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German election 2017: Guide to the political parties
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By Lothar Probst
These seven political parties stand a chance of success in the upcoming federal elections:
Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
In the German party system, the Christian Democratic Union (German: Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) is considered a centre-right party. As the governing and chancellor's party for many decades, the CDU has shaped the federal republic considerably. Under the leadership of Angela Merkel, Chancellor since 2005, the CDU has shifted more towards the centre and departed from some of its conservative positions of the past. Although Angela Merkel opened Germany to hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 and has come under political pressure, she is now again perceived as an anchor of stability in an increasingly insecure world. The CDU's prospects of winning a majority of seats in the federal elections - together with its sister party, the CSU - are relatively good. During the election campaign, the CDU has promised its voters full employment by 2025, the recruitment of an additional 15,000 police officers to fight crime, the return of refugees who are not entitled to asylum, investments in education and research, a skilled worker immigration law, and moderate tax cuts.
Christian Social Union (CSU)
The CSU (German: Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern) runs for election only in the federal state of Bavaria. In the German Bundestag, it forms a common faction with the CDU. As its sister party, the CSU widely shares the Christian values of the CDU, yet in social and cultural issues, the CSU is often much more conservative. CSU's top candidate for this year's federal election, Joachim Herrmann, is seen as a hard-liner especially in domestic affairs when it comes to combatting crime and violent Islamist offenders. In contrast to the CDU, the CSU seeks to introduce an upper limit on refugees coming to Germany.
Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)
The SPD (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) is the oldest political party represented in the German Bundestag, originating from the workers' movement of the second half of the 19th century. After the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany, it developed into a moderate political party of the centre-left. The SPD defines itself as the party of social justice, which also factors in economic interests. From 1969 to 1982 and from 1998 to 2005, the German chancellors were Social Democrats. With just 23 per cent of votes in the federal election of 2009, however, the party suffered a major blow that it has not yet recovered from. SPD's current top candidate, Martin Schulz (former President of the European Parliament), has not yet succeeded in distinguishing himself sufficiently from Angela Merkel. Against this backdrop, the SPD is again likely to fail at becoming the leading governing party that receives the chancellorship. During the election campaign, the SPD has focused on the topics of social justice, secure pensions, equal pay for equal work, a humanitarian immigration law, investments in education and infrastructure, as well as peace and disarmament.
Free Democratic Party (FDP)
The precursors of the FDP (German: Freie Demokratische Partei) go back to the early 20th century. At the end of World War II, the party unified national liberals, economic-liberal, and social-liberal representatives within its ranks. Although the FDP is considered a small party, it has had a determining influence on German politics for many decades as the coalition party of either CDU/CSU or SPD. The 2013 federal election, however, was a turning point for the FDP when, for the very first time since 1949, it came up short of the 5 per cent threshold to qualify for representation and therefore could not re-enter the Bundestag. Since then, the FDP has been attempting to gain a foothold under the leadership of its new chairman, Christian Lindner, and to make it into parliament again in the upcoming election. According to the polls, they are on track for this. The FDP aims to win over voters by pledging higher investments into digitalisation, education and infrastructure, cutting red tape, demanding tax relief of 30 billion euros for citizens, and more money for police and the judicial system.
Alliance 90/The Greens
Founded in West Germany in 1980, The Green Party (German: Die Grünen) was initially established as an ecological political party, dedicated above all to ending the use of nuclear power. In 1993, at a time when West and East Germany had already been reunited, it merged with the East German citizens' movements (Alliance 90). It was only in the early 1990s that the Greens started to work towards a joint governing coalition with the Social Democrats. During the 'Red-Green' coalition government from 1998 to 2005, their best-known politician, Joschka Fischer, became foreign minister. As of 2005, the party opened up to coalitions with other political parties as well, but has failed to become a governing party at the federal level again. One of the party's two top candidates is Cem Özdemir, who is of Turkish descent. The Greens are pledging to shut down all coal power stations by 2030, support families with children, fight the causes of refugee migration, set up an immigration ministry, invest more money in a police force that is part of civil society, and promote women.
THE LEFT (Left Party)
The precursors of the Left Party (German: DIE LINKE) can be traced back to East Germany's ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). The party first renamed itself Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). In 2005, the PDS merged with left-wing movements in West Germany to become the Left Party and jointly entered the German Bundestag. The Left Party - quite like the SPD - considers itself the party of social justice, but its demands are much more radical than those of the SPD, holding on to the goal of a socialist society. Sarah Wagenknecht is one of the party's two top candidates running for office in the federal election. She bashes rich corporations and the "neoliberalism" of the other German political parties. The Left Party is in favour of increasing the minimum wage, considerably raising taxes for higher incomes, and stopping arms exports. It refrains from limiting immigration and favours lifting EU sanctions against Russia.
Alternative for Germany (AfD)
Shortly after its foundation in 2013, the AfD (German: Alternative für Deutschland) narrowly missed entering the Bundestag. During the regional and European elections that followed, though, it managed to establish itself as part of the German party system. At first, the AfD predominantly criticised the use of German taxpayers' money to rescue other EU member states (bailout initiatives). When hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees came to Germany in 2015, the bailout programmes were no longer in the foreground; instead, AfD focused on the alleged "Islamisation of Germany" and the "foreign domination". In this context, some factions of the AfD espouse nationalistic and extreme right-wing positions. The current party leadership under top candidate Alexander Gauland aims to enter the German Bundestag on a strong conservative right-wing ticket. The AfD pledges to abolish the right of asylum, to close the German border, and to fight crime among immigrants in particular. It is also in favour of making access to weapons easier. What is more, the AfD pledges to lift the sanctions against Russia.
Author: Lothar Probst is an election and political party researcher and Professor Emeritus at the University of Bremen.