Schröder’s Legacy Still Relevant to German Left

The German Social Democrats’ draft election manifesto released last week revealed two things: they are at once haunted by their past and have learned from it.

Ten years ago, Germany’s Social Democrat chancellor Gerhard Schröder initiated far-reaching economic and social reforms. While there is ongoing academic debate about whether these reforms are solely responsible for the resilient German economy (PDF) and labor market (PDF), there is widespread agreement that they are at least part of the nation’s current success.

This puts the party’s contender for the chancellorship, Peer Steinbrück, in a delicate position, not least since he was one of the strongest supporters of Schröder’s agenda. Incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is in the comfortable position of continuing to run with a program that was originally designed by the left yet showed in many parts an ideological affinity with the economic right.

Steinbrück and the chairman of his party, Sigmar Gabriel, are trying to find the middle ground between maintaining the inheritance of their successful reforms and the necessity of presenting themselves as an alternative to Merkel’s conservatives. Read more “Schröder’s Legacy Still Relevant to German Left”

German Ideological Revival Polarizes Western Politics

“Now Europe speaks German,” declared Volker Kauder, a member of Germany’s ruling conservative party, in late 2011. Despite the scolding he earned for his remarks, he was only slightly off. Not only Europe, indeed the world speaks increasingly with a German voice. Not literally, of course, but philosophically. German ideas are emerging as powerful forces all around the globe, ringing the bell for the end of the Anglo-Saxon moment in history.

Critics and defenders of contemporary capitalism in the United States both speak the language of German history. Those who seek to emulate the European welfare state regularly invoke the German model while those who condemn these leftist ideas emphasize the necessity of self-reliance and labor as the fundamental glue of society and the indispensable source of individual dignity.

The irony of this debate is that while the former claim to be ideological descendants of Karl Marx, it is the latter who use his arguments in the truest sense. For Marx, labor was the essence of human existence. Men could only be men through work which enabled him to interact with nature and create a world according to his imagination. Read more “German Ideological Revival Polarizes Western Politics”

Germany’s Merkel Dominates Preelection Polls

When German voters decide the new composition of the Bundestag in the fall of this year, one thing seems almost inevitable: Angela Merkel will remain chancellor, unless all three parties left of center agree to form a coalition government of their own.

Although the scenario seems highly improbable, Merkel will be presented with a tough choice of her own. While it is too early to put too much faith in opinion polls, the current numbers are startling: Merkel’s conservatives are consistently breaking the 40 percent mark while the Social Democrats led by Peer Steinbrück can barely meet 30 percent of voter approval.

But Merkel’s present coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats, are caught in a battle for political survival, failing to meet the necessary 5 percent mark to be represented in parliament in almost every poll. In recent weeks it has become clear that the Christian Democrats are already taking the possibility of a new coalition partner into their calculations, showing a dwindling support for the liberals in upcoming provincial elections. This strategy is painful for the liberals but makes sense from Angela Merkel’s point of view. Why rely on a razor’s edge majority on the right when a more comfortable margin could be reached with the Social Democrats or the Greens? Read more “Germany’s Merkel Dominates Preelection Polls”