Which party will get my vote on Sept. 24 – and why (part 2)

In a lengthy blogpost a few weeks ago (see here, German version here), I tried to point out why I think it’s really important to vote in the German election on Sept. 24. I also discussed which parties I’m not going to vote for and why. After ruling out the AfD, the Left party, the FDP and the CDU, the Greens and the SPD are the two last men standing. Here are my thoughts about both of them.

The Greens

The most compelling argument for me in favour of the Greens is climate change, or the fight against it. I think the Green Party is the only one where you can be sure the issue is taken seriously. It has the political will to execute the harsh actions necessary to safe our planet.

Fighting carbon emissions will be one of the key political battlegrounds of the next parliament. From 2018 to 2021, it will become increasingly clear that Germany is on track of missing its ambitious targets. The government has committed itself to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent, relative to 1990 until 2020. In 2015, they were just 28 percent lower. Last year, emissions even went up, according to data by the German Environmental Authority (see here). Moreover, a lot of the progress happened in the early 1990s, when the dirty industry in Eastern Germany went off the grid.  Continue reading

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The greatest achievement of German soldiers during World War Two? Not winning it

Alexander Gauland, lead candidate of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), recently said that Germans have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in both World Wars. As a German who has lived in England for the past eight years and will return home right after the September 24 election, I am deeply unsettled by this assertion. Why on earth should I be proud of any “achievement” of German soldiers during those horrific wars? What kind of country am I returning to, where a party with such wayward views may be the third biggest in parliament?

(German version of this essay here. Don’t want to read 2300 words? Here’s an abridged 800 word version.

German soldiers’ best and most important achievement in both world wars was: not winning them. That’s particularly true for the second one. Losing it the best thing ever happening in German history.

My paternal grandfather, Georg Werner Storbeck, was one of the 5 million or so German soldiers who vanished in the Second World War. In May 2014, shortly after my 40th birthday, I stood at his grave for the first time. Seeing my surname on a soldier’s tombstone was moving.

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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.

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German job miracle becomes ever harder to sustain

The country’s long-lasting labour market revolution is half-kaput. New jobs are still appearing at an amazing rate. But this is no longer translating into falling unemployment. And an ill-considered labour market re-regulation is poised to worsen the deep structural problems.

Germany’s labour market is simultaneously striding forward and stagnating. The apparent paradox springs from one positive trend, migrants and women joining the labour force; and two deep-rooted structural problems, a skills mismatch and regional inflexibility. Unfortunately, the government has embarked on a re-regulation of the labour market that is likely to worsen the problems.

Since 2005, Germany has seen an outright labour-market miracle. The number of people with jobs has risen by 4 million, or 11 percent. The quantity of GDP growth needed for net job creation has dropped in half, to just 1 percent. Continue reading

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German court’s “No, but” may undermine ECB’s OMT

The constitutional court strongly implied that the central bank’s bond-buying programme is outside its remit. OMT defenders will worry, but there are hints that the higher European court can make things right. Still, the decision will reinforce German doubts about the ECB.

From legal and economic perspectives, the German constitutional court’s judicial opinion on the ECB’s bond-buying programme will not have immediate consequences. Politically, however, the Karlsruhe judges’ statement is dynamite. Continue reading

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German investment drought imperils growth prospect

Angela Merkel has vowed to end Germany’s long-standing freeze on public and private investment. But she is only considering symbolic actions that will not reverse two decades of negligence. The country’s depleting infrastructure is threatening its long-term economic potential.

The Kiel Canal – the world’s busiest man-made waterway, which connects the North Sea and the Baltic Sea – had to be partially closed last year after worn out locks built in 1914 broke down. The average German car commuter wastes eight working days per year in traffic jams, because Autobahns, once a prime symbol of national pride, have been neglected. On the Cologne beltway, a major bridge crossing the river Rhine close to the headquarters and main factory of pharmaceutical giant Bayer  BAYGn.DE is so dilapidated it has been declared off-limits for heavy lorries, while ordinary cars must slow down to a demeaning 60 kilometres per hour.

The ramifications of Germany’s public-investment thrift have become increasingly visible in everyday life. Angela Merkel, who pledged to tackle the growing problem, is failing to deliver on her promise. For two decades, Europe’s largest economy has been neglecting maintaining its roads, railways and waterways, resulting in a huge investment backlog. The dearth of public investment adds to a longstanding investment restraint in the private sector, which will only be partly offset by a cyclical recovery in 2014. Its decaying capital stock puts the growth perspectives of Europe’s economic powerhouse at risk.

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Merkel a collateral victim of U.S. spying scandal

Widespread U.S. spying on German Internet and mobile-phone users is angering voters. Angela Merkel doesn’t seem to take the debate seriously. It’s unclear what she knew about possible German involvement. Her battered credibility could have electoral consequences.

The man who can spoil Angela Merkel’s electoral victory on Sept. 22 isn’t her hapless Social Democratic challenger Peer Steinbrueck but Edward Snowden. The U.S. whistleblower’s revelations have turned into a major campaign issue in Germany, and Merkel has utterly mishandled the debate. Voters still don’t know what she knew, when she knew it, and they are still waiting to find out about the German government’s exact involvement in the spying. Continue reading

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Axel Springer gets top euros for dead trees

It’s easy to see why Germany’s largest publisher wanted to sell a third of a declining domestic print business. It speeds up the move to digital. It’s harder to know why a buyer was willing to pay 920 mln euros, 9.7 times 2012 EBITDA. Springer shareholders should be happy.

Germany’s largest publisher has just shown that it is still possible to make lots of money with perennially declining newspapers and magazines – by flogging them at an inflated price. Continue reading

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Football cleanup won’t hit goal with fans offside

Yet another scandal is shaking up European football. Italian authorities are investigating 41 clubs on suspicion of tax fraud and money laundering. The case highlights the sport’s poor governance and questionable integrity. Unfortunately supporters may not care that much.

European soccer faces yet another scandal. Italian tax police are investigating 41 clubs – including all but two of the Serie A teams – on suspicion of money laundering and tax evasion in the transfers of players. Investigators searched the clubs, and seized potential evidence. Continue reading

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