With a vote of 41.5 % for the CDU/CSU, the election results in Germany reflect a broad acceptance of Angela Merkel’s policies.
She is regarded as the guarantor of a strong Germany in Europe and is credited with the successful management of the crisis, with Germany’s well-being thanks to austerity policies also at home and the reforms already introduced during the Red-Green coalition government. The Chancellor and the economic and power-political bloc behind her have received almost an absolute majority for the foreign- and domestic-policy course pursued. The SPD as well as the Greens, who had decisively promoted this course in the past, were not able convincingly to portray themselves as alternatives in the electoral campaign, but were rightly perceived as mere modifiers of that course
Although the SPD was able to slightly increase its votes to 25.7 %, this still is its second worst result in history. At 4.8 % the FDP remained below the 5 % electoral threshold, so that for the first time since 1945 liberalism has no direct political representation in the Bundestag. With 8.6 % Die LINKE (the Left Party) became the third-strongest political power, coming in before the Greens, who at 8.4 % remained below their expected level. For the first time, a right-wing populist force could become an option to the right of the CDU/CSU, even if it still could not get into the Bundestag in these elections. The Pirates at 2.2 % remained far behind the results they had achieved in 2011 at federal state level. They proved unable to use the time since autumn 2011 to further develop their demands for a reform of political institutions through increased transparency and participation as well as the development of new forms of political organisation adapted to the age of digital revolutions.
Results, gains and losses compared to 2009 see Graph 1 below
The seats in the Bundestag are thus distributed among four parties: CDU/CSU, SPD, Die LINKE and the Greens, representing 84.2 % of the votes cast. In evaluating the political relations of power it should to be noted that the bourgeois camp consisting of CDU/CSU, FDP, AfD and Free Voters (Freie Wähler) – with a total vote percentage of over 50 % – has been strengthened. The ‘left’ camp comprising SPD, Greens and Die LINKE got just short of 43 % of the votes. This means that the allocation of seats in the Bundestag in terms of pure arithmetic consists of a ‘left’ majority (SPD, Greens and Die LINKE) with 320 seats as opposed to 311 seats for the CDU/CSU. However, this majority will have no political effect, for neither the SPD nor the Greens want it, nor is there a social project which could currently be represented by a ‘left’ parliamentary majority.
‘Germany is doing well’, was the Chancellor’s message during the campaign – and that she guaranteed things will stay that way. She was the one who in 2010 had involved the trade unions in a new form of crisis corporatism by means of the car scrapping premium and short-time work and so seemingly kept the European financial-market and Euro crises away from Germany. In June 2013, 71 % of Germans regarded their situation as very good or good and likewise for Germany’s economic situation which only 26 % considered bad or very bad. The official unemployment rate amounted to 6.6 % in September 2013 and affected 2.8 million people. But this did not include the 25 % who are precarious workers – the highest rate within the EU – and the 1.5 million people who have not found employment since the introduction of the Hartz Laws in 2005. A ‘good mood’ prevailed along with the sense that ‘the crisis was yesterday, nobody is talking about it any more’. For the majority of Germans the crisis remained an event they only heard of from media reports.1 This means that the parliamentary elections were not about how to shape the future, but about a ‘diffuse longing for a permanent present’.2 No experiments, no references to the crises which just outside Germany’s doors have led to the bitterest misery in the countries of southern Europe under the diktat of the Troika. There was no serious debate about the responsibility of the German federal government for this in the German election campaigns. This snapshot of the German electorate reflects their privileged position in comparison to what is happening to the countries of southern Europe. While the unemployment rate was 6.8 % in Germany it averaged 10.5 % in the entire EU and 11.4 % in the Eurozone countries.3
The SPD’s poor showing is due to its indecisive political orientation. On the one hand, with Peer Steinbrück it tried to put itself forward as competent in the financial and economic policies it had introduced through the 2005 Hartz laws during the Red-Green government coalition and thus as the force largely responsible for the current German success. At the same time it tried to position itself on the left with demands such as those for a minimum wage, limits on the use of temporary work, rescinding the raising of the retirement age to 67, tax hikes as well as the raising of the top rates, the reintroduction of the inheritance tax, etc. Yet the party did not win voters away from the bourgeois camp or from Die LINKE. Its strategy of trying, with the Greens, to push Die LINKE out of parliament has clearly failed. A Red-Green project alone does not add up to a majority. By rejecting Red-Red-Green it has lost its only chance of forming a government.
The Greens, riding on their success in the 2010 and 2011 federal state elections and their good results in opinion polls on the federal level, formulated their ‘government programme’ as a party capable of ‘shaping society’, aiming at an electorate beyond the classic Green milieu and targeting new bourgeois strata. The modern society of the future is to be associated with an energy turn, ecological transformation and social justice. Consequently, the focus of the Greens’ election campaign was not only on the classically green questions such as a turn in energy policy, environmental and climate policies, genetic engineering and consumer protection but also on issues of redistribution such as an increase of the top income tax rate to 49 %, the reintroduction of the inheritance tax, a temporary levy on property, minimum wages, restrictions on the use of temporary work and the introduction of a public employment sector (third sector). With these demands the Greens reacted to the growing importance of the social question, thus delineating a red-green project without, however, at the same time independently developing their core competence in their own areas. In addition, as the ‘party of higher earners’ they were hurt by their own patronising gesture in proposing a ‘Veggie Day’ (one day in the week in which public canteens do not offer meat). That Green positions on paedophilia were inadequately dealt with weighed even more heavily. As the ‘most honest party’ in Germany, according to polls, they lost credibility and support as a consequence of this issue being very prominently projected by the media.
That both the SPD and the Greens already hastily retracted their central campaign demands before the first exploratory talks took place with the CDU/CSU, especially those regarding the reform of the tax law, ultimately means the subordination of their social-justice demands to power-politics considerations as parts of a CDU/CSU-led government. Whether the Greens become a hinge between the left and the right camps is still unclear and mostly depends on whether the FDP manages to become a politically important power again. By adhering to the basic pillars of neoliberal politics it has lost its function and descended into insignificance.
The performance of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is very significant – a populist party was able to insert itself to the right of the CDU/CSU for the first time. Already in June 2013 an Allensbach poll4 indicated that the solution of the Euro-crisis could be decisive for election results. Among the problems respondents felt the government should tackle, German support for other EU-countries took third place with 74 % of those interviewed. More than 60 % cited the solution of the Euro crisis. With Merkel’s alleged left turn and the taboo on EU policy issues the road was free for right-wing criticism of Merkel’s crisis management along with the bank and economic interests behind her. The AfD calls for ‘an orderly dissolution of the Eurozone. Germany does not need the Euro’ (the AfD’s electoral campaign programme).
At 8.6 % and thus as the third strongest force in the country, Die LINKE scored a remarkable success. It was able to clearly position itself as the party of social justice within Germany’s social and political landscape and also as a party capable of putting aside its internal conflicts to the benefit of joint struggles. In all the federal states of western Germany with the exception of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, Die LINKE surpassed the 5 % bar; it got 21.6 % of eastern German votes. 53.3 % of its voters come from federal states in western Germany, 46.7 % from federal states in eastern Germany. Die LINKE still commanded the loyalty of a part of those who are increasingly dropping out of the political system: workers and, most of all, the unemployed. The share of the party among the unemployed amounted to 23 %.
Comparing the 2013 Bundestag election results of Die LINKE to those of 2009, the party lost 1.4 million voters. Of these, 13.2 % returned to the SPD (17.4 % in the West, 7.8 % in the East), 6.6 % went to the newly-founded AfD (8.0 % in the West, 4.8 % in the East), while 10.8 % joined the non-voters. However, when looking at these figures, we have to bear in mind that in June 2012 Die LINKE was at only 5 % in opinion polls. This was the consequence of the party’s conflict-ridden development after 2009, which was characterised by political infighting. Only with the adoption in 2011 of the new party programme was the basis laid for a pluralist LINKE. In June 2012 the party’s leadership crisis was overcome with the election of Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger as the new chairpersons.
Resting on these foundations, Die LINKE could present itself in the election campaign as the party of social justice with the slogan ‘100 per cent social’ and accompany this with concrete demands, among others a minimum wage of 10 Euros, abolition of the Hartz IV laws as a neoliberal instrument of labour market regulation and, until that goal is reached, a 500 Euro increase in standard social security payments, the abolition of the raised retirement age at 67, the combatting of temporary agency work and further privatisation of public services. Die LINKE rejects the foreign deployment of the Federal Armed Forces. It was the only party to demand an immediate halt to the policies of the Troika and its programmes of social regression and cutbacks in the European Union. However, with these demands it has so far been able to reach only a part of society.
Therefore, on the road to becoming a party critical of capitalism and seeking a fundamental political change, Die LINKE must develop its left profile within everyday life in such a way that it can win majorities and participate actively in social and political alliances as a learner. Die LINKE must never again squander its success through political infighting and power struggles but, on the basis of its programme, must develop itself as an organisation and anchor alternative projects concretely at the local level. It must – as should the rest of the left in Europe – become more European.
translated by Hilde Grammel
1 See Richard Detje/Wolfang Menz, Sarah Nies/Dieter Sauer/Joachim Bischoff. 2013 Krisenerfahrungen und Politik [Experiences of the Crisis and Politics]. VSA Verlag. Hamburg.
2 Bundestagswahl 2013: Das bedrohte Paradies. Deutschland zwischen Plätscher-Party und brodelnder Unruhe [Parliamentary Elections 2013: The Endangered Paradise. Germany between a Water Splashing Party and Rumbling Unrest]
4 The Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach (IfD) is one of the most respected opinion and market research institutes in Germany.