Which party will get my vote on Sept. 24 – and why (part 1)

Publishing this post may be a terrible mistake. The idea is to eventually tell you which party is getting my vote in Germany’s election on Sept. 24. More importantly, I want to walk you through my key deliberations. Discussing electoral decisions in public is rather unusual in Germany. For good historical reasons, the secrecy of the ballot is held in high regard. Even asking a friend who she is going to vote for can often be borderline.

(Hier gehts zur deutschen Version dieses Textes.) 

I am not a member of any political party. One and a half decades ago, I briefly joined the Social Democrats, motiviated by Schröder’s Agenda 2010 reforms. I quickly left the party again after it started to campaign against its own policies in the 2005 election. Moreover, I always felt a bit queasy about the membership. I always wondered how being a party soldier can be reconciled with my job as an independent  journalist.

This it the first of two blog posts discussing my personal deliberations ahead of the Sept. 24 election. My views are personal, and they may be distorted as I have lived in the UK for the last eight years. I’m moving back to Germany right after the election, so at least I have some personal interest in getting a good government,

You may have different political priorities, and almost surely will disagree with some or all of my arguments. Fair enough. The only thing I would ask is to make up your own mind, get out to the polling station on Sept. 24, and vote for a party different to the AfD and other fringe parties.

What’s at stake?

Each federal election is really important, but this one is probably particularly crucial. For the first time in decades, a far-right party is on the cusp of entering the Bundestag. Tough decisions are imminent over the coming four years.

Germany is on track to miss its carbon emission targets by a mile. It will  either have to follow Trump in flouting the Paris treaty or phase out lignite coal mining quickly.Toxic diesel emissions in cities are a real public health threat, and driving bans may be the only proper solution. More than a million Syrian war refugees have to be integrated into the society and the labour market. Economic inequality is rising. The tax system needs a overhaul. There is a lack of affordable housing. Europe and the Euro is in dire need of a fundamental overhaul. The auto industry may enter an existential crisis, as it has so far missed out on electric mobility. (One in ten German industrial jobs are dependent on petrol and diesel engines.) Getting the balance right between preventing attacks by militant Islamists and protecting our civil liberties will be tricky.

What now?

True, the TV debate between Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz was utterly depressing. Many key issues were not addressed at all, and you could get the feeling that even Schulz will vote for Merkel on Sept. 24. But please, please, please: don’t be turned off by the borefest. And granted, Merkel will almost certainly be Germany’s next Chancellor. However, it really matters which coalition is going to run Germany for the next four years.

I found it harder than usual to make up my mind. There is no perfect choice. I think you do have to start from the premise that every decision is a compromise, and does come with material downsides. But abstaining is the worst of all options. People went to prison for the right to vote, people died for it. It’s a key privilege of a modern, civilised society.  Ignoring it is just irresponsible.

So who to vote for? I think the best way to come to an answer is to work out who not to vote for. So let’s rule out the worst option first.

Alternative für Deutschland

I would rather cut off both my arms than vote for the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) . From my point of view, it’s a far-right, xenophobic, narrow-minded party feasting on the fears of citizens. The AfD may address issues other parties ignore, but the answers it is offering are phony, unethical and economically harmful. Some of the campaign material is just disgusting, for instance a poster insinuating that Merkel is responsible for deadly attacks by militant Islamists across Europe.

During my eight years in the UK, I could witness how a country can go to the dogs if right wing populists are not fought head on.

The majority of AfD members are probably not neo-Nazis. But I think it’s still a disgrace for Germany that a far-right party will probably make it into the Bundestag.

Die Linke

Germany’s hard left party, Die Linke, is also not an option for me. It’s an odd mixture of former Communists from Eastern Germany and the former left wing of the Social Democrats. It seems to pursue more or less reasonable politics on a local and regional level in eastern Germany. But the party has serious issues with the market economy, harbors loony economic policy ideas, wants to pull Germany out of NATO and has worrying sympathies for Russia. Also, like the AfD, it has issues with Antisemitism. No way, Jose.

FDP

Another easy one  to rule out.  The FDP claims to be liberal, pro open markets and in defense of civil liberties. I do have many sympathies for these positions. But the FDP has a terrible track record of promising much and delivering little . It’s pro-business rather than pro open-market, often fighting for vested interests rather than the common good.*

The FDP’s views on fiscal policy are even more extreme– and, in my personal view, misguided –  than Wolfgang Schäuble’s. Its manifesto not only argues in favour of a balanced budget but calls for an active redemption of government debt. At a time when investors are willing to pay for the privilege to lend money to the German government, this does not make a lot of sense. Moreover, as long as public debt rises more slowly than nominal GDP, the debt burden goes down over time anyway. If anything, now is the time to increase government lending, and spend the money on ramping up investment in schools, universities and infrastructure (roads, trains, broadband internet and so on).

I find the FDP’s views on Europe deeply disturbing . Lindner has frequently said he wants to kick Greece out of the common currency. Such a move bears the risk of triggering yet another economic crisis, and would endanger the Euro, A “grand bargain” between Germany and France that trades structural reforms for more fiscal leeway would become extremely difficult if the FDP took its manifesto seriously. Moreover, I’m appalled by  Lindner’s recent call to soften diesel emission rules and tolerate toxic nitrogen oxide emissions to avoid driving bans for dirty diesels.

I also have significant doubts if the FDP takes climate change seriously and would be willing to take the necessary tough decisions to bring down emissions quickly.

CDU

I have never voted CDU in any election so far. But I considered doing this for the first time in 2013 and, even more seriously,  this time around. The key motivation in 2017 would be Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. I am deeply impressed by her 2015 decision to open the borders for Syrian war refugees, and the fact that she used all her political capital to push this through.

Granted, the move was executed poorly and lead to months of chaos. But in itself, the decision was just just right. I consider it a formidable humanitarian action which – excuse the pathos – makes me proud to be German.

I think Merkel did a good job on the global stage in pushing for ambitious climate change targets, even though her policies at home do not match her global ambitions. I also like her pro-European stance. Sure, the Chancellor bungeled the Euro crisis in 2011 and 2012, and deserves some blame for its escalation. But from mid-2012 the Merkel by and large did what was necessary to prevent a catastrophic breakup of the common currency, albeit it was probably too little, too late; and Merkel’s focus on structural reforms and fiscal austerity is ill-advised.

I do have serious issues with the CDU’s austerity focused fiscal policy, its tendency to flatter the auto industry, and its unwillingness to allow a greater amount of fiscal burden sharing (i.e. transfers to poorer countries) in the Euro zone. Without such fiscal transfers, the stability of the Euro may be at stake over the medium term. And a break up of the currency area would be catastrophic for Germany’s economic prosperity.

When Merkel’s approval ratings were in free fall last year, I thought I might have to give her my vote as an attempt to give her credit for her refugee policy. But overall voter support for the CDU has recovered, so that’s not necessary any more. Enough other people are voting for Merkel already.

This leaves the SPD and the Greens a serious contender for my vote. Who has made the race? I’ll leave the answer for another blog post: see here. 

 

* Correction: An earlier version of this post claimed that the FDP is “is dead against deregulation of pharmacies. More competition would lower pharmacist’s profits and hence hurt a key FDP constituency.” The 2017 election manifesto in fact calls for some liberalisation, i.e. allowing pharmacists to own more than one pharmacy. The party also rejects the ban of  online pharmacies. Apologies.

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