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German Elections: "Italian Conditions"?

The Economist discusses Germany's political fragmentation. Since quite a few German journalists like to dramatize socio-economic downturns by using the term “American conditions,” I thought I can have a bit of fun by talking about “Italian conditions” as a description of Germany political fragmentation, even though Italy has been much more stable recently. The Economist does not exaggerate that much, although it does claim: “With five parties in the Bundestag, the make-up of the next government could become a lottery.”  

GERMANY’S two big parties— the Volksparteien or “people’s parties”—have long been the pillars of an enviably stable political system. But they have lost ground over the years and, whoever wins the parliamentary election on September 27th, the outcome may be more fragmentation.

Between them, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) captured 90% of the votes cast in national elections in the 1970s. In 2005 their combined vote fell below 70%, forcing them to govern together in a “grand coalition”. The latest polls say their share could sink to around 60% (see chart). “The Volksparteien are coming to an end,” says Peter Lösche, a political scientist. This worries many Germans.

And many other Germans don’t care at all. More and more Germans have lost interest in politics, certainly party politics.

Despite the “fragmentation” of the party system, there is very little excitement or “fear politics”, which I guess is a good thing. The current campaigns for the parliamentary elections on September 27th are very boring! The two leading political candidates – Steinmeier and Merkel -- are the exact opposites of Obama in terms of charisma, vision, emotional appeal, mobilization of supporters, inspiration of hope, reduction of cynicism and apathy etc.

In fact, I doubt whether the election campaigns even started. It’s that quiet. Maybe that’s also good. Politicians might get some work done, if they start campaigning six weeks rather than sixteen months before an election.

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John in Michigan, US on :

"Italian conditions" -- that's funny! I sometimes find myself hoping that the US will experience some Italian conditions, for a little while at least. My hope is that an ad-hoc third party might lead to reforms of the two American parties, which are increasingly corrupt, self-dealing, and incompetent; they hire consultants to help them articulate a sort of national vision, but utterly fail to deliver that vision. Perhaps it is even time for America to look beyond the two-party system itself. As for Germany, only Germans can judge whether the modern German political consensus is strong enough to handle a period of ferment and change in which the Volksparteien no longer get 90% of the vote. At some point, the German people will have to prove to the Volksparteien that they (the Volksparteien) have no alternative but to perform and deliver; that the world will not come to an end without the Volksparteien. The critical test of mainstream parties on both sides of the Atlantic will be dealing with the entitlements deficit created by these very same mainstream parties.

Luke on :

Hello! First of all: the election campaigns haven't started yet. Why? The schools have summer holidays. Many people are not at home or have something better to do than listen to the boring (I meen REALLY boring speeches of the candidates). Furthermore the politicians have also a summer break. I don't know how this is handled in the US, but in Germany it is a tradition to give the politicians a chance to go on holidays with their families. The start for the campaigns is announced for the end of August or beginning of September giving the parties four intensive weeks of hustings. I hope that the election's result will enable a "small coalition". The grand coalition forced the government to compromise about several important topics... At the moment there seems to be a majority for a black-yellow coalition (CDU (Christian Democrats) and FDP (Liberals)). It is right that the former Volksparteien lose more and more votes. If the CDU loses more votes than the FDP can collect there might be another grand coalition. To the Kanzler candidates. You know that the Kanzler is elected by the Bundestag and not by the peoples, right? Merkel was a great Kanzler at first. Pushed the process of giving the EU a constitution. Meanwhile she got more and more contourless. Nevertheless she is the second most popular politician in Germany (behind Bundespräsident Horst Köhler). I don't really know what to say about Steinmeier. He is a likeable and friendly person but as a Kanzler? I don't know... By the way: a few month ago a rather unknown politician from Bavaria became Minister for Economic Affairs. I bet that the CSU (kind of Bavarian CDU... in Bavarian is no CDU, in the rest of the Republik is no CSU) will appoint him to Kanzlerkandidat in four years when the next election will take place. He might really be a German Obama. Time will show. Best regards from Kiel, Germany Luke

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