Election Platforms

Steady as She Goes

84639849 Kopie Merkel Seehofer dpa
#FEDIDWGUGL is the word. Source: DPA [M]

Election platforms have a clear purpose: to reassure the parties’s core electorate that the policies are still in line for the reasons why they vote for that party. Ideally, they confirm their purpose or, at the very least, don’t unsettle their voters. But right now, most Germans are thinking more about their summer vacation instead of the fall election. In just three short weeks, there will be more than a few of us relaxing on a beach, turning the pages of a summer thriller instead of swiping through the election platforms on our iPads. The real campaign between Chancellor Angela Merkel and challenger Martin Schulz will start with the ring of the first school bells – quick and dirty.

The joint press conference between Ms. Merkel and Horst Seehofer, head of the Bavarian sister-party to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), already set the tone. Mr. Seehofer, who is also the Bavarian state premier, has been biting his tongue in recent days – there has been no more talk about a “rule of injustice”. Ms. Merkel, on the other hand, has been making clear efforts to keep the peace ever since she sharply criticized US President Donald Trump in a Munich beer tent. The two of them on stage did much to dispel whispers that began at the beginning of the year when the two of them painted an unharmonious picture at a similar event.

Distant memories now – there is an election that has to be won.

Hot on the heels of "marriage for everyone", Ms. Merkel is offering "money for everyone".

Both politicians are offering their voters more of what they’ve come to expect of the years. Mr. Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU)’s “Plan for Bavaria”, targeted at the party’s base, is music to the ears of conservatives and provides the CDU with a sort of “bad bank” of policy. A place where all the ideas that Ms. Merkel considers too toxic for the federal level can still be part of the party platform through the CDU/CSU alliance.

Ms. Merkel, on the other hand, has presented a platform without an upper limit on the number of refugees the country will accept. However, it does have some universal appeal: Hot on the heels of “marriage for everyone” comes “money for everyone”. Families will get more though pensioners, according to the CDU, are already getting enough so don’t warrant more attention. That may be bold for a party reliant on pensioner votes, but in light of the criticism Mr. Schulz’s pension proposals have received, it’s really a shrewd decision. Ms. Merkel wants to step away from the issue, which will face its hardest years starting in 2030 with the retirement of the baby boomer generation.

For the social justice voters, Ms. Merkel has even packed away the issue of marriage equality just in time for the summer break. For hardliners, her party has promised 15,000 new police officers to take care of security, law and order. It will cost the country double-digit billions, but the finance minister is already busy reminding his counterparts of financing restrictions while collecting promised cash.

With this platform, the CDU/CSU alliance is no longer in danger of being overtaken by a Chancellor Schulz. The center-left SPD’s election platform is no smaller or less expensive in its efforts to appeal to everyone. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Schulz’s favors fiscal policies that distribute a little more, but he does have to pander to the soul of his party. Still, there is much in the SPD platform that the SPD strategists have scraped from the CDU, which speaks volumes about how close the coalition partners have become.

The party platforms for this year are more of an expression of sophisticated boredom than they are a call for hope and change. There is reason for this: Germany has financial surpluses in the billions and unemployment figures are low. But their influence on the party platforms obscures the fact that eight years of healthy economic activity is the driving force here.

The government should instead by thanking the sheikhs because they cannot increase the price of oil. A thank you card should go to Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, for the low interest rate policy that has stimulated Germany much more than former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s final tax reform.

Germans are starting to take the country’s slow growth rate of 1 to 2 percent for granted, especially in light of the improving employment numbers. Germany is considered a mature economy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t learn new tricks. So much more could be possible with bolder reforms, improved access to digitalization, especially for the Mittelstand sector. These small-to-medium sized companies need a real impetus to advance their own research and push innovation further.

The CDU’s inclusion of an immigration law is a good sign. In the face of the changing demographic makeup of Germany, a system is needed to manage the deficit of skilled workers. But above all, German families and top performers need to be unburdened. Both parties want to invest €15 billion into making that happen. And that all sounds like reviving breath for the current Grand Coalition government.


To contact the author: sigmund@handelsblatt.com.

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