Germany Upside Down

Angela Merkel, the conservative candidate, led her Christian Democratic party to a first place finish but suffered a "bitter defeat," according to Spiegel Online. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was expected to lose and did -- but the Social Democrat leader is claiming victory as the "Comeback Chancellor." The unexpected and inconclusive German election results have online commentators gloomy about the future of Europe's largest economy.

German voters turned conservative Angela Merkel's hopes for victory upside down.
View Enlarged Photo and Caption.

Merkel, whom some hoped would be another Margaret Thatcher, dealt herself a "fatal blow" by picking a flat tax reformer as her would-be finance minister, says Radio Netherlands. At the same time Shroeder's modest attempts to reform Germany's generous labor market, pension and welfare benefits went unrewarded because they did not increase economic growth or reduce the 11 percent unemployment rate.

A signficant minority of German voters opted out of the mainstream by supporting two outsider parties, notes Euronews. These parties -- one pro-business, the other avowedly left-wing -- are in a strong position as Merkel and Schroeder scramble to put together enough votes in parliament to form a new government.

No matter who comes out on top, the conservative Times of London sees a setback for German economic reform. The liberal Guardian expects paralysis in Berlin.

By Jefferson Morley |  September 19, 2005; 8:53 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
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The Free Democratic Party is not a new party - it was founded in 1948 and was part of the parliamentary coalition under Helmut Kohl. The Left Party is a new party that is essentially a successor to the PDS, the former East German Communists.

Posted by: Eric | September 19, 2005 10:43 AM

Indeed, the Euronews article does not say that the FDP is a new party. That obviously was your invention, Mr. Morley. And of course the name of the German chancellor is Schröder or - if you do not want to figure out where the Umlaute are on your keyboard - Schroeder. Finally, there is hardly anything that British papers know less about than events in foreign countries. I remember when the Guardian was certain that the US would totally overhaul its system to elect a president after the disputed election of 2000.

Posted by: Daniel | September 19, 2005 11:19 AM

Typo in the second line: Periods and commas, in American usage, always go inside the closing quotation marks, regardless of grammatical logic.

Posted by: GrammarPolice | September 19, 2005 11:41 AM

I have seen very little coverage of this election in the US press, considering Germany's important role in Europe and the world economy. So I am glad to see that it is being discussed, even if it is a little late.

My observations as a political scientist and long-time American resident of Germany are:

1. Germans are afraid of change and value perceived stability and security above all else. Schröder played to this fear while Merkel exacerbated it. Schröder is VERY good at playing on the German people's fears, as demonstrated by the Iraq debate three years ago.

2. The sense that the country is facing economic ruin if things do not change soon has obviously not sunk in for most voters, despite 11+% unemployment. There is no majority opinion in Germany on whether reforms are needed or how to proceed.

3. Eastern Germans have not been properly politically educated since the fall of the wall. That 25% of them voted for a party (the Left Party) with a nonsensical economic policy and which is under police observation for possible anti-democratic activities is very disturbing.

4. The CDU overplayed their hand, taking their early lead as a license to announce unpopular government policy and distribute cabinet posts before they were elected.

5. Merkel was a weak, uncharismatic candidate. Reports in the US press that she was the next Margaret Thatcher were wishful thinking and totally off the mark.

The likely result of this election will be several years of economic paralysis or tinkering on the edges until things get so bad that people vote for a real change. Unfortunately, this could also lead to a rise in political radicalism. New elections in the short term would probably produce the same result. For the US, this all means a paralyzed political partner and a weaker European economy for years to come.

Posted by: James | September 19, 2005 12:10 PM

The German elections mirror exactly this what the voters wanted: Solidarity and peace (SPD 33,1%) business friendly (FDP 9.8%) and environmental conscious (Greens 6.5%). A traffic light coalition (red, yellow/green) of SPD/FDP/Greens would represent the will of the voters. They want economical changes (FDP + 4.5%), but not the tough Merkel way. As the chancellor is elected by the House (Bundestag), Schroeder has a good chance to defeat Merkel in this election because he probably can count on the votes of the SPD, Greens and the new Left Party (DL = former East German PDS (leader Gysin) and disgruntled members of the SPD (leader La Fontaine) who left it to join the DL. If Schroeder is elected as chancellor he can govern withour coalition at all and aloan his minority joined by others issue related. The high unemployment rate as well the tight economic situation (high debts) are mainly the aftermath of the German unfication which will need another decade to overcome (it takes a generation (25 years) to close the ideological gap between West and East).

Posted by: Swiss | September 19, 2005 01:06 PM

Well it looks like things have pretty much gone from bad to worse. But I believe you should never blame politics for bad government, the system is broken. Giving such power to factions rather than people will lead to a factionalized government and serve the interests of faction over the people. Madison warned against such government in Federalist 10. I wish more Europeans would at least acknowledge the lessons learned here. I don't expect they will and I doubt the system will change. To that I say Schroeder is brilliant and lead the conservatives gleefully into a trap. He is a master of the German system and for that I give him great credit. But he is an iconic example of the type factitious leader Madison warned us about. The zwei stimme system is fundamentally flawed and the parties too strong, I may make a lot of enemies by saying it but I truly believe it. Good luck to Germany. I'm sure we can still find ways to accommodate those brilliant enough to leave.

Posted by: GOPGermany | September 19, 2005 01:28 PM

Federalist 10, huh? Well, I'm glad someone here did not nap through PolSci 101 but took some notes and is eager to share them. Remind us again what Madison et al. had to say about a presidential election where the Supreme Court decides that the candidate with fewer popular votes than his opponent wins nonetheless?

Posted by: | September 19, 2005 01:42 PM

I was stationed in Germany in the early 60s, but the political landscape has changed considerably since that time. My Brother-In-Law is active in the SPD, and is on the City Council of his home town of Waldorf. I naturally had more political discussions with him over the years, and his experience with "Free Trade" and the "European Union" are my limited window on the European aspect of these subjects. Several years ago, he lost his job when his company went Poland to reduced their labor cost. It would not surprise me if they have now gone to China seeking cheaper labor. The point is the outsourcing of jobs has been going on for a long time in Europe. With the loss of jobs, there has also been a reduction in benefits and the social safety net. I think, in part, these problems are related to the rejection of the European Constitution. Ordinary people have lost out in the name of "Free Trade" and the "European Union". Both the CDU and the SPD have bought into these concepts and are now paying for it at the ballot box. Also, these are very old countries with long cultural traditions, I wonder if the EU will survive.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | September 19, 2005 02:33 PM

@ James: Several of your observations can be disputed.

1. Schröder is not a leftist W, trying to scare people into voting for him. Indeed he has pointed out that he is so far the only chancellor, who has put Germany through some important economic reforms, which will not come to an end no matter who governs. I also think the rejection of participation in the Iraq disaster was correct.

2. Economic ruin? You sound like a German. I guess that is why Germany exports more goods and services than any country on the planet. We need more reforms, but there is no need to panic.

3. You cannot make up for 40 years under a dictatorship in 10 years. East Germans have different standards and that will remain for some time to come. The Left Party is not under police investigation, though their proposals are off the chart in terms of uselessness.

4. Yes. And they had some really bad proposals if you are a free-market guy, like raising the sales tax. The Economist did not like that one bit.

5. Yes and I would also argue that we do neither want nor need any demon with a handbag. Unlike in the UK, you cannot form a majority government with 35% of the votes and wage a war against certain regions and parties within your own country.

@ Swiss
I think there really is one number in your post that is actually correct.

Posted by: Daniel | September 19, 2005 04:51 PM

Merkel's closeness to Bush and the U.S. administration is what did her in. The U.S. government's reputation is so bad among those of us who live outside the U.S. that any politician who fails to distinguish their policies from those of the Bush White House will go down to defeat.
That's what happened here in Canada. It happened in Spain. It just happened in New Zealand. It just happened in Germany. And it will soon happen in Italy.
Stick with Bush, and you will continue losing allies the world over.

Posted by: Alex from Canada | September 20, 2005 11:50 AM

Stolen other people's land and slavery made them rich, we are talking about the EUROPEANS SKUNK...people are hungry for revenge and they get only themselves to blame. VEGEANCE IS SACRED AFRICA is going to look at what small HAITI did to the French (freedom fighters in Haiti OVER 200 years ago slaughtered the FRENCH, INCLUDING THEIR WOMEN AND CHILDREN: SO THEY DON'T GROW UP TO BE SLAVE MASTERS)AND DECLARED THEMSELVES FREE, OF COURSE GOD CREATED THEM FREE. THIS WORLD IS GOING TO BE A MESS, THANKS TO THE SKUNKY EUROPEANS.

Posted by: bb | November 17, 2005 12:21 PM

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