Sunday, April 29, 2012

Leftist Zeitgeist explored

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. 


Greg Emery said...

I am following the Pirate party's "birth" with interest. My initial feeling is that the Big Guys will intentionally Crush this group. We do not want too much democracy - do we?

Gerald W. Whittle said...

I personally would disagree with your analysis on a few levels, I don't see the German political system shifting to the left:
- The SPD and the Green Party showed quite convincingly during their years in power that they can not really be considered left-wing parties. Not only did they lead Germany into two wars, they also introduced some very harsh welfare reforms. In addition they enforced some quite aggressive labor market reforms, which have led to the rise of low paid temporal work, thus impoverishing many working class families.
- The current policy of Germany towards other European countries such as Greece and Spain, which is basically supported by all parties (except for the Left Party), is an example for how German politics are not at all on the left. The terrible cuts which are enforced on these countries, leading to mass poverty are to exact opposite of what left politics would look like.
- I honestly do not believe that solely demanding high taxes or a quota for women in managerial positions makes a party "left". I might have a different definition of what is "left" than Rösler has. For me being left is closely connected to certain values (social justice, solidarity, human rights, equality) and I do not see the German political system or many German's shifting in that direction. Issues such as racism and the widening inequality are just too pressing in Germany and are hardly addressed by the political parties..

Linda Esch said...

Gerald, you obviously have a point there, let me go through these:
- I would not measure SPD or the Greens by what they did during the Schröder Administration, they have changed their stances a lot since then (and they did keep Germany out of the Iraq war).
-I agree with you on the impact of EU policy toward Greece, however, I focused on domestic policies, not foreign policy. Also, I doubt the Left party would follow another policy if they were in power.
- I am not saying it makes them left, it doesn't, however, it is a leftist tendency, something that would have been completely unthinkable of during the Kohl Era. Don't get me wrong, I am certainly not trying to argue that the Union is entirely leftist, I am saying they are moving towards the left instead of the direction they are usually headd to. Big difference.

Teresa said...

First of all, I have to express that I feel Rösler is a gabbler who is completely incapable of making a point in his speeches. After having failed as health minister he now messes with economics as our Federal Minister of economics, although he has never worked in this field before (supposedly he is a doctor). I just cannot give any value to whatever he says in his speeches. However, this is the case for many of our politicians and Dieter Hildebrandt (German cabaret artist) really made a point when he said: “In the past, when politicians gave speeches on TV, I forgot about my dinner on the stove. Today, when a politician talks on TV, I go and cook something for myself”. Anyhow, this is a different story. Whatsoever, I have to question the thesis that Germany moves more to the leftist side. We supposedly do so great economically, but go and ask the ordinary construction worker on the streets about it, anybody from the shrinking middle class, he or she will most likely tell you that this piece of the pie hasn’t been passed on to them. Furthermore, thanks to Rösler (amongst others), the German health system has become more and more expensive but decreasing in health benefits. However, they’ve made a plus of 2,4 billion Euro last year. Did health insurance fees drop, though? No, they didn’t, but they will raise the fees as soon as they make less of what they’ve made last year. I’ll take a bet on that. Furthermore, it’s great our unemployment rate is so low but as Gerald already has mentioned, many workers are on low paid temporal work. In addition, the vast majority of workers have fixed-term employment contracts, people are less likely to plan ahead with their future anymore (especially when it comes to family plans) , since they cannot be sure to have the same job in a couple of years or even months. Germany does not even have set a minimum wage and the governing parties are not keen on working on one either. I honestly think the CDU talking about raising taxes for the rich just shows that election campaigns are about to start for next year’s Bundestag elections, that’s all.