By Lois Woestman, Guest Contributor
Dr. Lois Woestman, both a Greek and US citizen, is an External Funding Officer at the University of Marburg, Germany and an independent research/policy advice consultant for UN and international non-governmental agencies.
There was a hole in the clouds as I biked along the Lahn river Monday, the day after elections were held here in Germany. Like a wormhole, the sky-eye transported my mind back to Athens of a bit over a year ago, when feelings were running high as Greeks were deciding whether or not to remain in the Euro. The German elections, at least as they appeared from my ground’s eye perspective in its heartland, could not have been more different.
Greece stayed in the Euro. And the eyes of many Greeks – as of many southern Europeans - turned toward France and Germany, to see what the next step would be. Hopes of some growth policies being added alongside austerity ones arose as France elected socialist PM Hollande. And rumor had it that Germany might elect a new PM of similar political leanings in its September 2013 elections, increasing the chances of such an important shift in European approach to the crisis. The results of last Sunday’s elections did not fulfill these hopes.
At federal level, Angela Merkel’s right-center CDU party increased its share of the vote, almost obtaining an absolute majority. The CDU here in state Hessen - where I live near Frankfurt, the Wall Street of Germany - also increased its share of the vote. The FDP, the CDU’s libertarian coalition partner, did not obtain the 5% required to remain in the federal parliament, though it barely managed to remain in the state Hessen government. Though its second worst showing since WWII, left-center SPD also increased its share of the vote, but not enough to surpass the CDU. Both federal and local SPD leaders rejected the possibility of forming a “red-red-green” – SPD-Left-Green - coalition. Which has left the CDU the challenge of forming a coalition with either the SPD, Link or Green parties.
Why were most of my neighbors and colleagues here in the German heartland so blasé about the elections? Why did they cast their vote for a euro policy – a Europe - so far from that southern Europeans had been hoping for?
One reason appears to be a desire for political predictability, and realted disenchantment with the SPD. “Peer Steinbrueck is too loud, too unpredictable. He lies, and is corrupt. His promises cannot be trusted” argued Frank, a university researcher. For Frank, it appeared difficult to disentangle perceptions of Mr. Steinbrueck’s political style from SPD history. “It is more than that,” Frank went on. “We just settled down here in Germany, you know. It was the SPD that began the destruction of our health care system by introducing private health insurance, not the CDU. The SPD cannot be trusted to be what they once were, so I cannot vote for them. And, as someone born and raised in East Germany, you could not honestly expect me to vote for the Left, now could you?”