Philip Rössler is Vice Chancellor of Germany, Federal Minister of Economics and Technology, and Chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the coalition partner of Angela Merkel’s Chrstan Democratic Party. The FDP is economically liberal (meaning they are not necessarily politically or socially liberal, though Rössler’s predecessor as both Vice Chancellor and chairman of the party, Guido Westerwelle, is openly gay and still serves as the Foreign Minister of Germany, making him the party member who is heading the most prestigious ministry). Recently they have lost a lot of supporters, to the point where they fell below the election threshold of 5% of all votes during several state and local elections and are predicted to not make it into the Bundestag in 2013.
At the recent convention of the FDP Rössler attacked the CDU, accusing them of ”following the leftist zeitgeist“. This is a big statement, considering the FDP is the junior partner in the coalition with the CDU, a partnership that is supposed to last until the 2013 elections (September or October, no date set yet). Rössler also stated that he beliefs the FDP is essential to this era, since his party is the „power of freedom and the power of the middle“.
The FDP lost supporters to the new Pirate Party, which Rössler called “the Left Party with an internet connection“ in his speech at the convention. The Left Party themselves is also struggling, although they are most likely losing voters to the Social Democratic Party instead of the Pirate party. “ The European” columnist Sebastian Pfeiffer attributes the Left party’s struggle to the fact that both SPD and CDU have moved further to the left. Higher taxes for the rich are a central issue of the SPD, the CDU is debating a quota to raise women’s participation. This had led to the Left party losing voters to both parties.
How can the huge popularity of the Pirate Party be explained? I believe that it is due to the fact that they attract those who previously were not participating in politics, mainly young voters. They attempt to act in a direct democratic way, using a software called Liquid Feedback. In Liquid Feedback anyone can propose an initiative that they believe the Pirate Party should support. They then need a certain number of people who support that request to move it into the second stage, which is the debate/constructive criticism stage. An issue that passes the second stage is likely to become a goal or point of view supported by the Pirate Party- it only has to be passed at a Party convention to be added to the list of official stances of the party. Currently the leaders of the Pirate Party are often accused that their party has no stance on important issues such as the Euro crisis. This is due to the fact that it takes the party a long time to get an issue through Liquid Feedback, since every member can voice their opinion. Whether this system will be able to function once the party enters the Bundestag in 2013 - it is nearly certain they will- remains to be seen.
So Germany, which is generally more at home on the left side of the spectrum to begin with, is moving further to the left. Is a similar movement occurring in the US? The only real example I can think of is the Occupy movement, which was not too influential. However, taking into consideration the Republican parties recent struggle to decide on a candidate for the presidential race and the “War on Women” this has led to, one could argue that in the US a similar phenomena can be observed, only on the other end of the political spectrum.
On the other hand the US political system and Germany’s approach are so fundamentally different that it is hard to come up with a comparison here- recent GOP opinions might have been extreme, but they were voiced during the process of deciding on a candidate, a phase during which the candidates cater towards the hardliners within their own party. Once a candidate has been decided upon the opinions will become more moderate in order to secure votes for the election. That is a political process that simply does not exist on the other side of the Atlantic- most Germans find it bizarre.