Smart Policies, Wrong Vision from Germany’s Social Democrats

The party has a plan to help middle-income voters, but it tries to sell it as an agenda for social justice.

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, watches as Chancellor Angela Merkel signs a guestbook, November 7, 2012
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, watches as Chancellor Angela Merkel signs a guestbook, November 7, 2012 (European Parliament)

Germany’s Social Democrats have unveiled a platform of sensible policies that should appeal to the broad middle of the country’s electorate.

The trouble is the proposals lack a convincing theme and could easily be supported by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats as well.

Among the measures in the draft manifesto, which has yet to be approved by a party congress, are:

  • Higher taxes on the rich and lower rates for middle and low incomes;
  • Abolishing kindergarten charges and investing more in schools;
  • Making it easier for parents to take unpaid (!) family leave;
  • Preventing employers from imposing temporary contracts on workers; and
  • Allowing unemployed Germans the continue drawing benefits if they are in skills training.

Much of this makes sense to help the squeezed middle and meet the challenges of the gig economy.

But for some reason, the Social Democrats are selling this not as a contract with Middle Germany but as an agenda for “social justice”. Which is… not how you win over hard-working, small-town voters.

Who needs the SPD?

Merkel has been a master at coopting left-wing policies to redefine her conservative party as the reasonable center. Some of the Social Democrats’ ideas could easily be implemented by the next government. She may not even need the Social Democrats to do it.

Recent polls show support for the center-left is falling. The liberal Free Democrats have done well in recent state elections and are projected to cross the 5-percent threshold again in September to qualify for seats in the national parliament. If they do, and Merkel wins a big enough plurality for her Christian Democrats, the two could be able to form a right-wing government.