Germany’s Election Season

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James Beadling, Co-pilot of the “Wazzle Dazzle”

By Marquese Robinson.

Germany is the financial and political driving force of the European Union. Germany has the largest population, with around 82, 020, 578 million citizens. Germany accounts for roughly 20.5% of the EU’s total GDP. The EU is the second largest contributor to global GDP, accounting for approximately 19.2% and contributing approximately €11.2 Trillion, which in turn means that Germany contributes roughly €2.24 Trillion to the world wide GDP. Furthermore, about 24% of foreign currency reserves are held in the Euro and 20% of daily transactions are conducted in the Euro.[1]As for the political leadership Mark Schulz, a German citizen, is the president of the European Union Parliament. Not to mention Angela Merkel is one of the most influential politicians and women in the world. Chancellor Merkel has also been one of the EU’s most actively involved political leaders in the Ukraine crisis.

        The year 2014 has been a year of elections and one of extreme importance—not to eclipse the historic Scottish Referendum held last week—was the European Parliament elections held May 22-25. Germany has 96 of the 751 seats in the parliament or 12.8%. France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Spain round out the top five, with 76, 73, 73, and 54, respectively. Although the number of seats vary slightly from the 2009 Parliamentary results, each country held the same position in the top 5. Germany’s 96 EU Parliament seats are divided as such: The Christian Democrats and Christian Socialist (CDU & CSU) coalition have 34, the Social Democrats (SPD) have 27, and The Greens, Die Linke, and the Alternative Party (AfD) have 11, 7, and 7, respectively. What is not captured in these figures is the rise of several small alternative and extremists parties in Germany. Eight parties that now have at least one seat in the EU parliament held no seats after the 2009 elections. Thirty-six percent of Germany’s representatives are women, compared to the total Parliament’s 37% figure. The gender distribution of Germany’s elected representatives and the overall Parliament have been rather parallel during the past 15 years. The same can also be said for turnout rates. This year 48% of Germans voted in the EU elections compared to 42.54 % of all EU member states. The 48% for Germany is a 5% increase from the 2009 statistic. While the 42.54% for the EU is only a .46% decrease from 2009, it represents a trend that has been developing for the past 20 years—steadily declining turnout rates.[2]

        What is surprising, or maybe not if the turnout rates are taken into consideration, is that during the pre-election period there was very little awareness, excitement, or even concern for the election among the youth and working class in Berlin. Since Berlin is the capital of Germany and home to the Bundestag (the Parliament for the Federal Republic of Germany) I expected there to be a heightened political atmosphere. In some aspects there were, for instance a week before the EU elections there was a Berlin edition Occupy Wall demonstration. The relatively small-scale event included a march the distance of about 2 miles and ended with a vibrant speech about corruption, equity and an indictment of capitalism for an array of social injustices plaguing the world.

        Ronald F. an administrator for the online content and image of the Die Linke Partei (The Left Party), added his take to the declining interest and trust in German politics “People join political parties for different reasons, and one is just to join. We’re not that kind of party. But I think it has more to do with people leaving parties, and politics, not just Die Linke. We’re becoming a much more individualistic society.” I followed up by asking him when he thought this individualistic inclination began in Germany and he responded “Maybe 15 years or so ago”. The Die Linke Partei is the party of democratic socialism, the fourth largest party in the German Parliament, has its largest constituency in the state of Brandenburg and its federal headquarters are here in Berlin. The party officially came into existence in 2007, but its predecessor Die Linkspartei.PDS (formerly the Party of Democratic Socialism, PDS) has been active since 1990. However, Die Linke’s history goes back even further. The PDS was reconstituted from the remnants of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), which was the ruling party of East Germany from 1949 until 1989, when reunification occurred. Considering Die Linke’s history and the present disinterest in politics, I asked Mr. Ronald how the party attempts to spread its message and attract voters. He responded

       “Simple really, tell the people our proposals and tell them if they like and agree with them then elect us. We pick 2-4 points, disarmament, solidarity, etc. and make our platform. We’re not a catch-all party like others, like we don’t pitch environmental issues, not because we think they are not important, but because we stick to issues that are most relevant to what we stand for. We learned a hard lesson in the recent elections, to better focus our message.”

        Die Linke’s core membership is over the age of 70, which as one can imagine might propose longevity issues. I was told that the party does not have a special advertising campaign for the youth or college age voters only that, they are offered a space to get involved and a realm of possibilities. (Ronald F.) “We’re growing. Slowly, but still growing” he lamented. However, in light of the European Parliament elections this does not seem to be the case. Die Linke lost one of its seats and in the European Union and in the German Federal Parliament elections held last year their share of votes declined to 8.6% from 11.9% in the 2009 elections. This translated into 12 fewer seats in the Bundestag. Moreover, the state of Brandenburg held its parliament elections on September 14, and Die Linke received about 9% fewer votes than it did during the 2009 elections.  

        The overall decline in turn-out rates for the European Elections demonstrate that dissatisfaction and disinterest in politics is not only a German phenomenon or even a youth phenomenon. Nor is it a European issue. Only one of my conversations with students at the Freie University and Humboldt University, professional Germans, and the numerous strangers I have meet throughout the city, namely at cafes or on the U-Bahn (Underground Train) included an explicit reference to an election or specific German politician. The couple was a lively elderly pair from western Germany on a vacation. One the other hand almost all of my political conversations include a comment about German Football (soccer) or a joke with serious undertones about the NSA. This age range runs the gamut.

        I think the trends we are witnessing are a mixture of smaller either newer or more extreme parties stealing votes from other parties and people are simply abstaining from voting. Notwithstanding, Germany still heads the European Union and in an every further globalizing world the nation’s role cannot be understated as a guiding voice/light of the policies of the EU—whether all of Germany is tuned in to it or not.

 



[1] All figures were calculated for the year ending 2012 and published by the European Union in 2014

[2] Ibid




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