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FANVoices | The German Federal Election

The German Federal Election

by Cora Mantel, Chair of the Club Alpbach Germany

Autumn 2021. Germany awakens from a political beauty sleep. The world is still dominated by the Corona virus, but a rising vaccination rate and warmer temperatures make a return to a somewhat normal life seem to be in reach (a misjudgement as we know today). The wake-up call comes in form of the 2021 federal elections. After 16 years of Angela Merkel, but without her as a candidate, the CDU/CSU has to endure the worst political loss of its history and suddenly a new beginning is in sight. To the surprise of many, except for Olaf Scholz himself it seems, the SPD comes out on top. The result of the election clearly rejects “business as usual”, the citizens of Germany want to see a political change. Shortly after, everyone starts talking about the “Ampel” (traffic light). A figurative term for the coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP, the parties that can rightly claim percentage gains from the electorate (1).

While many feared that the first (real)* three-party coalition in Germany would increase political instability, the negotiations went down comparably fast and rather smoothly, notably without any leaks to the media or public fights. This stands in stark contrast to the coalition negotiations of the past, especially after the last election. After only two months of wild rumours and speculations, the finished treaty was presented. The title of the nearly 180-page document: “Dare more progress – An alliance for freedom, justice and sustainability” (2).

Significant reforms and paradigm changes are included: The voting age is to be lowered to 16. The minimum wage will increase to 12 euros. Coal-fired power is “ideally” to be phased out by 2030. By the end of this decade, Germany aims to obtain 80 percent of its electricity from renewable energies. The three parties also want to reform the student allowance ‘Bafög’. There will be no pension cuts and no increase in the statutory retirement age. A dedicated construction ministry is to put an end to rising rents: The goal is to build 400,000 new apartments per year, including 100,000 publicly financed apartments. Another major change: the sale and purchase of Cannabis to adults will be legalized. And the coalition partners want to completely remove the controversial Paragraph 291a from the German Criminal Law Code. Hidden behind this paragraph is the ban on advertising abortions (2). These plans display the broad political spectrum of the coalition partners and the wide range of issues at hand. Especially in regard to socio-political issues and individual rights, one can sense the difference it seems to make, if progressive forces come together. The transformative challenges, societies around the globe face today, are also evident in many passages. The appointed government has a lot planned. So far so good.

Now that Olaf Scholz has been formally sworn in as chancellor today (December 6, 2021) and the ministers have taken up their duties, things are really getting started. Many before have managed to write an ambitious coalition agreement. The actual implementation of the program will put the new government through their paces. For example, many doubts about how the planned endeavours will be financed remain unaddressed, after the FDP opposed any tax increases and the so-called “debt brake” – a controversial constitutional paragraph which sets strict limits to the government’s ability to take up debt – is sought to be upheld. Especially, younger generations will judge the government by its actions. In the cohort of 18-34 year-olds, 22% voted for the Greens, 16% for the SPD and 18% for the FDP (3), and thus voted in favour of the incoming coalition. While the cannabis legalization as well as the lowering of the voting age can be understood as “election candy” for this generation, this will not be enough. Particularly in the area of climate protection, younger voters will not be satisfied with empty words and promises of concessions. The formulation of “ideally” managing the withdrawal from coal by 2030 leaves many questions and even more back doors open. And among all these obstacles, the dramatic resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic within Central Europe will still occupy most of the much-needed attention and resources in the coming months.

However, this newly formed government could also be a symbol for the necessity to bridge old political rifts and form unlikely but assertive coalitions across society to tackle the enormous challenges ahead, ranging from the climate crisis to the ills of populism. An experiment that is yet to be tested but very much represents the spirit of Alpbach.


* Real, because previous governments were already formed with the sister parties CDU/CSU, so there were so to say already 3 parties