Federal elections were held in Germany on September 22, 2013. All members of the Bundestag were up for reelection. Federal legislative power in Germany is shared between two legislative assemblies – of which the Bundestag is the most important and the only one which is directly elected – but it is not considered a bicameral parliament. A de facto upper house, the Bundesrat, serves as a legislative body representing Germany’s 16 Länder (federal states) which must approve any law affecting policy areas in which the Länder have concurrent powers as per the Basic Law. Their suspensive veto on other pieces of legislation can be overriden by the Bundestag.
Be warned: this post is extremely long, but divided by section headers – so that you can read what you want.
Germany’s electoral system
The Bundestag is made up of at least 598 members, elected for a four-year term by mixed-member proportional representation (MMP). 299 members are elected in single-member constituencies (wahlkreise), while the remaining seats (variable number) are list mandates elected by proportional representation (Saint-Laguë). The number of wahlkreise varies from state to state based on the state’s voting-age (18+) population, with the city-state of Bremen having two wahlkreise and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) having a hefty 64 districts.
German voters have two votes. The first vote (erststimme) is for an individual candidate in their single-member district; the winning candidate in each district is the candidate receiving the most votes (FPTP). Every single candidate who wins a district mandate is entitled to a seat – this may seem obvious for those used to FPTP systems, but the workings of MMP in Germany makes that point fairly important and relevant.
The second vote (zweitstimme) is for a state-wide closed party list. Only parties receiving over 5% of the vote nationwide (although there are no national lists) or who have won at least three district mandates qualify for list mandates. For example, in 1994, the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) won 4.4% of the vote, but because it won three districts, it managed to elect a 30-member caucus. All regular seats are distributed proportionally at the state level. However, if a party has won more seats (through district mandates) than it is entitled to (i.e. party x wins 8 district seats, but its second votes only entitle it to 6 seats), it is entitled to keep those seats – this creates an ‘overhang’. Overhang seats expand the size of the Bundestag, in the last election (2009), there were 24 overhang seats, expanding the legislature’s size to 622 members.
Until this election, disproportionality in the results due to overhang seats was not compensated. In 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the electoral system was unconstitutional because the overhang seats could, in theory, create a ‘negative vote weight’ (losing seats due to more votes, such as in 2009) and gave legislators three years to fix the issue. A new electoral reform was approved earlier this year, which will compensate overhang seats by distributing additional leveling seats so that each party gets at least its minimum seat number when proportionally distributing the federal vote. This can, of course, expand the size of the Bundestag – potentially up to 700 or 800 seats. As a result of this election, there will now be 630 members of the Bundestag.
The seat distribution process is notoriously complicated and I can’t pretend to understand much of it. This link, in German, should explain the full details for those particularly interested by the electoral system and the changes carried out since the last election.
Germany’s party system and the party platforms
Post-war Germany’s political and partisan system has been marked by remarkable stability, which is of course a sharp contrast with the fragmented and unstable party-political landscape of the Weimar Republic but also with a good number of other Western European countries which experienced significant institutional, political and/or partisan changes since 1945 (most notably Italy, France, Belgium or the Netherlands). Between 1961 and 1983, West Germany had a two-and-a-half party system, with two large parties – the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) – with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), as a smaller third party, playing kingmaker and forming a governing coalition with either the CDU/CSU (1961-1966) or the SPD (1969-1982). The emergence of the Greens in the 1983 federal election, followed by the gradual growth of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS)/The Left (Die Linke) following German reunification in 1990 have altered this system. That being said, since 1990 (or later, arguably), the party system has stabilized again around the two major parties, now joined by three smaller parties – with two of them (the FDP and the Greens) being potential coalition partners. The progressive trend, however, has been the weakening of the two main parties – in the 2009 federal election, the CDU/CSU won its worst result since the first election (1949, an early ‘transitional election’ towards the post-1961 2.5 party system) and the SPD won its worst result in the entire post-war era. In contrast, all three ‘third parties’ won their best results ever.
The Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU) form the Union (or CDU/CSU). The CDU was founded in 1945, with the intention of acting as a pan-confessional big-tent centre-right party – a goal which it has achieved. In large part, the CDU was built on the ruins of the powerful pre-war Zentrum (or Centre Party), a centrist/centre-right party which had represented German Catholics during the the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic. The CDU’s founder and first leader, Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor of Germany between 1949 and 1963), was a prominent Centre Party politician during the Weimar Republic. Although Adenauer, a Rhineland Catholic, was hostile towards Protestant ‘Prussianism’, he was eager to create a broad anti-communist right-wing party which would break through confessional boundaries and integrate those Protestant conservatives who had fallen prey to National Socialism in the 1930s to the new democratic system. In this sense, while the CDU could be construed as the Zentrum‘s successor party, its base has been far less exclusively Catholic than the Centre Party. In addition to Centre Party politicians, the nascent CDU also integrated politicians from predominantly Protestant liberal (DDP, DVP) and conservative (DNVP) parties from the Weimar era. More controversially, a number of Nazi Party members or collaborators (including Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, 1966-1969; Hans Globke etc) joined the CDU after the war.
Results of German federal elections, 1949-2009 (source: Wikipedia)
The CDU governed West Germany continuously between the first post-war election (1949) and 1969, with Konrad Adenauer serving as Germany’s first post-war Chancellor for nearly fifteen years between 1949 and 1963. Under this period, the CDU established itself as the sole conservative party, eventually killing off (by 1961, at the latest) other small right-wing parties (either regional or national in scope) such as the German Party (DP, based in Lower Saxony), a party for Heimatvertriebene (post-war German refugees/expellees from eastern Europe) or the remnants of the old Zentrum. Under Adenauer and his successors, the CDU strongly defended European/Western integration (alliance with the United States, NATO membership in 1955, German rearmament) and opposed reunification if it meant German neutrality or giving in to Moscow’s conditions. Domestically, this was also an era of rapid economic growth (Wirtschaftswunder). The CDU, under Adenauer and his finance minister/eventual successor Ludwig Erhard, promoted the ‘social market economy’ – capitalism with social policies (collective bargaining, social insurance, pensions etc). The CDU lost power to a SPD-FDP coalition led by SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt following the 1969 election, and only returned to power in 1982, when the FDP withdrew from its coalition with the SPD and allied with the CDU, allowing CDU leader Helmut Kohl to become Chancellor, an office he held until 1998. The most marking moment of Kohl’s sixteen years in power was German reunification in 1990.
The CDU was defeated in the 1998 federal elections and remained in opposition to a SPD-Green (rot-grüne) government until 2005. Following Kohl’s defeat in 1998, he was succeeded by Wolfgang Schäuble, viewed as Kohl’s preferred successor. However, a major party financing scandal in 2000, which implicated Kohl and other prominent CDU leaders, forced Schäuble to resign in February 2000. He was replaced, in April 2000, by Angela Merkel, an East German (Protestant, furthermore, in a largely Catholic party) who was originally seen as Kohl’s protege. Merkel had turned against her former mentor during the party financing scandal.
Angela Merkel was the CDU/CSU’s Chancellor-candidate in the 2005 federal election, facing off against incumbent SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The CDU, fresh from a landmark victory in a state election in NRW, a SPD stronghold, was due to defeat Schröder’s worn-out and unpopular government by a large margin. However, a poorly run campaign and a fairly unpopular economic agenda (calls for deregulation, increasing the VAT, floating the idea of a flat tax) significantly eroded the Union’s lead in poll and the CDU/CSU won by a hair: a 1% edge over the SPD in the second votes, and a four-seat plurality (226 vs 222). Angela Merkel became Chancellor, but at the helm of a ‘Grand Coalition’ with the SPD, the second such coalition since Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s cabinet (1966-1969).
Domestically, the Grand Coalition’s record was fairly moderate – in contrast with Merkel’s quasi-Thatcherian platform during the election. The VAT was increased to fund infrastructure development, the income tax was largely left untouched (no flat tax, no hikes for higher income groups, a court-enforced tax cut for lower earners), Keynesian-style deficit spending during the early economic crisis (2008-2009), introducing legal minimum wages in some industries (Germany has no universal minimum wage, some industries have legal minimum wages, the courts often set de-facto minimum wages and some are set through collective bargaining) and healthcare reforms going in the SPD’s direction (raising income threshold to opt-out of the mandatory public system, abolishing the privileges of most private insurers etc) rather than the CDU/CSU’s (who had campaigned on a platform of uniform insurance payments).
Although the CDU/CSU lost support in 2009 (33.8%), Merkel was able to form a new coalition, this time with the CDU/CSU’s preferred coalition partner, the free-market liberal FDP, a ‘black-yellow’ coalition (schwarz-gelb).
Abroad, Merkel, with the Eurozone debt crisis, has gained an image as a tough and inflexible advocate of austerity policies, debt/deficit reduction in Europe’s most heavily indebted countries (Greece, Italy, Spain etc), enforcing strict fiscal rules in the EU (the European Fiscal Compact) and steadfast opposition to the idea of ‘Eurobonds’. Germany has been at the forefront, furthermore, of negotiations related to bailout packages for Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. As a result, Merkel has become perhaps the most important European head of government – though also one of the most divisive/polarizing. In countries such as Greece and Italy, Merkel and Germany have become associated with harsh and unpopular externally-imposed austerity policies. In Germany, however, her Euro crisis policy is generally quite popular. There is significant domestic hostility to the idea of German taxpayers ‘bailing out’ countries such as Greece or Italy, but by and large, voters side with her government’s “tough line” (austerity) over other (‘pro-growth’ or Keynesian) approaches, traditionally advocated by southern European countries or France.
A large part of Merkel’s personal popularity stems from the solid health of the German economy, which is escaping Europe’s economic doldrums fairly well. Unemployment dropped almost without interruption between 2010 and 2012, from 8% to around 5.5%; rich southern states (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) basically have ‘full employment’. In 2012, for the first time in five years, the federal government posted a small budget surplus (0.2% of GDP). Germany has escaped recession since 2009, although growth fell from around 4% in 2010 to only 0.9% in 2012 – but growth projections remain fairly healthy. Some analysts worry that Germany’s current economic climate is not sustainable in the long term and warn that certain reforms must be undertaken if Germany’s economic health is to remain so strong in the next years. For example, Germany has a very low birthrate and skills shortage is a particularly big issue. The OECD has said that Germany will need to recruit 5.4 million qualified immigrants between now and 2025, and in August the government published a list of skilled job positions to recruit non-EU foreign labour. With the economic crisis, Germany has already welcomed thousands of southern European immigrants, particularly younger and educated citizens, fleeing huge levels of youth unemployment in Spain, Italy, Greece and so forth.
In contrast with its European neighbours, still facing uncertain growth prospects and struggling with high unemployment/debt/deficit, Germans are particularly optimistic and upbeat about their country’s economic future. A majority of respondents in polls feel that Germany’s economy is on the ‘right track’ and large percentages are satisfied about their personal economic condition.
Germany’s strong economic conditions are a result of structural factors (strong export market in Asia for German cars, machinery and equipment; specific demographic factors; Germany’s geographic location etc) and, Merkel’s critics point out, economic reforms undertaken by the red-green cabinet before 2005 (labour market reforms with Agenda 2010, cuts in welfare/unemployment benefits with Hartz IV). Regardless, in the eyes of most voters, Merkel (and, by extension, her party) have come to stand for economic stability and growth in chaotic and uncertain times; a steady and reliable hand at the helm.
Voters, however, are increasingly concerned about social justice. Low unemployment hides the fact that many Germans – up to a quarter of the labour force – hold low-paid, insecure and part-time jobs, called ‘mini-jobs’ or McJobs. The lack of a universal minimum wage in Germany adds to this situation.
CDU campaign poster: ‘Chancellor for Germany’ (source: Le Monde.fr)
The CDU/CSU’s campaign this year was very much of a ‘presidential’ campaign, heavily reliant on the image of their popular leader, Angela Merkel, who, with approvals above 70%, is much more popular than her party (as shown, for example, by the CDU’s mediocre results in some state elections recently). The CDU’s main campaign poster featured Merkel, often with the tagline ‘Kanzlerin für Deutschland‘ (Chancellor for Germany); small placards waved around at rallies simply read ‘Angie’ and the CDU popularized Merkel’s signature hand gesture, the Merkel-Raute or diamond-shaped hand gesture. Merkel, furthermore, has become known in Germany as mutti or mother. Critics contend that the CDU ran an empty campaign of platitudes and focused entirely on the personality of their leader, which might be true, but that’s also a proven way of winning elections.
While Merkel is seen as a tough and unflappable leader outside Germany for role in the Eurozone crisis, in Germany she has a reputation for legendary fence-sitting and pragmatism. Merkel has often been perceived as lacking any ideological direction of her own, instead she has run things on the basis of shifting her policies and adapting herself to what was popular. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, which reopened Germany’s very contentious nuclear energy debate, Merkel made a monumental U-turn and announced that Germany would shut down all nuclear reactors by 2022. Just a year before, her government had overturned a red-green decision to shut all reactors down by 2022. Strongly anti-nuclear public opinion, which threatened the CDU’s standings in crucial state elections in 2011, strongly pushed Merkel to do a 180 on the issue. Since then, Merkel and the CDU have promoted renewable energy, which is off to a tough start. A government renewable energy surcharge, which will increase electricity bills by about 20%, is unpopular (see this article in Der Spiegel for more on Germany’s energy transformation).
Many analysts noted how the CDU/CSU’s platform effectively blurred major policy differences between the Union parties and their main rival, the SPD. The parties do differ on the issues, but the differences are fairly minimal. The CDU rejects a universal minimum wage, saying it would hinder Germany’s economic competitiveness. Instead, they want negotiable minimum wages, set by unions and employers. The CDU and SPD agree on issues such as the retirement age (67), introducing a gender quota to increase women’s presence in management positions (just disagreeing on the quota itself), freezing rent, equalizing the pay of temporary employees with that of permanent employees, developing renewable energy, expanding internet access, more daycare places, supporting families with children (slight disagreement over policies, tax credits and so forth), a European financial transactions tax and EU banking supervision by the ECB.
One of the main differences between the CDU and the SPD is that the CDU’s platform explicitly rejected any tax increases, unlike the SPD and the Greens which proposed increasing the tax rate for the top income bracket. The CDU claimed that the red-greens’ tax hike would be a burden on families and businesses. On fiscal policy, the CDU takes a more conservative tone. It wishes to start paying off Germany’s debt (81% of GDP) and not create any more debt after 2015. On European fiscal policy, the CDU’s platform reiterated the black-yellow coalition’s agenda over the past years – no Eurobonds (the CDU says each state should be liable for its own debt), strict application of the EU Fiscal Compact with penalties for transgressors and help conditional to adoption of structural reforms. Merkel criticized Schröder’s government for allowing Greece to join the Eurozone. The CDU continues to strongly support European integration, which has remained a key element of the party’s policy since 1949. However, the CDU opposes EU membership for Turkey.
In Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU) is the local version of the CDU. The CSU is a separate party from the CDU, but they have always formed a single fraction in the Bundestag (the ‘Union’) and they do not run candidates against one another. The CSU’s origins are often traced back to the Bavarian People’s Party (BVP), a regionalist conservative party during the Weimar Republic which dominated Bavarian politics (though it never did match the level of total hegemony later set by the CSU) and was something of a Bavarian Zentrum (during the Kaiserreich, there was also a separate Catholic/Centre party in Bavaria). However, the BVP was in numerous aspects different from the CSU: it was significantly more conservative than the CSU, oftentimes bordering on reactionary. Between 1920 and 1921, under Minister-President Gustav von Kahr (although he was not a member of the BVP), Bavaria became something of a conservative/far-right ‘rogue state’ within the tumultuous nascent republic; in 1923, von Kahr was involved in the preparations of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, although his designs were different than the NSDAP’s. Additionally, relations between the BVP and the Zentrum were more uncertain than CDU-CSU relations – the BVP, far more to the right than the Centre, rarely sat in governments with the Centre and in the 1925 presidential election the BVP endorsed right-winger Paul von Hindenburg in the second ballot over Wilhelm Marx, the Centre Party candidate backed by the democratic parties of the ‘Weimar Coalition’. Finally, the CSU which was born in 1945, came to represent a far larger segment of the Bavarian electorate than the exclusively Catholic and fairly bourgeois BVP – the CSU was joined by Protestants, former supporters of the pan-German right (DNVP) and a Bavarian farmers’ party (BBB).
The CSU represents a certain Bavarian conservative particularism/regionalism, which has been clearly visible in German politics ever since German unification – the state has always been, by far, the one state where regionalist (at times even separatist) feelings ran the highest. The conservative and predominantly Catholic state of Bavaria has long resented Prussian/Protestant domination, and almost always fought for federalism and devolution for Bavaria.
Relations between the CDU and CSU have almost always been good, with the exception of a brief period of discord in 1976 and the early 1980s between CSU leader Franz Josef Strauß and CDU leader Helmut Kohl. Two CSU leaders have been the Union’s ‘Chancellor-candidates’ – Strauss in 1980, and Edmund Stoiber in 2002. Both lost, partially as a result of their difficulty breaking through – as Bavarian Catholics – with Protestant voters in Northern Germany.
The CSU has achieved an extraordinary level of political domination in Bavaria. The party has governed the state since 1946, except for 1954-1957, and it won an absolute majority in the Bavarian Landtag between 1962 and 2008. In its first years, the CSU successfully crushed the Bayernpartei (BP), a conservative and originally separatist party which was represented in the Landtag between 1950 and 1966 and had won 20% of the vote in Bavaria in the 1949 federal election. Unlike the BVP, the CSU was successfully able to break through confessional boundaries and develop a more significant appeal to Protestant voters in Franconia.
The CSU is generally seen as being more conservative than the CDU, particularly on moral (social) issues such as same-sex marriage. On economic issues, however, the CSU retains a bit of its interventionist and Keynesian leanings from early days. The CSU is pro-EU, but it is slightly more skeptical of European integration than the CDU is.
The Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) is the only major party in modern-day Germany which survived the two world wars and the different regimes which have ruled Germany since unification. The SPD was founded in 1875 (and adopted its current name in 1890) by the merger of two socialist parties, both founded in the 1860s. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Laws in the late nineteenth century (1878-1890) proved unable to check the rise of the SPD, which, by World War I, had become one of the strongest and largest socialist parties in Europe. In 1912 – the last elections under the Kaiserreich – the SPD won 35% of the vote and, despite an unfavourable electoral system, emerged as the largest single party with 110 seats.
Until 1959, the SPD constantly juggled with its ideological direction (revolutionary Marxism vs reformist/revisionist social democracy) and the difficulty of reconciling fairly ‘tough’ Marxist rhetoric with a very moderate, pragmatic and reformist realpolitik – especially after 1918. The SPD, one of Europe’s most important social democratic parties throughout its history, has been on the forefront of the gradual evolution of the European left from revolutionary Marxism to reformist social democracy. The father of Marxist ‘revisionism’ and evolutionary socialism was Eduard Bernstein, was an early and prominent member of the SPD (who, ironically, quit the party to join a more leftist splinter, the USPD).
Despite continuing to play with Marxist rhetoric and identifying as a working-class party, in practice the SPD moderated rapidly, becoming a pragmatic and reformist (rather than doctrinaire revolutionary) party. In 1914, the SPD voted in favour of war credits and the SPD’s leadership and a majority of its caucus supported the German war effort in World War I until the last years of the war; although enthusiasm dissipated quickly and internal dissent increased significantly. In July 1917, for example, the SPD voted in favour of a Reichstag Peace Resolution, alongside the Zentrum and the left-liberals. The SPD’s moderate and fairly pro-war course under the moderate leadership of Friedrich Ebert finally led to a split in party ranks in 1917, with anti-war pacifists and the party’s Marxist left-wing (Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg of the Spartakusbund, which became the Communist Party – KPD – in 1918) founding the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD).
Following the armistice, the November Revolution and and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication in November 1918, (majority-)SPD leader Friedrich Ebert became Chancellor, forming a leftist provisional government composed of the SPD and USPD. This government enacted several major social, economic and labour reforms. However, the two parties quickly split paths over the tumultuous revolutionary situation in Germany. The SPD turned against the revolution, fearing radicalization and the collapse of the state, and made its peace with the strongly anti-revolutionary military High Command. In January 1919, Ebert and SPD defense minister Gustav Noske turned to the right-wing/anti-communist paramilitary Freikorps to put down the Spartacist Uprising; a decision which continues to spark controversy to this day and was a major factor in the irreconcilability of the SPD and KPD.
After the elections to the National Assembly in January 1919, the SPD allied with the Zentrum and left-liberal German Democratic Party (DDP), forming the Weimar Coalition – a coalition of democratic parties (as opposed to the anti-regime USPD or right-wing DNVP) favouring a pragmatic and moderate political course. The SPD thus became an integral part of most Weimar Republic governments – Ebert served as Reich President from 1919 till 1925, and the SPD participated in several cabinets until 1930. However, its association with the Weimar Republic weakened the party, which never came close to regaining its 1919 heights in popular support (37.9%). On the right, the SPD was seen as the main culprit in the popular ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth/the “November criminals”, while the KPD saw the SPD as ‘social-fascists’ or ‘social-traitors’ for their 1918-1919 actions.
With the onset of the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis on the right and the KPD on the left and the collapse of German parliamentary democracy after 1930, the SPD’s popular support declined significantly (from 29.8% in 1928 to 20.4% in Nov. 1932) and it was absent from the three ‘presidential cabinets’ which ruled between 1930 and January 1933 (although it was forced to tolerate Brüning’s cabinet and the SPD voted for President Hindenburg over Adolf Hitler in the 1932 presidential runoff ballot). The left’s ability to resist the Nazi threat was significantly hindered by the deep-seated mutual hostility between the SPD and KPD, which were unable to form an anti-Nazi bloc (though even if they did, an alliance between the democratic and reformist SPD and the Stalinist KPD would hardly have been coherent).
The SPD was the only party whose members were able to vote against Hitler’s Enabling Act in 1933, and it was subsequently banned by the Nazi regime and its members persecuted by the Nazis.
After the war, the West German SPD was led by Kurt Schumacher, a concentration camp inmate. In the Soviet occupation zone, the SPD was forcibly merged with the KPD to form the SED, East Germany’s ruling party. During the early years of the Federal Republic, the SPD pursued a fairly leftist agenda, for example supporting the nationalization of all industries. It was critical of Adenauer on European/NATO integration and German rearmament; the SPD was much more interested than the CDU in reunification, and it saw German neutrality outside NATO and the nascent European superstructures as the best way to reunify the country. In sharp contrast, Adenauer’s policies firmly aligned West Germany with the Western bloc and western Europe, while being considerably less concerned by the increasingly unrealistic idea of reunification. Although the SPD was strongly anti-communist, in the eyes of many voters, the SPD’s leftist and neutralist policies were somewhat indifferenciable from East German state socialism.
Germany’s post-war economic boom, the SPD’s narrow appeal as a left-wing arbeiterpartei (workers’ party – a class party), the strong appeal of anti-communism (and general hostility to anything too leftist which such an ideology traditionally entails) and the loss of historical SPD strongholds (notably Saxony, Thuringia or Berlin) to the Soviet zone meant that the SPD was no match to the CDU/CSU in the early years of the Federal Republic. It won 29% in 1949 and 1953, and 32% in 1957. In the 1957 election, the CDU won an absolute majority on its own.
1959 was a watershed year for German social democracy and even for social democracy as a whole. The SPD, feeling the need to reinvent itself after three electoral loses in a row, adopted the Bad Godesberg Program. In this platform, the SPD abandoned all references to Marxism and declared itself a volkspartei (people’s party) instead of the arbeiterpartei it had been since its creation. Ideologically, Bad Godesberg marked the SPD’s official acceptance of the free market economy, although calling for Keynesian economic policies and state intervention in the economy. Once again, the SPD was at the forefront of the social democratic movement in dropping all references to Marxism and officially making its peace with capitalism – other European social democratic parties, although significantly moderated and non-revolutionary in practice by that point, would have ‘their’ Bad Godesberg ‘moment’ only years later.
In the 1961 and 1965 elections, the SPD made significant gains – reaching 32% and 39% of the vote respectively. In 1966, the SPD entered government (for the first time since 1928), as junior partner in a Grand Coalition with CDU Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger. The SPD’s participation in government led to more Keynesian economic policies. In the 1969 election, the SPD won 43% of the vote, and it formed a red-yellow (social liberal) coalition with the FDP. Willy Brandt, the leader of the SPD since 1964, became Chancellor. Following the Guillaume affair (a GDR spy in his cabinet), Brandt resigned and was succeeded by Helmut Schmidt, who remained Chancellor until the FDP broke off the social liberal coalition in 1982.
Brandt’s chancellorship was, at home, marked by an expansion of the German welfare state, several major societal reforms (legalization of homosexuality). Economic policies during the SPD-FDP governments where, however, very moderate (to the disappointment of many on the left). Brandt’s foreign policy – the Ostpolitik - has become one of the more famous aspects of his time in office. The Ostpolitik was period of detente and normalization of relations with East Germany and the Soviet Union, with the two Germanies mutually recognizing one another, de facto. In the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties, the West German government recognized Germany’s post-war eastern border with Poland at the Oder-Neisse Line. The Ostpolitik was extremely controversial and matters such as the Basic Treaty with the GDR or the recognition of the Oder-Neisse Line raised much opposition from the CDU/CSU as well as post-war German refugees from Eastern Europe. In 1972, for example, Brandt was nearly removed from office by a confidence vote which would have given the chancellorship to the CDU, but narrowly survived by two votes – it later turned out that the Stasi had bribed two CDU members to save Brandt.
Schmidt’s government, less famous although longer than Brandt’s, was in a more difficult context: economic turmoil (oil crises), domestic terrorism with the Red Army Faction and tensions (both at home at abroad) related to the NATO Double-Track decision. The SPD, which won a record-high 46% of the vote in 1972, saw its support ebb in the next two elections. The social liberal coalition won reelection in 1976 and 1980, but in 1982, with the FDP moving from social liberalism to neoliberalism, it broke up the coalition and formed a black-yellow coalition with the CDU’s Helmut Kohl. The SPD considered the FDP’s decision a betrayal and an act of grubby political opportunism.
Internal divisions and other troubles, and later the short-lived windfalls of German reunification in 1990 meant that the SPD went through a long period of poor results and opposition (federally) throughout the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s. The emergence of the Greens reduced the SPD’s support throughout this period, but the SPD found a new governing partner in the Greens – the first red-green coalition at a state level was formed in Hesse in 1985. The SPD found more success at the state level: Johannes Rau, later President of Germany, served as Minister-President of NRW between 1978 and 1998 (often with an absolute majority), Hesse (governed continuously by the SPD between 1946 and 1987) or Oskar Lafontaine, Minister-President of Saarland between 1985 and 1988.
The SPD was able to regain power in the 1998 election, with Helmut Kohl’s long-time CDU/CSU government being worn down by a poor economy and the shine of reunification seriously starting to wear off. The SPD, with the popular Minister-President of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder, as its chancellor candidate, won 41% of the vote against 35% for the Union parties. Like in his home state of Lower Saxony (which he had governed since 1990), Schröder formed a red-green federal coalition with the Greens. In the 2002 elections, the SPD-Green coalition was reelected by a tiny margin.
Although Schröder’s government introduced a number of more left-wing progressive policies (phasing out nuclear power, green taxation, funding for renewable energies, civil unions, naturalization law liberalization, increased child and housing allowances, improved parental leave scheme and restoring full wage replacement for sick pay), his government – both at home and abroad – remains closely associated with economically liberal policies such as Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV. In 2000, the government passed a major tax reform which significantly lowered both income taxes across the board (the lowest tax rate was cut from 26% to 15%, and the top tax rate from 53% to 42%), reduce corporate taxation and increased the basic allowance.
To counter high unemployment and stagnant economic growth, Schröder’s second cabinet introduced Agenda 2010, a series of policies intended to reform the labour market and social security, in the form of substantial cuts to unemployment benefits.
Although Agenda 2010 included a number of reforms in education, healthcare, vocational training, pensions and economy (notably reducing wage costs and employment protection), it has been closely associated with labour market reform. Labour market reform came in the form of the Hartz reforms (Hartz I-IV) between 2003 and 2004, formulated on the basis of recommendations from a 2002 commission – the Hartz commission.
Hartz IV (the last but most significant and controversial of the reforms) merged long-term unemployment benefits and social assistance into Arbeitslosengeld II, effectively leaving those dependent on such payments worse off (as of 2013, the standard rate for an individual is €382 plus the cost of ‘adequate housing’ and health insurance). Following the reforms, full employment benefits (Arbeitslosengeld I) were paid out for 12 months instead of 32 months previously. Following that period, it is replaced by the much lower Arbeitslosengeld II (widely known as Hartz IV) benefits. Hartz IV also introduced sanctions (benefits cuts) for those who did not accept job offers below their skill levels.
Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV’s wide-reaching reforms of the German labour market and welfare state were in line with liberal economic reforms similar to those promoted by right-wing leaders such as Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. Unsurprisingly, Agenda 2010 created significant unrest within the SPD, to the point that Schröder threatened to resign if his party did not back his reforms. Already in 1999, Schröder’s finance minister and SPD rival, former Saarland Minister-President Oskar Lafontaine, resigned from government and the Bundestag, citing disagreements with Schröder’s economic policies. The Hartz reforms were met by large protests, opposition from unions (traditionally close to the SPD) and even led to a 2005 split in SPD ranks, with leftist dissidents participating in the creation of WASG (Labour and Social Justice Electoral Alternative).
The SPD’s electorate responded unfavourably to Schröder’s reforms, and the SPD suffered an historic drubbing in the 2004 European elections (only 21.7% of the vote) and, in 2005, the SPD lost the state elections in the old Social Democratic stronghold of NRW to the CDU-FDP. The SPD’s defeat in NRW led Schröder to call snap elections. However, because of Angela Merkel’s poor campaign and Schröder’s political acumen, the SPD only barely lost the 2005 federal elections.
After talks for other coalition options failed, the SPD formed a Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, with SPD secretary-general Franz Müntefering becoming labour minister and vice-chancellor (until 2007). The SPD’s troubles did not stop with its defeat in the 2005 elections. It did very poorly in the 2009 European elections, and a few months later it won a record low 23% of the vote in the 2009 federal elections. The SPD was unable to campaign on its significant achievements in influencing policy and tempering the CDU/CSU’s more right-wing policies while in the Grand Coalition; it bled votes to all sides (non-voters, Greens and the Linke being the top beneficiaries) as a result of strong voter discontent with Agenda 2010/Hartz IV.
SPD campaign poster: ‘It’s the WE that counts’ (source: designtagebuch.de)
The SPD’s chancellor-candidate this year was Peer Steinbrück, a former Minister-President of NRW (2002-2005) and the Grand Coalition’s finance minister (2005-2009). Steinbrück was chosen by the SPD as their chancellor-candidate because of his rather moderate positions on economic/fiscal policy, as well as his ‘straight-talking’ style. However, Steinbrück quickly turned out to be a liability for the party, in good part because he seems to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. He made a number of gaffes, perhaps blown out of proportions by an hostile media, but certainly not things which politicians should say: his most famous gaffes include comments on Merkel’s “women bonus”, lamenting the low salary of the German Chancellor, saying that Merkel’s attitude towards the EU/Eurocrisis was influenced by her GDR/Ossie upbringing and most famously, his “two clowns” comments following the February 2013 Italian elections.
The SPD was been torn between a desire to continue appealing to the centre as Schröder successfully did in 1998 and 2002 and an urge to move back towards the left following left-wing backlash to Agenda 2010/Hartz IV after 2004. The SPD’s platform this year was quite left-wing – emblematic of the SPD’s post-Schröder swing to the left, the party being pushed to left as Merkel successfuly adopts SPD planks and a general shift of all parties (except the FDP) to more leftist positions since 2009 and especially 2005 (see Der Spiegel).
The SPD emphasized social justice heavily in its platform. The party’s landmark proposal was creating a universal minimum wage, set at €8.50. It also proposed to increase taxes on those earning over €100,000 from 42% to 49%. Other economic and social proposals included a full pension at age 63 (instead of 67) for those who have contributed for 45 years or more, creating a minimum ‘solidarity pension’ of €850, replacing Germany’s two-tiered multi-payer healthcare system with single-payer universal healthcare, more places in daycare and schools, fighting tax evasion and allowing double citizenship (currently strictly limited).
The SPD, along with every other party (FDP included) clashes with the CDU/CSU on the issue of the Betreuungsgeld (child care benefit), a monthly payment of €150 to parents with children between 1 and 3 who do not place their children in a daycare (Kindertagesstätte or Kita). The measure is strongly supported by the Bavarian CSU, and by extension the CDU although some CDU members are more reticent. Critics argue that the Betreuungsgeld will encourage mothers to stay at home to take care of their young children, which would weigh heavily on the labour market and Germany’s workforce shortage. Some SPD leaders, such as NRW Minister-President Hannelore Kraft, would like to make Kita mandatory (mandatory schooling only begins at age 6 in Germany). SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel says that the money should be spent on daycare, where there are not enough spaces. Others also criticize the Betreuungsgeld for the traditionalist, conservative ‘stay-at-home mom’ image it promotes. Conservatives, however, feel that parents should be free to choose where to send their children to school and many on the right see mandatory public daycare as socialism.
On European policies, the SPD platform criticized austerity and Angela Merkel’s hardline approach in the Eurozone crisis. It supports Eurobonds and a more ‘pro-growth’ orientation (while still supporting ‘fiscal consolidation’). It supports stricter regulation of financial institutions and banks, a European ratings agency and coordination of fiscal and economic policies in the Eurozone. It wants to create a European monetary fund from the European Stability Mechanism.
The SPD has struggled to motivate and mobilize voters with its campaign. Merkel, as noted above, adopted a number of SPD proposals as her own; as one observer put it, the CDU’s platform was that of the SPD’s without the tax increases. The SPD failed to present itself as a solid alternative to a very popular Chancellor.
In contrast with the CDU’s very presidential and personalist campaign, the SPD campaign was the complete opposition: its chancellor-candidate was notoriously absent from most campaign lit, and the SPD’s slogan was Das WIR Entscheidet (It’s the WE that counts) – hardly an embrace of its candidate!
The Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) is a liberal party, founded in 1948, which has a long history of playing kingmaker in German politics.
The FDP was formed after the war in continuation of Germany’s (predominantly Protestant) liberal tradition. The party represented a novel attempt to reconcile the two historic traditions of German liberalism – left-liberalism (social liberalism) associated with Weimar’s German Democratic Party (DDP) and national-liberalism or right-liberalism, a more conservative liberal tradition with historic ties to Protestant industrialists and embodied by the Kaiserreich’s National Liberal Party or Weimar’s German People’s Party (DVP). Throughout its history, the FDP has oscillated between left-liberalism and right-liberalism; today, the FDP is firmly in the right-liberal camp.
The FDP won 12% of the vote in the 1949 federal elections. Its support has, with some exceptions at both extremes, ranged from a low of 6% to highs of 10%. Between 1961 and 1983, the FDP was the only party other than the Union and the SPD to be represented in the Bundestag. Given that neither of the two major parties won an absolute majority in that era, the FDP was the all-important kingmaker which made and broke governments. It governed with the CDU between 1949 and 1966, with the SPD between 1969 and 1982 and with the CDU between 1982 and 1998.
In its early years, the FDP acted as centre-right secular party for Protestant voters; contrasting itself to the CDU by its secularism, mild anti-clericalism and opposition to religious schools (it was also more economically liberal than the CDU).
In 1982, the FDP broke up its social liberal coalition with the SPD, citing policy differences and divisions within the SPD over the NATO Double-Track. The FDP had also begun shifting to the right, under the influence of Otto Graf Lambsdorff, the FDP economics minister who drafted a policy paper promoting neoliberal economic ideas. The decision was controversial inside and outside the party, with the FDP’s support falling from 10.6% to 7% in the 1983 election. From that point forward, the FDP became a pro-business right-liberal party. Social liberal coalitions became increasingly rare at the state level (the last one was in Rhineland-Palatinate, between 1994 and 2006) and the FDP’s preference was clearly for black-yellow (schwarz-gelb) coalitions. When the CDU and FDP hold a majority to themselves, a schwarz-gelb coalition is almost always a certainty (just like a rot-grüne coalition is a certainty when the SPD and Greens hold a majority).
The FDP went through tough times between 1994 and 1999: it failed to reach the 5% threshold in a series of state elections between 1994 and 2000, it fell below 5% in the 1999 European elections and it barely survived the 5% threshold federally in the 1998 elections (6.2%).
Under Guido Westerwelle’s more populist but still clearly right-liberal leadership, FDP support increased in the 2002, 2005 and especially 2009 elections. In the 2009 elections, the FDP won 14.6% – an historic high – on a platform calling for lower taxes. The FDP profited from right-wing unease with the fairly moderate record of the CDU-led government between 2005 and 2009. After the 2009 election, with the CDU/CSU and FDP holding an absolute majority (unlike in 2005), they formed a schwarz-gelb coalition.
A black-yellow coalition was seen as being more in touch with Merkel’s preferences and easier to manage. The coalition turned out to be a disaster for the FDP, which was widely seen as ineffective and incompetent as governing partners and their image as an exclusive club for special interests and high earners was reinforced by certain boneheaded moves by FDP leaders. Merkel, the master politician, steamrolled the FDP.
The FDP’s main campaign promise in 2009 had been to lower taxes. Despite having been in government for four years, it was unable to do so. In fact, while in government, the FDP was even forced to agree to things such as raising the public health insurance premiums by 0.5% after having run a 2009 campaign on the slogan “more net from gross [income]“.
The FDP’s decline began in January 2010 with the “hotel affair”, when it was revealed that the FDP received a huge €1.1 million donation from August Baron von Finck, who owns the Mövenpick hotel group; his company later benefited from a major reduction in the VAT on hotel bills, one of the black-yellow government’s first decisions. The “hotel affair” reinforced widely-held stereotypes of the FDP as an exclusive party for special interests and lobbyists. On the same line, the FDP (which held the health ministry) was also criticized by the red-greens for failing to liberalize the pharmacy sector (which would reduce the costs of pharmaceutical distribution), given that self-employed pharmacists are a solidly FDP electorate.
The FDP’s support in opinion polling federally quickly collapsed below 5%. The FDP was thrown out of the state legislatures in Berlin, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt in the most recent state elections. It was, however, able to survive in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW, Hamburg and Lower Saxony; mostly through popular local leaders who ran away from the federal leadership and often contradicting the FDP’s federal policy direction (for example, the Schleswig-Holstein FDP ran on a platform of shutting down dangerous nuclear reactors).
It was also helped by “loan votes”, where CDU-leaning voters ‘loan’ their second vote (PR) to the FDP to allow the FDP to surpass the threshold (and give the CDU a coalition partner). The Lower Saxony state election earlier this year was the most extreme example of the old “loan vote” phenomenon in German politics – widely thought to have little luck of winning over 5%, the state FDP increased its support to 9.9% – exit polling showed that a huge majority of FDP ‘voters’ in that election were ‘loaned voters’.
FDP leader Guido Westerwelle was replaced as FDP leader and Vice-Chancellor by the younger and initially more popular Philipp Rösler. This leadership shuffle amounted to little, as Rösler became just as unpopular as Westerwelle had been. The FDP’s chancellor-candidate was Rainer Brüderle, the chairman of the FDP’s parliamentary group and, prior to that, minister of economics and technology between 2009 and 2011. In January 2013, Brüderle was accused of sexism by a journalist who alleged that he had made advances on her.
The FDP’s platform hit the party’s traditional core themes: lower debt, sound currency, lower taxes, civil rights and support for small businesses. Like the CDU, it opposes a universal minimum wage, tax increases and Eurobonds/debt pooling. It goes further than the CDU on taxation, calling for tax cuts when possible, reducing the fiscal drag (‘disguised progression’), reducing the energy tax (to reduce electricity costs) and simplifying tax laws. It also wishes to allow the solidarity tax (Solidaritätszuschlag), a tax which covers the costs of German reunification, to expire in 2019 (Merkel has proposed extending it). However, the FDP’s tax proposals likely ring a bit hollow after four years in government. It seemed to focus a lot of its campaign on attacking the three left-wing parties (SPD, Greens, Linke) for wanting to increase taxes, run up government spending and turn Europe into a “debt union”.
On social issues, the FDP supports less government intervention. In this campaign, the party proposed to lump Hartz IV benefits, basic security, social assistance, housing benefits and child benefits into a single ‘citizen’s income’. It differs from the CDU on the issue of the Betreuungsgeld, mentioned above. In healthcare, the FDP supports the current healthcare system and wants to allow for more competition.
The FDP’s platform emphasized the importance of cutting government debt and securing the currency. It wants to have a balanced budget in 2015, start repaying the debt in 2016, cutting red tape and limiting public sector growth to economic growth.
The FDP has always attached strong importance to civil rights and individual liberties. Its image as the party defending individual rights took a hit in 1995, when it agreed to wiretapping (Großer Lauschangriff, or eavesdropping). Many left-liberal voters have abandoned the party for the Greens, who place more emphasis on such issues than the modern FDP. The FDP’s platform opposed data retention and protecting data privacy, but in government it was fairly mum during the PRISM scandal and after revelations that the German military knew of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program.
The FDP still finds common ground with the left on issues such as same-sex marriage (the CDU is the only party which still opposes same-sex marriage, although a court decision earlier this year forced the government to grant homosexual couples the same benefits and rights as heterosexual couples), dual citizenship and opposition to data retention without cause.
The FDP supports European integration (although it wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty), but it has a small national-liberal minority which is more Eurosceptic.
The Left (Die Linke) is a democratic socialist party founded in 2007 by the merger of the East German Left Party.PDS (Linkspartei.PDS) and the West German WASG (a group of SPD dissidents). Die Linke is widely associated with the former East Germany (where the vast majority of its support is) and, for some, with the former communist regime of the GDR.
The Left Party.PDS, known as the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) until 2005, was the successor party of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), the governing party of the GDR between 1949 and 1989. The October-November 1989 mass protests against the East German regime led the SED Politburo to dismiss longtime strongman Erich Honecker, empowering a new generation of reformist politicians in the SED including Hans Modrow and Gregor Gysi. In late 1989 and early 1990, the SED gave up its monopoly on power, abandoned Marxism-Leninism and allowed for the first and only free elections in East Germany in March 1990. The SED, renamed the PDS in February 1990 under Gysi’s leadership, was soundly defeated in the East German elections in 1990, winning only 16% of the vote against some 48% for the pro-reunification Alliance for Germany, led by the CDU.
Following German reunification, the PDS retained a strong presence in East Germany – particularly in low-income areas of East Berlin, where the PDS was able to win direct seats beginning in 1990. The PDS’ strength increased following the 1990 reunification election, when it won only 11% of the vote in the East. With the shine of reunification wearing off, the PDS was able to successfully appeal to older East German voters who felt that they were on the losing side of reunification (total economic collapse and deindustrialization, high unemployment, poverty, low development) or who harboured Ostalgie for the former GDR. To this day, the former East Germany remains significantly poorer than the West, with the highest unemployment figures (still over 10% today in some rural parts of the east) found in the ex-GDR. The PDS won 20% of the vote in the ex-GDR in 1994, 21.6% in 1998, 17% in 2002 (the SPD lost votes in the West, but gained in the East in that election – perhaps due to the Bavarian Stoiber having poor appeal to easterners) and 25% in 2005. In West Germany, however, the PDS won only 1% of the vote prior to 2005.
The PDS was below the 5% national threshold in 1990 and 1994, but because it won direct seats, it was able to qualify for list seats. In 2002, however, the PDS won only two direct seats, less than the three required to qualify for list seats, so it was returned to the Bundestag with only two seats.
The Left Party.PDS ran a common list with the WASG, a West German group of SPD dissidents and leftists including former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine. Their 2005 campaign was strong, with the popular and charismatic Gysi and Lafontaine sharing the spotlight. The party ended up with 8.7% of the vote and 54 seats. Not only did it do exceptionally well in the East, it also had a mini-breakthrough in the West, taking nearly 5% of the West German vote, mostly in Lafontaine’s home state of Saarland (18.5%).
The Left Party.PDS and WASG merged to form Die Linke in 2007, and the party enjoyed an upswing in West Germany: between 2007 and 2009, Die Linke entered the state legislatures of Bremen, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland (where it won 21% with Lafontaine as the top candidate). In the 2009 federal election, Die Linke won a record high 11.9% of the vote, including 28.5% in the East and 8.3% in the West. The party benefited from the SPD’s unpopularity, a strong leftist protest against SPD policies such as Hartz IV (especially in the East) and opposition to German participation in the war in Afghanistan.
Die Linke is a controversial and polarizing party. Its most virulent opponents often style it as ‘the SED’ or the ‘Stasi Party’, references to its connections to the former communist dictatorship in East Germany and the suspected/proven participation of some of its members, including former PDS leader Lothar Bisky, in the Stasi, East Germany’s infamous secret police. The party includes more extremist and radical factions who have a tendency to say things which embarrasses the moderate leadership: praising the GDR or praise for communist/leftist leaders around the world, such as Fidel Castro. Some members of the party remain under observation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, the federal agency for the protection of the constitution (which observes or bans extremist parties on the far-right and far-left). That being said, only a minority of the party’s leaders/MPs were members of the SED prior to reunification. Besides, a lot of the ex-SED/PDS members tend to be comparatively moderate and pragmatic.
Die Linke causes headaches for the SPD and the Greens, who have not yet resolved themselves to accept Die Linke as a governing partner either at the federal level or the state level in West Germany. In East Germany, where ex-SED/PDS members tend to be more pragmatic and moderate than West Germany’s more radical and dogmatic ex-SPD/leftist members, coalitions with Die Linke are more palatable to the SPD and the Greens.
The PDS supported a SPD/Green government in Saxony-Anhalt between 1994 and 2002 without participating in it; SPD-led coalitions with Die Linke’s external support are called the Magdeburg Model, and the Magdeburg Model was successfully repeated in Berlin (2001-2002) and NRW (2010-2012). However, after the Hessian state elections in 2008 which gave a theoretical red-red-green coalition a majority, the SPD’s Andrea Ypsilanti was unable to form a SPD/Green minority government with Die Linke’s support, after four SPD MPs defected and led to snap elections in January 2009 (which saw an SPD collapse and black-yellow majority).
Die Linke currently governs in coalition with the SPD in the state of Brandenburg since 2009 and red-red (SPD-Die Linke) coalitions were in power in Berlin between 2002 and 2011 and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania between 1998 and 2006.
To date, no red-red-green coalition has been formed at the state level. There were negotiations for such a coalition in Thuringia in 2009, but the SPD finally opted for a Grand Coalition with the CDU, being opposed to Die Linke (as the largest left-wing party) holding the state premiership. In Saarland, that same year, the Greens preferred to support a CDU-FDP government (forming a so-called Jamaica Coalition, although the Greens did not participate) rather than a SPD government dependent on Die Linke’s support. In West Germany, the SPD is still fairly allergic to the red-red-green option, partly because of lingering bad blood between Die Linke’s ex-SPD members (first and foremost Lafontaine) and the more dogmatic positions of the party’s western leadership.
Die Linke went through internal divisions following the 2009 election, mostly boiling down to a conflict between the party’s pragmatic ex-PDS eastern members and more dogmatic western members. In 2012, a party congress resulted in the division of the party’s co-presidential positions between these two wings: the young eastern and pragmatic Katja Kipping alongside the and more leftist westerner Bernd Riexinger (close to Lafontaine). The 2009-2013 period has been, therefore, a fairly tough period for the party in terms of electoral support. Die Linke lost its western footholds in Schleswig-Holstein (2012), NRW (2012) and Lower Saxony (2013); it suffered loses in the 2011 state elections in Saarland and was unable to enter the Landtag in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in 2011.
Die Linke presented itself in this election as “100% social”. Its main socioeconomic proposals included a €10 minimum wage (to be increased to €12 in 2017), a €1,050 minimum pension, increasing Hartz-IV benefits to €500 (and later replaced by a €1,050 guaranteed minimum income), abolishing ein Euro jobs (15-30 hour jobs paid about €1/hour, while still receiving Hartz-IV benefits) and other temporary contracts, reducing working hours to 30 hours per week on full pay, lowering the retirement age from 67 to 65 and introduction of single-payer universal healthcare.<