests, try one of the following sites:

My favorite newspaper, Die Zeit is unfortunately not available in English. Learn German. :-)

There’s one popular site I have to advise against: David’s Medienkritik regularily posts about events and news in Germany and focuses about German news about the U.S. It is some kind of self proclaimed watchdog that already disqualifies itself by its inaptitude to see a difference between the Spiegel and Stern, thus often only serving right-wing audience by focusing on Anti-Americanism (keeping its definition as vague as possible), failing to differentiate even the most basic interrelations and possibly even prone to censorship. In some cases, it happened to raise valid points, far too often it pushs its own agenda – but since it extremely focuses on a handful of topics it presents a grossly distorted perception.

Afghanistan: ISAF

Afghanistan: convoy in the countrysideGermany’s Bundeswehr has currenty some 7000-8000 soldiers sent out all over the world. The biggest operations are Enduring Freedom (1800 soldiers), ISAF (2500 soldiers) in Afghanistan (English Link), KFOR (2700 soldiers) and EUFOR (1000 soldiers) in the Balkans beside UN observer missions, support of Allied stabilisation efforts for Iraq and operations in Ethiopia & Eritrea and the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast to other armies, the Bundeswehr is a conscript army with 257,000 military and around 125,000 civilian personnel. Its role is described in the Grundgesetz (German Basic Law) as being defensive only (Article 87a (1): The Federation shall establish Armed Forces for purposes of defense.), but since the end of the Cold War the Bundeswehr is undergoing a transformation to adapt to the new and fast-paced changing global security issues.

Afghanistan: ISAFOne of my friends I know since highschool times decided to join the Bundeswehr right after school. It’s not his first time abroad, but he’s currently in Afghanistan with the ISAF. Last week I recieved several interesting pictures and videos, of which I added three images to this post. If you’re looking for other – officially approved – pictures about ISAF, try their website. Stationed at Camp Warehouse, which is the is the operations center for the multinational force in Kabul (????)- it’s hot, dusty and every now and then a rocket hits a camp as on May 30th. I’m following the news about ISAF closely, like two days ago, when the two German soldiers who got killed last week, arrived at Köln-Wahn airport. I hope my friend will come back in one piece.

My friend also told me that lots of mercenaries are hired to replace military U.S. troops. PBS published an indepth report about private warriors. Right now, around 120,000 mercenaries are in Iraq – outsourcing call centers and support desks, alright, but outsourcing troops is not in the same league. War is too important to be left to companies – where’s the legal framework for private military firms anyway – if they loose control who’s liable?

Plans to split the forces into three major parts – intervention, stabilization and support forces – are accompanied by a strong reduction of the overall size. Right now, it happens that draftees sue because the equity of conscription for all male youths is not kept – if you’re 23, married or have been categorized as T3, you’re not drafted anymore. Also, since the European Court of Justice opened up military service to women, there are around 12,000 women serving in the Bundeswehr.

Afghanistan: mercenariesFor years, there have not only been developements to transform the Bundeswehr to a more modern army, but also to change its very basic structure and abolish the conscript system. The FDP as well as the Green Party are for it, the SPD and CDU want to keep it. While some seem to think a professional army would cost less, experiences of other countries have shown that cost is not a factor. The major difference between a conscript and professional army is the purpose and the intended effect on society. A conscript army can’t provide as many ready-for combat troops, since most soldiers serve as draftees for a certain time (nine months in Germany) and are not fit for deployment, but a citizen in uniform has a positive effect on the society a professional army never could. A conscript army comes with another perk: Youths who don’t want to
join the army do civilian service – loosing that support, many social institutions would have extreme problems to keep up their service for elderly, handicapped people etc.

On the other hand, a professional army would enable Germany to increase its participation for global security, affirm its claim for a seat in the UN security council, but at the same time “locate” the army outside German society, compared to the current condition and would probably be even more expensive (German politicians who want to raise the budget – say, for a bigger contribution on the international stage – have a hard time defending their stance). Professional soldiers have a different motivation and such troops basically make more sense in regard to the current global political situation. Nevertheless: As long as the issue of a looming omission of the civilian service and the overall political and societal impact is not properly addressed to, a switch to a professional army is probably a bad idea. It needs to be done, but done the right way.

N.B.: Since most links in this posting lead to German sites, you might want to try Babelfish to translate the content into English or French.

Pew Global Attitudes

Pew Global Attitudes Survey published a snapshot of opinions around the world, Howard French reports concisely about an article by Brian Knowlton titled U.S. image abroad. Chirol over at Cominganarchy might be pleased (and possibly sad) to find his opinion in regard to Anti-Americanism to be widespread confirmed – although the U.S. image improved slightly, it is still in the red.

What I found interesting in regard to Germany that Germans don’t see themselves as popular as they really are.

They are much too self-deprecating. In fact, other Western European nations give Germany the highest global favorability ratings of any of the five leading nations (U.S., France, China, Japan and Germany) covered by the survey.

That reminded me of something Dr. Ruprecht Vondran said last year after a lecture on economic issues: Germans can’t and don’t define anymore who they are and don’t love they country any more. In Europe, they’re loosing their cultural and national contour. If you ask people about the British, French or Italians, they have a certain image in their mind. If you ask them about the Germans, it’s getting increasingly difficult. While I don’t see this much of a problem – define yourself as a European and you’ll be fine – I even see it as an advantage that pride is not a word(many) Germans connect with their country. I had a similar talk about the topic with Sir Francis in Japan some five years ago. Being proud of your country makes you vulnerable, since attaching emotions to such complex, amorph structures as countries leaves lots of opportunities to be criticized and in the course hurt. If you’re hurt, you’re open to revenge, and revenge and irrationality lead to arguments and possibly armed hostilities (sounds Yoda-ish, but I hope you get my point ;-) ). There’s nothing wrong with working hard to give something back to society, in the contrary.

Back to the survey: 80% of all Germans were certain that not using violence in the case of Iraq was right in 2003 and that opintion even increased since up to 87%. Between 2002 and 2005 Germany’s support decreased from 70% down to 50%, although I don’t think Germans sympathize less with Americans about what happened on 911, but there’s strong disagreement about implementation, targets, conduct…

Also, Canada was in spot one when the question was how western publics view the Americans – in the categories violent and rude, the relationship is deteriorating. Nevertheless, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I still see a difference between the U.S. government and its people. Of course, it got harder to differentiate between those two since George W. Bush’s re-election as all reasons why the U.S. government has been critized in the U.S. and abroad were already on the table before the election. It’s a democracy after all, so it’s not far off to say that the people have a reponsebility when it comes to their duly elected leaders. In the end, every people deserves the government they have, but I’m not so sure

Another bright spot in the survey:

In fact, even the French give Germany a higher favorability rating (89%) than they give their own country (74%). The Germans, however, return the favor, giving France a 78% favorability rating, higher than the 64% they give their own country.

If two countries that had serious …misunderstandings over centuries can get as close as they are now, I’d say that’s reason to be optimistic for all of Europe. It might be difficult at the moment, but there’s hope for the future. By speaking of which, one third in contrast to the rest of the country in Germany thinks immigration is a bad idea. I don’t want to get too far into demographics, xenophobia and national immigration policies, but that’s one of the big omissions our government has allowed itself. Being the son of immigrants myself, I have a slightly different angle on the issue than the afore mentioned two thirds. Those people are afraid to loose the way of life they’re used to, in case there are too many foreigners coming (the boat is full argument), but that is in my opinion rather a general problem than one connected to immigration. The German way of life changed drastically in the last 50, in the last 100 years, and the developement towards another drastic change is not stoppable. This country need skilled workers, people who don’t only cohabitate but bear children. Does future sociocultural, genetic or otherwise diversity scare you? Take a look at the mayor cities, almost 20% of Düsseldorf’s citizens are foreigners, and nobody can deny that life is good here. In fact, Düsseldorf is one of the wealthiest cities in Germany, just as one argument for the people who are afraid of decreasing economic strength. Diversity is not a threat, it is a neccessity – just as it is change. Call it progess.

The U.S. image abroad: Even China’s is better

Tameshiwari Session

Today my Dojo in Mönchengladbach, where I practice Kyokushin Karate, organized a ???(Tameshiwari) session with barbecue afterwards. Every member of the school brought spruce or similar wood and food. Our Sensei, Rolf, asked a local butcher to prepare two bricks of ice on the scale of one meter in length and about twenty centimeters in diameter. What he got was eighty centimeters in length and thirty centimeters in diameter, but he brought it anyway – and broke the ice in two halves with a ?? (mawashi geri). I took videos of everybody’s Tameshiwari test with my faithful Fuji Finepix 4500 I acquired in Japan five years ago, but sometime inbetween the data storage card suddenly issued an error, so I can’t put the video online (yet), hopefully I can recover a few recordings. Until that, take a look at these tests.

Yesterday was Yesterday

It looks like Chancellor Schröder’s strategy to deviate the voters’ attention from the outcome of the election to the big question of the CDU/CSU “K-Frage” (who is going to be the conservatives’ candidate in the upcoming election?). News at 9. a.m. this morning reported first about the advance of the national election, the outcome of the Diet election in NRW was secondary already. Prime Minister of Hesse Roland Koch has been quoted that It’s not a big surprise that we want to go into the campaign with Mrs Merkel as our candidate, the leaders of the CDU/CSU (Christian Social Union) will hold a joint session later this day. The CDU doesn’t have a manifesto for the election, so they’re under pressure to pass many internal compromises (between CDU and CSU). This might lead to new quarrels and weaken the opposition. As I wrote yesterday, Schröder has no alternative – beside that he seems to be convinced that against a candidate like Mrs Merkel, in direct comparison, he might have a better chance (49% vs 21%). Also, German magazine Stern reports that Lower Saxony Prime Minister Christian Wulff would be a more promising candidate than Angela Merkel. Yet, Mr. Wulff said “No” when asked whether he’d like to run for office, but that could change quickly, if the prospects are good enough.

Local radio, Antenne Düsseldorf, reported that the CDU gained 13% with workers and unemployed. Also, looking at the results below, the Green Party and Liberals both recieved less votes than in 2000 – since the tune of the campaign of CDU was in the spirit of change, this seems to have hurt the smaller parties as well. The FDP lost one of its popular local political leaders, Jürgen Möllemann and didn’t build up new faces fast enough. The Green Party didn’t recover yet from the Visa Affair earlier this year.

The interim results of the election in NRW:

Diet election on 22.05.2005

number %
eligible voters 13 239 170 100,0
voters 8 334 561 63,0
invalid votes 91 189 1,1
valid votes 8 243 372 100,0
therefrom
SPD 3 059 074 37,1
CDU 3 695 806 44,8
FDP 508 354 6,2
Green 509 219 6,2
REP 67 282 0,8
PDS 72 982 0,9

Diet election on 14.05.2000

number %
eligible voters 13 061 265 100,0
voters 7 409 399 56,7
invalid votes 72 988 1,0
valid votes 7 336 411 100,0
therefrom
SPD 3 143 179 42,8
CDU 2 712 176 37,0
FDP 721 558 9,8
Green 518 295 7,1
REP 83 296 1,1
PDS 79 934 1,1

At noon, the office for statistics and election is going to publish a PDF-file with all relevant information.

"Between Ingeniousness and Harakiri"

I just watched Tagesthemen at ARD. Ulrich Deppendorf, program director of WDR commented on the election Chancellor Schröder’s strategy to advance the national election is somewhere between ingeniousness and harakiri. I think it’s the former not only because there’s simply no alternative: Since it will be harder to run the country, the government would go down in flames and slowly lacerate itself – a political stalemate is the worst that can happen to any government. Also, Chancellor Schröder challenges the opposition, they have to act now and show that they’re fit for government. First they’ll have to agree on one candidate: Germany might elect its first female Chancellor (Mrs. Angela Merkel) this fall, but there’s still the possibility that one of her rivals tries to take over (as happened before the last national election). Another side effect is that people won’t be talking long about the election in NRW and more about the upcoming national one. A risky move, but the SPD is cornered.

updated extrapolation at 10:44 p.m.:
CDU 44,8% +7,9% and 89 seats
SDP 37,1% -5,7%            74
Green 6,2% -0,9%          12
FDP 6,2% -3,7%             12
others 5,7% +2,4%

The CDU's Plans for NRW

Excepts from the CDU program for NRW:

“Initiative for more economic growth and reduction of bureaucracy:
  • rejection of anti-discrimination law and against “Green” gene technology
  • 1:1 conversion of federal and EU laws
  • elimination of SPD-Green “commissary inflation”

Also, the CDU wants to initiate a law against heads scarfs by teachers in public schools and several laws in regard to universities and school education. The CDU also plans to support start-up enterprises by lowering legal obstacles and increase Public-Private-Partnerships. Another main point is the creation of 1,000 new traineeships (elderly nursing). They also plan to improve several laws for child care, re-introduce equestrian police squads, increase controls against graffiti (how is not clear though) and grow 100 avenues in NRW.”

updated extrapolation:
CDU 44,6% +7,6% and 86 seats
SDP 37,6% -5,2%          72
Green 5,8% -1,3%          11
FDP 6,3% -3,5%          12
others 5,7% +2,4%

Full Frontal Attack

The election in NRW has an impact on national politics which is indeed unprecedented in Germany. If Chancellor Schröder really wants to advance the national election to fall 2005 he’ll have to overcome another obstacle: First his party will have to issue a motion of no-confidence against his government, which will have to succeed, then the Bundestag will be dissolved within three weeks (article 68 of the basic law), a new election will then be held within 60 days. There’s no alternative to Prime Minister Schröder in that case, this move is indeed a bold, full frontal attack.

Update: The SPD won’t issue the motion of no-confidence alone, but reaches out to the CDU, if they want advanced elections, all parties together will have to vote against the government. Interesting move.

The First 200 Days

reaction by voters and campaigners at the CDU branch office (source: dpa)What’s happening next? The CDU will form a coalition with the FDP, we’ll how they’ll try to solve problems like unemployment in NRW. For poor students, it’ll become more difficult to study at all, the CDU already announced to easen dismissal protection – read their program for the first 200 days here.

The SPD and the Green party combined have less seats than the CDU in parliament.
N-TV asked the future NRW Minister of Economics and Labour how much they want to lower the unemployment rate. His response was that he won’t answer that question in detail and specify any numbers, since “others already got into a scrape before with that” – hinting to Chancellor Schröder’s statement at the beginning of his government in 1998 that he doesn’t deserve to be reelected if he can’t lower the employment rate drastically (I think he said he wanted to decrease it by half). Anyway, some numbers for you:

CDU 44,1% +7,1% and 85 seats
SDP 37,4% -5,4%     73
Green 6,1% -1,3%     11
FDP 5,9% -3,7%     12
others 6,6% +2,2%

The NRWSPD reports in their own weblog here.

National Elections in 2005?

Mr Rüttgers gave his first statement after the first extrapolations, translation courtesy by me:

“We knew the surveys were good, we mobilized our voters, 10,000 people alone in the NRW team, the halls were full, the seats were full, the Red-Green government has to go. And therefore I thank everybody, everybody at home and here in our branch office.

I know that the voters put confidence in us, gave us a mandate that NRW comes back, in the following five years with a coalition of the middle. To create security, for the unemployed, for the ones who are afraid to loose their work, for the women to help them to combine work and family – our policy will make NRW a state of a new chance. […] If we continue to fight as we did in the past weeks, I’m confident we will suceed.”

A big surprise: The SPD or more exactly, Mr. Müntefering, the SPD’s chairman, thinks about advancing the national election to this year’s fall. Since they just lost the election in NRW, this is really a blowoff. Chancellor Schröder is fighting back.

NRW: First Surveys

First surveys conducted in front of the polling booths estimates 45% for the CDU. Livestream (in German) here.

estimated results at 6:14 p.m. :

CDU 44,5% +7,5%
SPD 38,0% -4,8%
Green 6,0% -1,1%
FPD 6,0% -3,8%
other 5,5%

The universities are going to miss the government’s financial support – the students are going to pay tuition fees to make up for the public funds.

Elections in NRW

states under SPD oder CDU rule in GermanyNRW (North Rhine-Westphalia), Germany’s most populated state with its 18 million citizens is going to the ballots today. The election is – almost – exiting – since the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) ruled for 39 years with the CDU (Christian Democracic Union of Germany) in the opposition. Since 2002, the federal government is lead by Peer Steinbrück (SPD) who formed a coalition with the Green Party (Alliance ’90/The Greens). The Green’s website features a Star Wars-related campaign video, the SDP is fighting to the end as well. Balloting is over at 6 p.m., then you can watch the results coming in here, it’s one of the offical sources provided by the government.

Last election, May 2000, 13 million people were allowed to vote, but the turnout was only 56,7%, with only 7,336,411 valid votes. In 2000, the SPD got 42,8%, but right now, Infratest Dimap sees them at about 37%, CDU 43%, Green and FDP (Free Democratic Party 7,5%. Two days ago, SDP was at around 29% and the CDU at 45%. High unemployment rates – in some areas of NRW as high as 30% – unpopular national politics by the SPD and reforms as Hartz IV drove 800,000 SPD members away. They and the undecided are the ones who count most this time. Thus is looks pretty good for the CDU (and FDP).

On the other hand, Mr Steinbrück is more popular than Jürgen Rüttgers, but half of the people asked in a survey last week want a change of government. Another problem for Mr Rüttgers are excess mandates: If he doesn’t win in his constituency, as it happened five years ago, and the CDU wins too many direct mandates, he won’t be able to move into parliament. Unfortunately, this is a precondition to be elected for state prime minister. It’s a minor obstacle though, another delegate can step down for Mr Rüttgers in case he doesn’t make it. After the U.S. election, debates in television became popular, Mr Steinbrück and Mr Rüttgers met twice during the campaign with both times Mr Steinbrück narrowing the margin to his opponent.

The election is a test and thus important for the upcoming national election next year, too. Chancellor Schröder will be under heavy fire in case NRW is lost to the CDU, after all, it’s the last SDP-Green Party coalition in Germany – and FDP’s Politicians already asked for advanced elections. The result of the election won’t have any impact on the Federal Council of Germany though – even if Schröder’s SDP looses this state, the opposition wouldn’t achieve a majority of 2/3 of the vote in the chamber.

Electoral Test for Germany’s Government

Back from Hamburg

I’m back, with mixed feeling about the trip. I used Mitfahrgelegenheit.de to get from Düsseldorf to Hamburg as cheap as possible. The train fare is between 39€ (if you’re lucky enough to get one of those tickets) to 71€, so I chose a service where people travelling into the same direction by car can find companions for the trip and share the costs for gas. In contrast to Mitfahrzentrale.de, Mitfahrgelegenheit.de is free and you get the phonenumber directly, the other service lets you exchange emails or call an expensive service number to get the phone number. I planned to stay for a maximum of three days, but the place I planned to stay at turned out to be a bad idea. The Hospitality Club is a free hospitality exchange organization in lots of countries world wide. There are over 54,000 members in 170 countries, over 11,000 in Germany alone. Usually people participate to meet new people from other countries or they travel a lot as well and don’t want to stay in a hotel. Accomodation is free, sometimes you’re asked to pay for the phone (if used) or food. I had to copy a few books and magazines at the Institute for Asien Studies, so I looked in HC’s directory who lived in the neighborhood. There were half a dozen people in five minutes walking range, so I mailed them and one wrote back. Unfortunately, that person turned out to be an extremely difficult person when I arrived. Instead of an apartment-sharing community, I was welcomed by a completely drunk and quite probably drugs consuming woman in her late thirties, living in an absolute mess – Long story short, I didn’t stay the whole three days. After a copyshop marathon on day one I quickly found another guy driving from Hamburg to Düsseldorf (thanks, Mitfahrgelegenheit.de!) and arrived home in the evening. I guess it was bad a bad apple in HC’s database, but I’m not so sure I’ll try my luck again in summer for my trip to Ireland.

Travelling to the North

I’ll be in Hamburg for a few days to do some research for my M.A. thesis at the Institute for Asien Studies. My thesis is about “Japan and the United Nations – Peacekeeping and international responsibility in the war against terrorism” – the title sounds grandiose, I hope my professor will think the same about the content, too. Since I’m already in the vicinity, I’m looking forward to meet an old friend I know from Japan.