28.02 Thomas Linsenmaier

We all are aware of the role Germany is playing both in EU and in the world politics. Can’t say it’s boring there – new president, Alternative für Deutschland and refugee crisis are perhaps only fragment of things of what is happening right now. 

Thomas Linsenmaier is going to talk about the political landscape in Germany. Linsenmaier is the Junior Research Fellow at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu.

 1. German Federal elections.

German party system consist of six parties: the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Die Linke, the Greens and Alternative for Germany (AfD). After the last parliamentary elections Germany has been ruled by the so-called “grand coalition” of SDP and CDU. But now there a chance for a change in the leadership. So far the CDU is leading in the polls, but the polls also show that voters desire a change. Main reason for the change is just to change the current Status quo, despite most voters being satisfied with the current situation.

SDP-s chancellor candidate Martin Schultz is an exception in the German political landscape, because he was for a long time the president of the European Parliament and has recently returned from that position earlier this year in order to run for the chancellorship. Last polls have shown that his more popular than Merkel. The reason for this is his clear platform, which is classically social democratic. With that the SDP wants to distance itself from the so-called Agenda 2010, created under Chancellor Schröder

The reason, why it is so important, is that there is a chance that the SDP might win the elections. The question remains with whom they would form the coalition with. All the options are on the table, with the exception of AfD. The SDP might prefer to form the coalition with CDU in order to just to remain in power, although they publicly say that nobody wants it. Also there is a chance for the so-called red-red-green coalition (SDP, Die Linke and the Greens).  

2. AfD – the rise of right-wing populism.

Where does the AfD gain its votes? Most of the votes come from the right-sector. But after the regional[T1]  elections it has turned, that their votes come all of the political spectre. Secondly they have managed to gain votes from those voters, who were inactive.

AfD-s political agenda. Mostly anti-migration and anti-European Union. Mostly they are against the migrants coming from the states with Islamic background. Also they have statements over the German identity. These debates lead to connections with the right-wing PEGIDA movement. AfD wishes to avoid comparisons with the PEGIDA, because these comparisons would scare away the more moderate voters. At the same time they want to keep only a small distance from them. Basically they want to concentrate on solving German issues and secondly they want to counter the current elite.

The portrait of an average voter of the AfD. Most of them believe that the current situation will worsen. By income they have an average or higher income. By educational background they are highly educated people and mainly male (AfD membership consists of 85% of men).

It is a real possibility that the AfD would be elected to the Federal parliament. Their foreign policy understandings are closer to pro-Russian understandings.

Question: Would there be problems for Germany`s reputation if a hard-right party emerges?

For the last decades Germany reputation has only grown on the international stage. But the AfD is not a right-wing extremist party such as NPD for example. At the same time they are trying to keep away from the World War II period, because touching this subject would be a political catastrophe. Recently one member of the AfD tried to take up the history question, but was banished from the public debate.

The difference between the AfD (political party) and PEGIDA (political movement). The clearest difference is that the movement brings up an uncomfortable subject and then the party tries to soften it in the public debate.

Would the German historical experience affect the AfD-s result in fore coming elections? Common sense in the AfD is to distance itself from the historical questions. They are more focused on avoiding islamization of Germany. 

The similarities of right- and left-wing radicals. Die Linke started to criticize to governments approach to the migration question. This is considered to be a counter measure against AfD for stealing their voters.

Could the AfD be successful in Bavaria? There is a chance that they could some ground, but the current parties would stay in power.

On economy issues, many founders of the AfD were economic scientists. But the fight between the sides forced them out and the leadership was gained by national-conservative camp. 

3. Internal problems of Germany.

Issues related to the mass migration. About 96% of Germans believe that issues regarding migration are a serious problem. This belief is explained by migration wave in 2015, which hit Germany badly. Opinions differ on how to manage this problem. Until anything drastic happened the public opinion was the same as Merkel`s: We can manage. But after several attacks, but also having to deal with the incoming refugees (housing, integration, etc.), the public opinion has changed and has brought up the internal security matters.

Secondly, the problems of social injustice have intensified. The economy of Germany is doing fine comparing to other states. But there is a downside for some Germans. Some of them have become poorer and poorer in the background of good economic situation.

4. German foreign policy issues.

German-US relationship. Since Donald Trump’s win in the presidential elections, the average trust in the US has downgraded to 20%, same as Russia’s. Now there is mutual distrust between Merkel and Trump. On the level of ambassadors, there was an offer to make two party trade deal between the US and Germany, which Germany declined. That because in Germany it isn`t popular to work against European integration.

Secondly, problems with Turkey. There are mixed opinions on how to deal with Turkey. Questions have been risen ever since the Turkish coup d’état t and repressions followed by that. The second issue is the Turkish politicians’ actions in Germany. Also there are Turkish societies and imams, who have been instructed to influence the local Turk citizens. Same applies to Turkish politicians, who organize rallies to mobilize their voters.

Thirdly, there is the growing popularity of Wahhabism. Right now they are a tiny minority, maybe there are few hundred. It would become more dangerous, because of the radicalised youth, who may become a threat to internal security. For the Turks the real problem is the Kurd community, who could, if radicalised, be a threat for the Turkish security.

Fourth and final point: defence spending in Germany. Germany has promised to raise its defence spending to 2% of the GDP by 2020. But recently there came differing opinions from the German government. The defence minister of Germany has declared that should and would raise its defence spending. But the foreign minister of Germany suggested that sums that go for humanitarian should also be counted as spending on defence. The raise of defence costs is greeted with scepticism, because the Germany`s 2% of GDP is rather large amount of money. AfD has remained rather modest in that question. The rise of defence costs might be connected to changes internally in NATO. Also there has been a plan to change security architecture in the European Union.

Questions for the lecturer:

Could the AfD ever be involved in governance? It might be possible in future. In the past Greens and Die Linke were also not taken serious, but now there is chance that they would be in government. In the future AfD could prove itself as a serious party and become as partner for established parties.

What will the future be for FDP? It is hard to say, because they don`t have a clear vision. In the past they were a party for a liberal voter. But as times pasted they lost their way. Now their position has been taken over by SDP and CDU. And the liberal position has been taken over by the Greens. 

Is the lack of a clear leader reason for FDP-s problems? They have a leader, but his not that charismatic as Schultz and Merkel. However, for small parties it is not beneficial to build their campaign around the leader.

What would Schultz cabinet’s foreign policy be? The strong stance against Russia would stay. But the harshness of it depends on with whom they would the government with. In a SDP-Die Linke-Greens coalition it would questionable if Die Linke would get the foreign ministry, because of their pro-Russian stances. The Greens would be more idealistically in foreign policy. But for now there aren`t signs of change.

Is the AfD more popular in eastern parts of Germany? There is not a clear geographical difference between the east and west.

Would Macron`s programme strengthen ties between Germany and France? Macron is considered to be more suitable than Marine Le Pen, because Le Pen wants to counter Germany and European Union. But in Germany it isn`t popular to undermine or even doubt over EU integration.

What about Poland and Hungary? Relationships with Poland have deteriorated in the last year, due to Polish internal reasons. In the background of their internal changes Germany has remained reserved. As for Hungary, there is a clearer distrust between the two. That`s because Hungary has become more and more illiberal under Viktor Orban, so if there are more illiberal decisions, they would be met by harsh reaction.  

What would be next for German migration policy? Firstly there are problems, which have come up with migration crises. Secondly, there are differing opinions on how to solve the issues. The assumption for Merkel`s invitation for all migrants was that they would be distributed between the EU countries.

Has Germany selected its entry for 2017 Eurovision song contest? At the time of lecture the Germans had not managed to select their entry for 2017 Eurovision song contest. 

Konspekteeris Karl Juhan Saks