Danke les

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hans-Dietrich Genscher (Career after politics)

Genscher did not run for reelection in 1998. Since then, he has been active as a lawyer, in a public company, and in bona-fide international relations organizations. He founded his own Hans-Dietrich Genscher Consult GmbH in 2000.

Friday, May 25, 2007

German federal election 2005

On May 22nd 2005 as predicted the SPD took a devastating defeat in its former heartland, North Rhine-Westphalia. Half an hour after the election results, the SPD chairman Franz Müntefering announced that the chancellor would clear the way for premature federal elections by the means of a purposely lost vote of confidence. This took the republic by surprise, especially because the SPD was seen in polls below 25% at that time. On the following Monday the CDU announced Angela Merkel as conservative candidate for chancellorship, aspiring to be the first female chancellor in German history.

Whereas in May and June 2005 victory of the conservatives seemed highly likely, with some polls giving them an absolute majority, this picture changed shortly before the election at September 18, 2005, especially after the conservatives introduced Paul Kirchhof as potential minister of the treasury, and after a TV duel between Merkel and Schröder where many considered Schröder to have performed better.

New for the 2005 election was the alliance between the newly formed Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice (WASG) and the PDS, planning to fuse into a common party (see Left Party.PDS). With the former SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine for the WASG and Gregor Gysi for the PDS as prominent figures, this alliance soon found interest in the media and in the population. Polls in July saw them as high as 12 %.

After success in the state election for Saxony, the alliance between the far right parties National Democratic Party and Deutsche Volksunion (DVU), which planed to leapfrog the "five-percent hurdle" on a common party ticket was another media issue.

The election results of September 18, 2005 were surprising insofar as they differed widely from the polls of the previous weeks. The conservatives lost votes compared to 2002, reaching only 35%, and failed to get a majority for a "black-yellow" government of CDU/CSU and liberal FDP. The FDP polled a stunning 10 % of the votes, one of their best results ever. But the red-green coalition also failed to get a majority, with the SPD losing votes, but polling 34 % and the greens staying at 8 %. The left party alliance reached 8.7 % and entered the German Parliament, whereas the NPD only got 1.6 %.

The most likely outcome of coalition talks was a so-called "grand coalition" between the conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the social democrats (SPD), with the three smaller parties (liberals, greens and the left) in the opposition. Other possible coalitions include a "traffic light coalition" between SPD, FDP and Greens and a "Jamaica coalition" between CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens. Coalitions involving the Left Party have been ruled out by all parties (including the Left Party itself), although the combination of one of the major parties and any two small parties would mathematically have a majority. Of these combinations, only a red-red-green coalition is politically even imaginable. Both Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel announced that they had won the election and should become next chancellor.

On October 10th talks were held between Franz Müntefering, the SPD chairman, Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber, the CSU chairman. In the afternoon it was announced that the CDU/CSU and SPD will begin formal coalition negotiations with the aim of a Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel as the next German chancellor.

Angela Merkel is the first woman, the first East German and the first scientist to be chancellor as well as the youngest German chancellor ever. On November 22nd 2005 Angela Merkel was sworn in by president Horst Köhler for the office of Bundeskanzlerin.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Rise of the Right

In September 2004 elections were held in the states of Saarland, Brandenburg and Saxony. In the Saarland, the governing CDU was able to remain in power and gained one additional seat in the parliament. The SPD lost seven seats, while the Liberals and Greens were able to re-enter state parliament. Remarkably, and most surprising, the Far-Right National Democratic Party, that had never gotten more than 1 or 2 % in recent decades, received about 4% of the votes (but did not receive a seat in the parliament, because they had not been elected by at least 5% of the voters).

Two weeks later, elections in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony were held: the ruling parties overall lost votes, but they remained in power. However, the ruling CDU in Saxony was forced (due to their losses at the ballots) to form a coalition with the 9,8% party SPD as a junior partner. In Brandenburg the CDU remained junior partner of the SPD. The fact that in Brandenburg the right party Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) re-entered and in Saxony the right party NPD entered the state parliaments caused worries in the traditional political parties.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Conservative comeback

In February 2003, elections took place in the states of Hessen and Lower Saxony, both leading to overwhelming victories for the conservatives. In Hessen, the CDU minister president Roland Koch was re-elected, with his party CDU gaining enough seats to govern without the former coalition partner FDP. In Lower Saxony, the former SPD minister president Sigmar Gabriel lost the elections, leading to an CDU/FDP-government headed by new minister president Christian Wulff (CDU). Both elections are seen as symptomatic for a widespread criticism against the current federal red-green government.

The protest against the Iraq war changed this situation a bit, favouring SPD and Greens.

The latest election in the state of Bavaria led to a landslide victory of the conservatives, gaining not just the majority (as usual), but two thirds of parliamentary seats.

In April 2003, chancellor Schröder announced massive cuts in the social systems, called Agenda 2010. The changes include much-disputed reforms to the labour market and unemployment system, known as Hartz I - Hartz IV.

The European elections on June 13, 2004 brought a staggering defeat for the Social Democrats, who polled only slightly more than 21 %, the lowest election result for the SPD in a nationwide election since the Second World War. Liberals, Greens, conservatives and the far left were the winners of the European election in Germany, because voters were disillusioned by high unemployment and cuts in social security, while the governing SPD party seems to be concerned with quarrels between the party wings and unable to give any clear direction. Many observers believe that this election marked the beginning of the end of the Schröder government and indicates a process in which the SPD party seems to shrink and/or fall apart.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Red-Green" vs. Christian coalitions

In the 1998 election the SPD emphasized commitment to reducing persistently high unemployment and appealed to voters' desire for new faces after 16 years of Helmut Kohl's government. Gerhard Schröder positioned himself as a centrist "Third Way" candidate in the mold of Britain's Tony Blair and America's Bill Clinton--he was critiqued as "Clintonblair" by some newspaper sources throughout his election campaign. The CDU/CSU stood on its record of economic performance and experience in foreign policy. The Kohl government was hurt at the polls by slower growth in the east in the past two years, widening the economic gap between east and west. The final margin of victory was sufficiently high to permit a "red-green" coalition of the SPD with Alliance '90/The Greens (Bündnis '90/Die Grünen), bringing the Greens into a national government for the first time. The first months of the new government were marked by policy disputes between the moderate and traditional left wings of the SPD, resulting in some voter disaffection. The first state election after the federal election was held in Hessen in February, 1999. The CDU increased its vote by 3.5 % to emerge as the largest party, and was able to replace a SPD/Green coalition with a CDU/FDP coalition. The result was interpreted in part as a referendum on the federal government's proposed new citizenship law, which would have eased requirements for long-time foreign residents to obtain citizenship, and permitted them to retain their original citizenship as well.

In March 1999, SPD chairman and Minister of Finance Oskar Lafontaine, who represented a more traditional social democratic position, resigned from all offices after losing a party-internal power struggle against Schröder.

In state elections in 2000 and 2001, the respective SPD- or CDU-led coalition governments were re-elected into power.

The next election for the Bundestag was September 22, 2002. Gerhard Schröder led the coalition of SPD and Greens to an 11 seat victory over the conservative challengers headed by Edmund Stoiber (CSU). Two factors are generally cited that enabled Schröder to win the elections despite poor approval ratings a few months before: good handling of the floods in the summer of 2002 and firm opposition to the USA's plans to invade Iraq.

The coalition treaty for the second red-green coalition was signed October 16, 2002. With a significantly changed cabinet (see below), Schröder and Fischer began their second term.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Politics of Germany

Politics of Germany takes place in a framework of a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Federal Chancellor is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, Bundestag and Bundesrat. Since 1949, the party system is dominated by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

The Judiciary of Germany is independent of the executive and the legislature. The political system is laid out in the 1949 constitution, the Grundgesetz (Basic Law), which remained in effect with minor amendments after 1990's German Reunification.

The constitution emphasizes the protection of individual liberty in an extensive catalogue of human rights and also divides powers both between the federal and state levels and between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. In many ways, the 1949 Grundgesetz is a strong response to the perceived flaws of the failed 1919 Weimar Republic, which collapsed in 1933 and was replaced by the dictatorship of the Third Reich.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Federal parliament

Germany has on the federal level a bicameral legislature. The parliament has two chambers. The Bundestag (Federal Diet) nominally has 598 members, elected for a four year term, 299 members elected in single-seat constituencies according to first-past-the-post, while a further 299 members are allocated from statewide party lists to achieve a proportional distribution in the legislature, conducted according to a system of mixed member proportional representation. Voters vote once for a constituency representative, and a second time for a party, and the lists are used to make the party balances match the distribution of second votes. In the current parliament there are 16 overhang seats, giving a total of 614. This is caused by larger parties winning additional single-member districts above the totals determined by their proportional party vote. A party must receive 5% of the national vote or win least three directly elected seats to be represented in the Bundestag. This rule, often called the "five percent hurdle", was incorporated into Germany's Election law to prevent political fragmentation and strong minor parties, which was considered a major reason for the inefficacy of the Weimar Republic's Reichstag. The first Bundestag elections were held in the Federal Republic of Germany ("West Germany") on August 14, 1949. Following Reunification, elections for the first all-German Bundestag were held on December 2, 1990. The last election was held on September 18, 2005, the new (16th) Bundestag convened on October 18, 2005. The number of Bundestag Deputies was reduced from 656 to 598 beginning in 2002, although under the additional member system, more deputies may be admitted if a party wins more directly elected seats than it would be entitled to under proportional representation.

The Bundesrat (Federal Council) is the representation of the state governments at the federal level. It consists of 69 members who are delegates of the 16 Bundesländer and usually, but not necessarily include the 16 Minister Presidents themselves. The Länder each have from three to six votes in the Bundesrat, dependent on population. Bundesrat members receive voting instructions from their state governments.

The legislature has powers of exclusive jurisdiction and concurrent jurisdiction with the Länder in areas specifically enumerated by the Basic Law. The Bundestag bears the major responsibility. The necessity for the Bundesrat to concur on legislation is limited to bills related to revenue shared by the federal and state governments and those imposing responsibilities on the states, although in practice, this means that Bundesrat concurrence is very often required.

Since the political orientation of the Bundesrat (which depends on the various state elections that occur independently of the federal ones) is quite frequently the opposite of that of the Bundestag, it has, in recent years, become more and more of a forum for the opposition parties, as opposed to one for state interests, as the constitution intended.