The German federal legislative elections will take place on next Sunday 22 September. Because of Germany’s economic strength and political clout in Europe, the stake of this election is the evolution not only of the country during the four next years but also of the European Union. As most of Europe is waiting for the outcome, to estimate what will be the consequences on the development of the European integration, we have decided to focus on the “European programme” of four contenders: CDU/CSU (the Christian-democrats led by Angela Merkel), SPD (the social-democrats, with Peer Steinbrück as candidate for Chancellor), FDP (liberals) and the Greens. We include the FDP in our review despite the risk that it does not enter Parliament, if it does not pass the 5%-threshold, because if it does it is likely that it will be again in the government with the CDU/CSU. And we exclude Die Linke (‘The Left’, a party born in the ruins of Eastern Germany’s communist party) because the main parties exclude any coalition with this very leftist party. Other parties that are unlikely to reach 5% of the vote (in particular, the Pirate party and ‘Alternative für Deutschland’, a small anti-Euro party) are also voluntarily left out.
The polls give the CDU (Christlich-Demokratische Union: ‘Christian-Democratic Union’), and its Bavarian sister party CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union: ‘Christian-Social Union’) a large share of the votes (+/- 40%). Save an incredible reversal of the situation, the CDU/CSU will be the main coalition partner in the next government that will very probably be led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. So, it is particularly important to check which European policy they will pursue.
Economics: The CDU campaigns for “solid finances and a stable euro”. Germany will probably start repaying its debts in 2015 and the CDU wants to encourage the other countries to be as virtuous and follow its example. The CDU does not want Germany to take responsibility for the debt of other countries (e.g., via Eurobonds). It wants to promote ‘clever spending’, i.e., spending money where it worth doing so, and price stability. The CDU also calls for a better supervision of banks (let us hope that this will help accelerate the implementation of a banking union).
Citizens: The CDU suggests exporting the German education model of “duale Ausbildung”, characterised by a complementarity between teaching in schools and practical learning in firms. It also wishes that more people in the EU learn more foreign languages, to stimulate exchanges between citizens and facilitate migration within the EU.
Europe in the world: The CDU calls for a more coherent and active European foreign and security policy. It supports a stronger EU High Representative and an evolution towards an increased sharing of military capacities eventually leading to a European army. The CDU also believes that Europe needs a strategic discussion on what it can and what it wants to achieve with its civil and military missions. The CDU will continue to encourage participation in state- and administration-building efforts in third countries, in particular in the areas of police and justice. Regarding EU enlargement, the CDU favours further enlargement which would be in the interest of Germany and the EU. So, it supports membership by Balkan countries once they will satisfy all the political and economic criteria. The CDU also stands for closer ties between the EU and Turkey, but rejects a full membership because Turkey does not meet the criteria and, furthermore, Turkey’s size and its economic structure would overwhelm the EU’s integration capacity.
The social-democrats, who registered a severe defeat in 2009 after 4 years of participation in the first Merkel government, do not seem able to prevent a new victory of the Chancellor. Its leading candidate, Peer Steinbrück, a former minister of Finance of Angela Merkel, is much less popular than his former boss and now main rival. Moreover, the SPD lags way behind the CDU in the opinion polls, with a score averaging 26%. However, the SPD may well end up being the junior coalition partner of the CDU, shall the FDP fail to pass the 5%-hurdle to enter Parliament.
Economics: The SPD wants a European economic government which would answer to the citizens. This would bring Europe closer to the citizens and democratise the functioning of the Eurozone, a much-needed evolution since citizens’ taxes are used to finance rescue packages and guarantee the ECB policy. The SPD also calls for a “social stability pact”, for a “strong social Union” to prevent social dumping between EU Member States. This pact would include clear targets for social and educational spending. The SPD claims that stability and prosperity cannot rely only on fiscal discipline but also require growth and fairness and wishes a full return to the “social market economy”. It also calls for a better regulation of markets and banks. It wants that bank owners bear some losses if a bank needs to be rescued and a limit on dividends and a ban on bonuses when a bank is in huge troubles. Regarding the banking union, the SPD supports the supervision of big banks by the ECB at the moment (it wishes the supervision function to be transferred to an autonomous EU agency later). It also speaks in favour of a European bank resolution authority and a European bank restructuring fund (which would be financed by a tax on banks proportionate to their risk profile). The SPD also supports a Financial Transaction Tax. Moreover, the SPD calls for the creation of a European rating agency and for tighter regulation of existing rating agencies. Furthermore, the SPD wants a closer coordination of national economic and fiscal policies. In particular, it suggests adopting a minimum tax rate for corporate tax and on capital earnings, to favour a fair competition within the Single Market. Economic imbalances within the EU shall also be tackled. The SPD also declares that EU economies need a new impulse towards sustainable growth. It supports establishing an investment and construction fund and a common European debt settlement fund. This measure shall be accompanied by the adoption of compulsory reform and debt reduction plans by Member States benefiting from European solidarity. Finally, the SPD speaks against the privatisation of water utilities. It says that access to water is a human right and that local districts should remain competent for providing drinking water.
Integration: To have a Europe that acts in the interest of its citizens, the SPD calls for a deeper political integration in Europe. The SPD would like the idea of European integration to fascinate citizens again, with Europe becoming “a place of peace and social justice which exports stability in the world and is organised as a transnational democracy” while respecting the principle of subsidiarity. To achieve this, the SPD recommends copying at European level the separation of powers that exists at national level: the Commission should become a true European government elected by and answering to the European Parliament. The Member States would be represented in a second legislative house. All three bodies (both legislative houses and the government) would be competent to initiate legislation. The ECJ would continue to be the highest European court. An economic government for the Eurozone should also be created and submitted to parliamentary control.
The complete SPD programme can be found here.
The Greens have seen their support drop in the recent weeks. In two months, they have gone from 15% to 9% of the vote, according to the polls. Their result in the Bavarian regional legislative elections showed the same tendency: they obtained 8.6% of the vote, missing their target of reaching minimum 10%. Despite these difficulties, the Greens could form part of various coalition governments, depending on the final outcome of the elections.
Economics: The Greens criticise anti-European politics and call for a deeper coordination of national economic and financial policies. This is also in Germany’s interest, as 60% of German exports go to EU Member States.
Citizens: Democracy in the EU shall be developed not only by an alliance of Parliaments at all levels (i.e., European, national and regional) but also by an active involvement of the citizens. Therefore, the Greens want to strengthen the European Citizens’ Initiative and establish, in the longer run, a European referendum procedure. For the institutional reform, they favour the meeting of an open Convention about the future of the EU.
Integration: The Greens insist on the fact that the EU is much more than just an economic and currency union: “the European idea is a promise of peace, democracy and rule of law in Europe and in the world”. According to the Greens, the EU should actively support a solidary world order: impose Human rights, fight poverty and hunger, stimulate cultural exchanges and promote tolerance.
Europe in the world: To strengthen Europe’s voice on issues such as climate change and fight against poverty, the Greens want a true European common foreign and security policy. They also praise the enlargement policy as being an instrument to promote peace, stability, the rule of law, freedom, democracy, social standards and protection of the environment in Europe. They want to give prospects of membership to the Balkan countries and they support an adhesion of Turkey to the EU, which is, according to them, the best way to spur reform in Turkey.
The whole programme of the Greens is accessible here.
The FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei)
As mentioned above, the FDP, led by Rainer Brüderle (former minister of Economics and Technology from 2009 to 2011), faces the great risk of not passing the 5%-threshold which is required to be represented in the federal Parliament. However, if they manage it, then the current coalition may well continue for another four years.
Economics: The FDP clearly supports price stability – it suggests including it in the Grundgesetz, the German ‘Constitution’ – and therefore it will defend the independence of the ECB and wants to strengthen the Bundesbank. Furthermore, the FDP wants to enforce the stability rules in Europe and it opposes Eurobonds and other forms of putting together national debts in Europe. It wants to overcome the European debt crisis and build a better Europe. To reach that goal, the FDP wants a better coordination of national economic policies to increase Europe’s competitiveness. Moreover, “solidarity requires solidity”; therefore, pressure on aided States to implement structural reforms shall remain strong. The FDP opposes increasing the amount of debt, any financing of national debt by the ECB, and any European tax. To tackle youth unemployment, the FDP suggests exporting the German education model of ‘duale Ausbildung’ to other countries.
Europe in the world: The FDP believes that there can be a strong Germany only within a strong Europe. It wants to maintain existing friendships with other countries, while also developing relationships with new regional and global powers. It defends a disarmament and pacific policy, reminding that Europe is a peace project at the origin. The FDP favours enlargement of the EU, including to Turkey, but wants a strict application of all membership criteria. Respect for human rights, individual freedom and the rule of law shall also be criteria guiding the EU relationship with neighbouring countries such as Ukraine.
Citizens: The FDP claims that Europe is part of the “identity” of liberals and a guarantee of freedom and of the capacity to be an actor in global competition. The FDP wants to “strengthen Europe’s strengths: Europe’s diversity, the market economy, the rule of law as basis and a decentralised decision-making process”. To bring the EU closer to citizens, the FDP wants the European Parliament to get a right of legislative initiative and it supports the creation of transnational lists for European elections. The Commission should become smaller and more efficient. The Council would become the second parliamentary house, with the same rights as the EP. Subsidiarity should also enable bringing Europe closer to the citizens. The FDP also firmly opposes any potential free reintroduction of border controls within the Schengen area. It also wants to reform the Common Agricultural Policy to make it less bureaucratic and supportive of a more sustainable agriculture. Finally, the FDP wants the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to be applied equally in all Member States and supports a quick adhesion of the EU to the European Convention of Human Rights.
Integration: The FDP reminds that Europe is more than just the Euro. It wants to develop the EU towards a federal union with solid federal principles and democratic structures and which fully respects the principle of subsidiarity. This should ideally happen via the convention method.
German voters will not only decide on Germany’s future, but also on Europe’s one. All the main parties are committed to pursuing the European integration but there are different views on what European policies should be. A big coalition formed by the CDU/CSU and the SPD would probably allow quicker and deeper changes (banking union, political union, etc.) than a continuation of the current CDU/CSU-FDP coalition. In any case, Mrs Merkel looks very likely to win another 4-year term as Chancellor. As The Economist writes, let us hope “she could still become the great leader Germany and Europe so desperately needs”, and this newspaper finds good reasons to believe so.