Get out and vote - Part I

3rd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

Faced with grim opinion poll surveys ahead of this month's European elections, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government is attempting to capitalise on deep-seated German opposition to the Iraq war. In the first of a two-part series on the European elections, Andrew McCathie looks at the election campaign in Germany.

Trailing badly in opinion polls ahead of next month's key European elections, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's ruling Social Democrat-Green Party coalition has turned to what in the past has proven to be an election winner – Iraq.

SPD campaign poster

'Peace Power' SPD promotes itself as party of peace

Less than two years after Schroeder's fierce opposition to the US-led war in Iraq helped to rally SPD and Green Party supporters and push his left-of-centre coalition to victory in national elections, both parties are gearing up to capitalise on the deep-seated opposition to the conflict in their campaigns for the European elections.

Anti-George W Bush Green Party posters, agreed at European level, for the EU elections on 13 June have already started to appear across Germany.

The posters by the Green Party, which counts among its leaders Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, read "Don't give cloning a chance" and feature rows of photos of Bush.

At the same time, Schroeder's Social Democrats have been promoting themselves as the party of peace in the European elections with a campaign slogan saying: "Peace power."
This comes at a time when relations between Berlin and Washington have returned to a sense of normality after the two transatlantic partners fell out badly over Schroeder's moves to spearhead European opposition to the US-led military action in the Gulf and to turn the Iraq war into an election issue in the 2002 hardly fought national poll.

*quote1*The scale of the opposition in the largely pacifist German electorate to the Iraq war has also forced Germany's conservative Christian Democrat-led opposition to distance itself from its previous support for Washington's plans for toppling Saddam Hussein's regime.

Coming ahead of the European elections, the move by Christian Democrat chief Angela Merkel to express doubts about the Iraq war appeared to be an attempt by the her party to prevent the government from using the Iraq war as an issue to attack the opposition parties.

It is a mark of the problems facing the Schroeder government that the key question for his Social Democrats in the European elections will be whether the party can defend the 30.7 percent vote it scored in the last election in 1999, which was the SPD's worst result in European elections more than 20 years.

The slump in 1999 in the SPD vote followed a rather chaotic start to government for the Social Democrats and their Green Party allies.

Joschka Fischer

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is hoping to turn Iraq into an election winner

But since then, Germany has been stuck in a protracted period of economic stagnation with unemployment remaining high and the mood among consumers continuing to darken.

More to the point, analysts doubt whether the government's attempt to use Iraq as a campaign issue will be enough to deflect voters' anger over Schroeder's tough welfare and labour market reforms and frustration at the slow pace of the country's economic recovery.

Apart from data pointing to a record number of corporate insolvencies in the nation, there has also been the big jump in energy prices which has caused prices at the petrol pump to surge just as the nation prepares to head off for the traditional summer holidays.

Like most nations, German voter interest in Iraq has increased in recent months following revelations of the prisoner abuse scandal in Baghdad and with reports of the daily bombings and violence in Iraq often dominating television news broadcasts.
*quote2*But in a further bid to neutralise voter anger over the government's welfare and labour market changes, Schroeder has pulled back from his tough reform agenda with many analysts believing that reforms in Europe's biggest economy are now on hold until after the next national election due in September 2006.

Instead the government has gone about emphasising its plans for improving education and investing in the nation's research and development.

There has also been a trickle of good news for Schroeder in recent weeks with signs that the government's deeply unpopular health reforms may have started to produce some positive results combined with evidence that the German economy remains on course to a moderate pickup this year.

But the upswing has still not been enough to offer much in the way of help for the nation's struggling labour market with German unemployment stuck at more than 10 percent.

The recovery has certainly has fallen short of the government's hopes of a more solid upswing that might allow it to argue that the tough round of reforms was worth it after all.

Green party campaign poster

The Greens are campaigning on an anti-Bush ticket

Many SPD supporters, however, believe that the Schroeder reform drive, which has tightened rules for welfare benefits and sought to promote private pensions, has pushed the party too far away from its traditional social democratic roots.

Indeed, despite the economic recovery slowly taking shape in Germany, employers have preferred to press on with rigorous cost-cutting programs rather than hiring with the build up to last month's historic European enlargement was accompanied by reports of German companies preparing to shift to low-cost high-skilled regions of Central Europe.   
It is marathon election year in Germany with the European elections only one of a raft of state and regional polls that is being held in the nation. The European elections coincide with polls in the state of Thuringia and regional ballots in other states.

But the European elections are critical in that they are national and could are likely to provide a key pointer to current mood in Germany.
That said, however, the major problem for all parties might be in making sure that their supporters turn out to vote.

 A survey published by Gallup Europe and the European Commission showed that voter turnout for the European elections was likely to be just  42 percent in Germany. 

June 2004

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: German news, European elections

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