Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Mrs. Merkel and her cabinet

Now that the decision is made that Angela Merkel will be the next German Chancellor, speculations break loose who will become a member of the cabinet. Only a few things are clear. The SPD will receive 8 posts, the CDU/ CSU will head 6 departments plus the chancellorship. Edmund Stoiber from the CSU seems to become the new minister for economics and technology.

But who will become what? Today’s LVZ has a run up of possible candidates.
Foreign Ministry (SPD):
Gunther Verheugen (currently EU commissioner), Peter Struck (current defense minister) and Otto Schily (currently minister for interior affairs; both outsiders for the position). Wolfgang Thierse (current president of the Bundestag) is the true exotic name mentioned here.

Labor and Social affairs (SPD):
Franz Müntefering, Ulla Schmidt (current minister for Health), Sigmar Gabriel and Peer Steinbrück.

Interior affairs (CDU/CSU):
Wolfgang Schäuble, Günther Beckstein (CSU), Peter Müller (Prime Minister from the Saar) and Wolfgang Bosbach.

Finance (SPD):
Peer Steinbrück, Frank Walter Steinmeier, Jochen Dieckmann and as an outsider Hans Eichel.

Defense (CDU):
Jörg Schönbohm (Minister for interior affairs Brandenburg), Michael Glos (CSU), Peter Müller and Friedbert Pflüger.

Justice (SPD):
Almost certain: current justice minister Brigitte Zypries.

Family, Women, Youth and Elderly (CDU):
Also almost certain: Ursula von der Leyen (Minister for social affairs Lower-Saxony)

Education (CDU):
Anette Schavan (ex-education minister in Stuttgart).

Health (SPD):
Ulla Schmidt (currently heading this ministry) or Andrea Nahles, who comes from the left wing of the SPD.

Consumer Protection, Food and Agrarian Affairs (CDU/ CSU)
Horst Seehofer (CSU)

Traffic and Construction (SPD):
Peer Steinbrück, Kurt Bodewig or Christoph Matschie (SPD-leader in Thuringia and former state secretary of this ministry).

Environment and nuclear safety (SPD):
Sigmar Gabriel, Heiko Maas, Ulrich Kelber

State Secretary in the Chancelor’s office (CDU):
Norbert Röttgen, Thomas de Maiziere (minister of interior affairs in Saxony), Volker Kauder.

Of course, these names are for the most part just speculation and may have changed already by tomorrow.
But where are the East German names in this list of names. The obvious ones are Merkel herself, who is not only the youngest and first female chancellor in Germany, but also the first East German. The other obvious one is Wolfgang Thierse. The other East German on this list is Christoph Matschie from the SPD. The Saxon CDU also tried to put Arnold Vaatz on the list for a cabinet spot. Even though Schönbohm is Minister for interior affairs in Brandenburg he is not an East German, he is a West German who is working in East Germany. Ironically he caused quite some uproar among East Germans with some degrading comments earlier this summer. After this incident it was said that he just destroyed his chances for a cabinet post. So to find his name on the list is maybe a surprise. Or maybe not. After all Edmund Stoiber is a pretty sure candidate for his ministry position. Regardless of the insulting comments he made toward East Germans this past summer.

We will know probably by mid-November who was selected and who wasn’t. Then we will also know how many East Germans will be part of the cabinet. Kurt Beck, prime minister from the SPD in Rhineland-Palatinate, said it should be the goal that at least one East German receives a ministry post in the new cabinet. We will see.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Baltic Sea

I went to the Baltic Sea (Warnemünde) last week and took a few pictures. I love the scenery up there, so I hope you enjoy this entry.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Playing the tax game

Web.de cites an article of the "Bild am Sonntag" in which it is reported that after early federal elections this fall the value added tax will rise in order to balance out revenue shortcomings. According to the article leading politicians by the CDU AND the SPD agree that value added tax needs to rise, and they suggest an increase by 4%, from 16 to 20%.

I think - bad idea. Germany's economic problems are largely due to a low domestic demand. People are saving their money for a better day. With increased value added tax, prices for every day life will rise, every shopping trip will end up more expensive. This will lead people to by less than more. This means, domestic demand will decrease further. Investments will be delayed. This will of course affect then businesses more that are dependent on the domestic market, but not so much the larger "global players" who sell their products abroad as well.
If additionally CDU plans would be implemented, where workers protection is decreased, the standard citizen will feel more uncertain about their personal future. More uncertainty - less consumption. People will save the little money have for the future - they may need it as an emergency fund.
The German economy on the other hand needs domestic demand, needs consumer confidence. The growth generated based on export is not strong enough to have labor market effects. So if you kill consumer confidence, you will increase the problems for the German economy.

Furthermore, an increase of the value added tax is unsocial and more likely to widen the gap between rich and poor. As a flat tax an increase of the value added tax will affect the poor more than the rich. For someone who earns only 900 euros, an increase in food purchases from 200 to 208 euros hurts more than for someone who has twice or three times as much money.
The CDU, from the little that is known about their concepts, also plans some other measures that will cost the normal citizen (employees) more. There is the possible introduction of tuition, there is the possibility of introduction of student loans with interest rates in order to replace the current Bafoeg model. This will in the long run make it harder for poorer people to afford an education.

I also see an increase of value added tax critical for the general trust in politics. If an increased value added tax is coming anyways, it might as well come now. It shows, just like in the last federal elections that the two large parties, while pretending to be different and having the better solution, actually have very similar concepts. So what's all the finger pointing and mudslinging about?

Of course, all of these concepts and plans are just that right now: concepts and plans. Nothing is set in stone. The news may be false. So one will have to keep the eyes open of what is happening. However, so far, I don't like what I see.

Friday, May 27, 2005

An east German chancellor - successful integration of East Germans into the political elite?

According to an MDR article some CDU and FDP members publicly debate whether or not the next Minister for the "Aufbau Ost" really needs to be an East German, or if the job could be done by a West German as well. It appears that many of the (east German) CDU members (Vaatz, Milbradt), but also Georg Milbradt, Saxony's prime minister and FDP member Cornelia Pieper don't seem to think this would be necessary. The key quote comes from former prime minister of Saxony-Anhalt, Christoph Bergner saying that if we had an East German chancellor, we don't need an East quota anymore.

I am concerned. No, I don't think it necessarily needs to be an East German holding that specific ministry post. What concerns me is, that this is the ONLY cabinet post currently occupied by an East German. Would Merkel be the ONLY East German in the next cabinet?

The number of cabinet posts held by East Germans has gone down over the years. While the first post-unification cabinet had 4 East German ministers, the current one has one - the one for Aufbau Ost, traffic and construction, occupied by Manfred Stolpe.

But also in other areas of the political elite, representation of East Germans is low. The number of East Germans chairing committees in the Bundestag is currently at an all time low. Only two East Germans, both FDP members, chair committees. Neither one of the two (Guttmacher and Pieper) held the post from the beginning of the current legislative period. Guttmacher got the chair position for the Petitions committe last year, two years into the legislative period. Pieper needed to trade in her post as general secreatary of the FDP in order to become chair of the Education committee in January of this year. (I doubt, that this expertise will land her in a possible CDU-FDP coalition the job as education minister, as her ideas on education policy go strongly against the FDP party line).

Another major concern I would have with Merkel being the only East German in a CDU-FDP cabinett, is that she would continue to shape the image of East Germans as competent politicians. Stolpe's popularity has declined over the years of him being minister for the Aufbau Ost. He is largely considered incompetent. And there are media reports suggesting that the only reason why he hasn't been replaced yet is that he is the ONLY East German in the cabinett.

Merkel would be shaping the image of East Germans as politicians and leaders as well. I doubt however, she has the key to solve the problems Germany is having. If she fails - will this block East Germans from getting top positions in the "nearer future" (2009, 2013)?
Many voters already seem to have concerns about Merkel's possible candidacy. Hearing reports from friends, I understand that one of the reasons not to vote for Merkel is that she is East German.

BTW, while I am disappointed that the above mentioned members of the CDU and FDP think the East German quota is fulfilled if Merkel becomes chancellor, I am not too surprised: it appears, that members of the CDU tend to identify more as Germans than as East Germans than their peers from the SPD or even the PDS.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The race for the Bundestag has begun

In a “surprise attack” chancellor Schroeder announced he and his party (at least those knowing about this) will try for early federal elections in the fall. This decision followed the loss of the election in North Rhine Westphalia, a traditional SPD state, governed by the SPD for almost four decades.

If this happens, this is going to be an exciting summer for me. I get to see a new campaign. How is voter behavior shaping up? What is gonna be the outcome of a new election? Will Schroeder achieve what he wants with this move – an early third term, or will Germany see a new coalition in power in December? Will Germany have a FEMALE EAST GERMAN chancellor?

Well first of all, the whole move by the SPD may look like political hara-kiri. They are trailing way behind the CDU in the current polls and the Greens have serious problems after the visa-scandal around Joschka Fischer. Their results in the polls and Joschka Fischer’s image are way down. So why do this? Why not wait until next year, hope that the Greens recover from the scandal, hope that the economy shows some progress and maybe hope that Germany wins or at least performs well on the soccer championship in Germany in 2006 (Schroeder as a soccer fan would most likely be able to get more sympathy points for that over his most likely opponent Angela Merkel).

The situation for him isn’t that great right now. The CDU is strengthened in the Bundesrat, his own coalition not as united as it needs to be in order to push for more economic reforms. Being blocked by the opposition and being passive is not Schroeder’s style. He is the man who tries to sell himself as the one who does things. Have mud flung at him and hoping for things that may never come (after all, the economic situation may not get better, the Greens might not recover and Germany could loose out in the qualifying rounds) is a too passive and too risky move. Furthermore it may worsen the conflicts within the SPD (between the left wing and the reformist wing) and then leave the SPD defeated and divided in the opposition. This surprise attack gives Schroeder the chance to get the party behind him, get them up and running, stop the bickering.

Furthermore it gives him a bit of an advantage over the CDU/CSU. The CDU/CSU is not united. They haven’t solved the so called “K-frage” (the nomination for chancellor). They haven’t thought out a clear program, new concepts. Will they self-destruct? Will they bicker internally over who will represent them in the campaign? Will they be able to get concepts together that are clear and convincing and superior to the Agenda 2010 proposed by Schroeder? Ruettgers, the newly elected prime minister of the state of North Rhine Westphalia from the CDU surely was able to dip into the SPD voter clientele by getting workers to vote for him. Will this work on the federal level?

Another interesting question is what kind of issues will be important in the election? According to DW-TV, the SPD plans to focus on the economy and foreign policy. The economy is unavoidable. It is on the minds of the people, they need to show competence there, even though things are not going well at the moment. If they weren’t picking this issue, the CDU would force it on them. The SPD needs a way to frame this issue themselves (and catching the CDU off guard might give them that little advantage).
Choosing foreign policy is an interesting move. I have the feeling the SPD tries a similar thing that worked in the last election: feeding off the unpopularity of George Bush. Big stretch you think? George Bush is not popular among the German population. However, Angela Merkel has supported Bush’s position. It is possible that the SPD tries to feed off this move and exploit it to their advantage. Claudia Roth from the junior partner the Greens made a similar reference this morning already. Another thing: the anti-war stance of the SPD might have mobilized some PDS voters to vote for the SPD (the lesser evil) in the last election. Trying to dip into that resource again?

What else? Education? Health Care? CDU/ CSU is internally divided on the latter and blocking some reforms in the Education area (junior professorship). Another thing is that most CDU-led states support the introduction of tuition for studies. The SPD doesn’t. Another way for the SPD to mobilize the younger voters?

I am very interested to see what is happening in the East this time around. The 2002 election was won in the East. With many East Germans not being clearly aligned with one of the traditional parties, their votes are up for grabs. Will they vote SPD again (voting for the lesser evil), will Angela Merkel be able to mobilize East Germans to vote for her, because she is an East German (an argument that could totally backfire in the West in turn). East Germans are more likely to vote for Angela Merkel than West Germans are. One reason for West Germans not to vote for her could be perceived incompetence. Angela Merkel does not have a positive image. Another reason is – she is a female. Is Germany ready for a female leader? DW-TV did a few street interviews in Munich, the CSU heartland. There one guy said he’d leave Germany when Angela Merkel becomes chancellor. Another said he’d prefer a man as a leader in these hard times Germany is facing. On the other hand, others were quite open to the idea of having a female chancellor and also said someone from the new laender (East Germany) would be desirable.

How will the PDS perform? So far I haven’t heard anything from that party. Latest polls have the PDS between 4% and 5% nationally and at 22.3% in the East (they got 16.9% from East German voters in 2002, but their support had dropped to that from 23% only in the last 4 weeks before the 2002 elections). What will their strategy be? Will they try to go after unhappy left SPD voters in the West and will they be able to mobilize them? What would a PDS entry to the Bundestag mean? How does that affect coalition making? Let the CDU support drop by 4% (to 40) and the FDP stay at their 8% - we have 48% for CDU/CSU and FDP. If the SPD gets 4%(from the current 28.6) more, the Greens 10% (currently at 9.8) and the PDS 6% nationally – this camp has about 48% then too. What coalition will we see? Possibly even a grand one? Or a red-green-pink one? Red-Green and yellow?

Can the SPD get the 4% more? It is possible. In 2002 they had in May 33.2%, by September they had 38.5% However, the CDU had remained fairly stable in their poll results from May 2002 to September 2002, peaking in August at 40%. The increased SPD support came at the expense of the PDS back then. I am doubtful they can dip into that reservoir again like they did then. East Germans (or a substantial amount of the voters there) might not trust either one of the big parties this time around and vote PDS. After all the PDS is stronger in some laender governments than the SPD (Saxony, Thuringia). On the other hand, the PDS does not have a strong identification figure at the moment, like Gregor Gysi was. Not being able to actively participate on the federal level has left them with very little to show for on the national level. All they can bank on right now is how they participate in the East German laender and in some cities.

So here are a bunch of questions (and I could raise more…). I am curious to see how the answers unfold over the next months. The race has begun.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Living in America

Living in America to me is a constant process of adjustment. Coming to this country meant to me that I needed to adjust to a completely new way of living. I needed to adjust to a different way of beds being made, coffee tasting different, sausages I was familiar with not being available. In the very same way it meant I needed to adjust to a new lifestyle - coming from a larger town to a smaller town in the Midwest of the United States meant being more depended on cars or people who had cars. Needing to get used for sidewalks being barely available, walking to some place making you look weird. Living in smaller town America means that going to a movie theater by public transportation can be a whole day affair, while going the same distance by car wouldn't take the long.

Living in America means adjusting to a very different sense of national pride. Coming from a nation, where saying “I am proud to be a German” still raises eyebrows in a negative way, discovering American national pride and patriotism are an adjustment. Add to this that I as an East German ain't even used to being a German, being proud of a country I barely identify with is a very hard thing to do. Living in America also means to adjust to be confronted with different ideas and mindsets. I thought everyone knew how human beings became human beings - the idea of evolution is so natural to me. Living in America, has taught me it isn't. Creationism is an idea that is still asked to be taught in school. It is also in America where I had to learn that looking at issues like homosexuality or a woman's role in the family does not necessarily mean people look at the issue the way I do. I encountered people finding it normal to say that "homosexuality is a choice, it's a sin" and that a woman's place is to serve her husband. Things I have been taught very different.

Living in America, or better, living in the US also means to adjust images of that country. For many Germans, the US is the land of dreams, the land of opportunity. Things in America are always possible and much easier to achieve. People in America are always heroes, great people, better than anything we know anyways. But America isn't that. Neither is America a country where you only have fat and stupid people that always rally around the flag, that don't know anything about other countries and cultures; that are conservative religious fanatics. The US doesn't fit that image either. The US has people I like and people I don't like. However, living in the US meant I had to adjust my personal image. Close to end of me living in the US, I'd inclined to say the US is just another country - different from what I am used to, just like any other foreign country.

Note: the idea for this entry comes from my friend and colleague Miguel. He gave the task and I will hereby pass it to my readers:
"In no more than three paragraphs (brief, please), describe "America". Be creative. A caveat, I don't mean talk about politics or foreign policy or any of that stuff. This is a specific question. Describe, essentially, what living in America is like, specifically, what living in "your" America is like (e.g. what's daily life like in your piece of America?).Of course, if you've never "lived" in America, this isn't for you."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


"Zone" is a term that came up today in a conversation. It's not the first time it came up in a conversation. What does the word refer to? The Soviet occupied zone also known as the GDR. The term has been used in conversations by West Germans only. Interestingly enough by West Germans (in my experience) of different ages. However, it bothers me. It bothers me because it does not acknowledge that the GDR was an indeed existing country. By using the word "Zone" the GDR becomes a second class territory, not a full state. And what are the citizens of that zone then. It wouldn't be the first time East Germans are called zonies, which is rather derogatory.

However in my reality it is a state and only few would deny that for the 40 years it existed it was an independent state. A country that had its own flag, its own national anthem, its own army and made largely its own policy. Of course policy making was influenced by the Soviet Union, but no one would argue Poland was a zone, so why degrade the GDR to just a "zone".So aside from it being a derogatory term there is something else that irks me about it. Because it is not just me who acknowledges the GDR as a reality, as a state. As a state that has citizens who are/were loyal to it. A part of the civil rights movement was of a generation that grew up with the GDR being a reality and a united Germany being an idea of the past. In the same sense they constructed their initial demands for reform - as reform of that state. At the very beginning of the protest movement in 1989 reform was the priority not unification, unification made the agenda much later.

Now most of the people highly identified with the movement of back then have disappeared, but what about politicians of today that are of the same generation, how has the reality of two existing states shaped their loyalties? Are they more loyal to the region now because it is their country and has that affected their ambitions of being engaged in national politics? I am asking and wondering just based on two observations, interview statements made by Matthias Berger (mayor of Grimma) and Wolfgang Tiefensee (mayor of Leipzig). Both became nationally famous, Berger when the flood of 2002 hit Grimma and destroyed large parts of it and Tiefensee when he pushed the application of Leipzig as German Olympic candidate for the Summer Games 2012. Tiefensee declined calls for serving in the German cabinet following the 2002 national election and Berger said in an interview he is more concerned with solving the local problems of his town and not interested in being involved in national politics.

This raises the question whether or not underrepresentation of East Germans in national level elite positions is (at least in part) due to a lack of interest to be involved nationally. Aside from the fact that the national parties suffer from low participation by East Germans to begin with, could be the reason why we do not see more East Germans nationally because the elite is not interested in serving nationally and feel they are more useful getting involved on the local and state level?