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Parties in Germany

This time I want to present to you the party system in Germany (and I will try to explain it in comparison to the American system). Christian (the other German writer) will write about the election system in Germany, so if you want to learn about how elections work in Germany, take a look at his entry.

The party system in Germany is totally different from the system in America. In Germany there are not two parties but 5-6 parties. At the moment, the government is built by a coalition of CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union / Christian-Democratic Union), CSU (which is almost the same party as CDU but only for the Bundesland (state) of Bavarian) and FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei / Liberal Democratic Party). In Germany, it is normal that a coalition between at least two parties build the government. One exception was from 1957-1961 were the CDU was the only party in power. The other parties in Germany are SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands / Germany’s Social-Democratic Party), Bündnis ’90 / Die Grünen (Green Party) and Die Linke (left party).

All the parties have different issues they focus on and views about politics but the party system is not as polarized as in America. There is a lot of overlap between a few parties, although not every party can work or build a government together because their political views are too different from each other.  But in the end, you can say that there are two main divisions around which the parties are organized: the contrast between authority and liberality, which asks: what’s the role of the government compared with the liberty of the individual? The second division is around the social balance and the free market economy. To which extent should the government compensate social differences which are initiated by the free market economy?

I will try to summarize how the parties are positioned around these topics, and I will start with the two biggest parties, which are called “Volksparteien” in German.

CDU/CSU is a party which exists almost since the foundation of Germany in 1949. At the moment, it is the biggest party in parliament (Bundestag) with 33,8%. In actual polls, the party reaches 37%, which is a good position for the election next year. CDU/CSU supports the parliamentary democracy, federalism and a public role of Christian churches. This means for example, that CDU/CSU doesn’t back up same-sex unions. It is important for students to know that CDU/CSU is in favor for tuition fees although that shouldn’t keep someone from studying (you can apply for a credit). It is the most conservative party in Germany but you still can’t say that the party is that conservative like the Republican Party in America. CDU/CSU stands for a social free market economy which means that liberty and responsibility just as competition and solidarity goes hand in hand. In fact, you can say that CDU/CSU works in favor for free market and is against too much national control over the economy. In foreign policy, CDU/CSU make an effort to have a good relation with America and the party is a strong supporter of the European Union.

1st image: logo of CDU/CSU; 2nd image: Horst Seehofer, partyleader of CSU and Angela Merkel, Bundeskanzlerin and partyleader of CDU

SPD is the oldest party in Germany because their roots are long before the foundation of Germany. At the moment, SPD is the strongest opposition party in the parliament (Bundestag) with 23 % and actual polls prognosticate 28% for the party. The SPD is campaigning for democratic socialism which means that liberty, solidarity and justice are the fundamental values of the party. Social justice is one of the main goals of the party which includes to support social free market economy but the earnings of the economy should be distributed in a fair way to everybody then this is the best way to save the wealth of the whole population. The party supports a strong state which protects the weak. Furthermore, SPD wants to achieve more civic participation and peace in the world. SPD is more liberal than CDU/CSU;  it supports same-sex unions for example. In education, the SPD want a system which is free for everybody, not important what your (financial or ethnic) background is. In Foreign Policy, the SPD is more distant to America but supports the European Integration.

1st image: logo of SPD, 2nd image: left, Peer Steinbrück, Kanzler candidate of SPD and Sigmar Gabriel (right) partyleader of SPD

FDP was founded 1948 and although it was never the biggest party in parliament, it is the party who was the longest time in power. FDP formed coalitions with CDU/CSU and also with SPD. At the moment, FDP is the junior partner of the CDU. For the FDP, the election in 2009 was a big success because they won 14.6 % and left the opposition after almost 12 years. However, actual polls forecast only 5% for FDP and that means that the next election will be very difficult for the party because you need 5% to be part of the parliament, otherwise you will not get into it. If this happens, it would be a disaster for the whole party. Anyway, the FDP is the party which preaches the most for economic liberalization.  If they could decide, there would be no regulation on the market. Furthermore, FDP stands for tax cut. You can almost say that this was the only topic in the last election. But of course there are still other topics which the party supports. It is the party which protects the civil rights and the liberty of individuals. That means for example, FDP is against federal data storage and they crusade for the rights of same-sex unions, much more than SPD for example. In contrast, FDP is in favor of tuition fees to finance universities. But like the other two parties, FDP supports the European integration.

1st: logo of FDP, 2nd: Philipp Rösler, partyleader of FDP

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen trace back to different movements but the most important are environment, women, peace and democracy movements. They allied and formed the party in 1993 but the green party (for example) existed since 1980. The party started only with one main topic, the nuclear phase-out. The issue became very popular in Germany in the 1970’s and the party celebrated the first success. After the party was elected in parliament, they developed a broader program so that the actual green party stands not only for ecology but also for social and economic sustainability. Furthermore justice is one of the main points in the party program, because under this topic are summarized distributive justice, equality of opportunities, gender justice, international justice and generation justice. Although the FDP is a really liberal party (particularly in economic issues), the green party is much more liberal in social topics. The green party tries to create a multicultural society and to integrate immigrants. In addition, the party has a distinctive gay man and women policy and like the FDP is against federal data storage. Next to the protection of civil rights and freedom, the party is opposed to tuition fees in general because education should be free for everybody. Today, the green party accepts the free market economy but believe the economy should work responsibly in regard to ecology and sustainability. The European Union is also supported by the green party, although the party argues for more democratic participation. In the actual parliament, the party represents 10.7 % and latest polls prognosticate 12%. In general, you can say that the green party is the most liberal party in Germany.

1st: logo of Bündnis90/Die Grünen, 2nd: Claudia Roth and Cem Özdemir, partyleaders

The last party in the actual parliament is Die Linke. This party is a very left orientated party and was elected in parliament with 11.9% in 2009. Interestingly, the party is very successful in East-Germany but has almost no supporters in West-Germany. Actual polls see the party at 8%. The aim of Die Linke is the get rid of capitalism to the democratic socialism. Therefore it is not surprising that the party argues for more federal regulations of economic markets and for the decentralization of the economic market. The party wants to improve the social welfare state and to support Third World Countries. Furthermore, the party stands for free education and wants to change the dimension of the European Union in ecologic, democratic, social and peace affairs. Summarized, Die Linke is the party which wants the most federal control but is more liberal than the CDU/CSU because they don’t distinguish between same-sex unions or hetero marriages for example.

1st: logo of Die Linke, 2nd: Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, partyleaders

At the very end, I want to mention another party, die Piraten-Partei (Pirate’s Party). They aren’t in the actual parliament but celebrated some success in the last year. The party is represented in 4 Landtagen (state parliaments) and actual polls forecast the party at 6%, which means that they would be in the next parliament and that they are more successful than the FDP. That’s kind of surprising because Die Piraten is a new party which was founded in 2006. The only distinctive topic, until now, is the freedom of the world wide net. But a lot of experts expect the party will develop like the Green party, because they also started with only one topic and today it is an accepted and serious party. We will see what happen next year in the fall when the German population will decide the future of their country.

1st: logo of Piraten Partei, 2nd: Bernd Schlömer, partyleader

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