german politics

The major German Parties – Part One

The major German Parties - Part One
© Pixabay

There are numerous differences between the Anglo-American style of democracy and the German way of organizing legislature, but one of the most obvious ones is the number of relevant parties. Now, it’s of course not a valid method to put the British and the American model on the same end of the range of democratic systems, but for the sake of argument, let’s do it anyway. Aside from the very different democratic institutions, both systems share the presence of two major parties, with all other existing parties being virtually nonessential. From afar it’s quite easy to forget that there are green parties in England or the United States, for example. Germany, however, has a tradition of a high number of visible and audible parties that struggle for election into the parliament, with usually about four to six parties ending up there. Even though the past decades saw only a few changes regarding who is making up the house, there still were changes. While there are thousands of political parties throughout Germany and some of them even make it to local or federal state governments and parliaments, let us take a look at only the most “important” ones – the parties that shaped the history of the Federal Republic of Germany (especially after the Reunification in 1990).

The SPD – Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands

The social democrats are the oldest, still active major political party in Germany. It even predates the first German Republic, the Weimarer Republik, and recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. Even though our current government consists of a so-called “great coalition” of the SPD and the CDU, the social democrats have been the biggest rivals of the CDU since its foundation in 1945. Famous German chancellors such as Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandt have risen from the Ranks of the party. But it seems as if the glorious times of the SPD are behind the party. Even though it is part of various Federal State governments and the current German one as well, it hasn’t been the leading part of a national government in quite a while and has been continuously losing votes on all fronts for years.

The CDU – Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands

The Christian Democrats are Angela Merkel’s party. Before Merkel, who could run for her fourth successive term in 2017, the last CDU-chancellor was Helmut Kohl, who served three consecutive terms. One could safely assume, that the CDU was the steering power in German politics since before the Reunification. While the SPD could be the German equivalent of the US-Democrats, the CDU would serve as our version of the Republicans. Therefore the CDU is a conservative party, though one has to say that both CDU and SPD moved towards each other in recent years, making it more difficult for voters to spot the differences between the two. While the CDU, successor to the Zentrum-party which the National Socialists in the Third Reich forbade, has been the most successful party for a while now, the last couple of years saw its influence on a Federal State level dwindle. Today, there is only one Federal CDU-Government left in Germany.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen – The Green Party

When Green Party delegates were first elected into the German parliament in 1983, they caused quite an upheaval. Everything from their looks to their agendas was troublesome to the traditional inhabitants of the sacred halls of German politics. The party, which is in itself a fusion of two green parties, was a direct result of growing anti-nuclear and anti-pollution protest movements in the 1980’s as well as social movements from the 1970’s. While the party developed into a rather social and left-wing party, it also drew more conservative members in its earlier days. Starting out as a protest party, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen became the go-to junior partner for the SPD. Over the course of the last two decades, the party underwent some broad changes and distanced itself from its earlier incarnations. Today the green party even runs the government in Baden-Württemberg, a traditionally conservative state. Though, one has to say that this green head of state is probably more conservative than some CDU-members.

The major German Parties - Part One
german politics

Angela Merkel – The last Defender of the Free World

Angela Merkel - The last Defender of the Free World
© Pixabay

Four more years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she is going to run for another term in office heading into 2017 and the upcoming election in September. So far, no real threat in the form of an opposing candidate has emerged. Not that it would really matter, as Germany’s political landscape doesn’t seem to offer anyone who could really challenge her. To find a coalition able to form a government might, however, prove more challenging. Still, political experts are united in their projections that Angela Merkel indeed will be Chancellor for four more years. But there is another job that Merkel might have to do. Following numerous media outlets after the election of Donald Trump as US-President, Angela Merkel is now the last defender of the so-called Free World – or if you are not into Cold War-Terminology: the Liberal West. Why is that? With an open populist who has ties to a bunch of right-wing groups moving to the White House, right-wing parties on the rise all over Europe and a number of less than stable national economies, it’s understandable why the eyes of the US-Media turn to Angela Merkel as a voice of reason – but the defender of the Liberal West?

An American Point of View?

Interestingly enough, the domestic view on the chancellor is quite different. Also, there are different views on Germany and Angela Merkel all over Europe and the so-called Free World. The discussion is a very compelling one, as it shows the core differences of foreign, security and military policies and positions between the United States, Western, and maybe Eastern Europe. But this is not the place to discuss the reality of such a thing as the “Free World”.

The German worldview is fundamentally different from what one could call the American position that is based on the idea of exceptionalism. Thus, the German reaction to US-Media articles suggesting a “passing of the baton” from Barack Obama to Angela Merkel had to be something along the lines of: “No, thank you. That is not our place.” But this kind of sentiment, though sounding utterly pragmatic, could actually be a little off.

Winds of Change

Angela Merkel herself has rejected the notion of her leading the Liberal West as ridiculous. Though, at roughly the same time she dictated to US-President elect Donald Trump the terms of a working relationship: its foundation being the often quoted civil liberties of western societies – freedom of speech, press, religion and so forth. Her first act of defense in light of a potential threat to those values? Further, one could argue that Germany has a certain responsibility for the Western World and Europe in particular. It is the richest economy in Europe and the most influential party of the EU, especially after Great Britain voted to leave the organization. Germany came out way ahead of the financial crisis. It’s hard stance on keeping the austerity policy going and the changes made to its domestic social policies, including the introduction of dumping wages, more than a decade ago are partly responsible for the bad shape of a lot of the other European economies in countries such as Greece, Spain, and Italy.

2016 brought about enormous changes on the global political scale and 2017 promises to be another year of continuous change. It does seem likely, that in 2018 Angela Merkel will be the only stable and moderate major leader in Europe. However ominous the job title of Defender of the Liberal West might be, she might have to step up to do whatever that is.    

Angela Merkel - The last Defender of the Free World