The results of the elections in two of the most important länder in the former East-Germany, Saxe and Brandenburg are revealing the problems to which Germany is confronted with in these territories, 30 years after the reunification, but also in the whole country. During autumn 1989, massive demonstrations in Leipzig showed every week the rejection of the communist regime. Austrian border was half-opened to let pass these who wanted to go in the West of the country. At the beginning of November, in Berlin, under the pressure of the crowd, it was the wall which fell and the democratic and pacific process of the reunification asked by France will go to its end in October 1990.
At that time, some are worrying about the strengthening of our neighbor power due to the absorption of what they think is “the industrial championship of the Eastern Countries”. Reality will be quite different. East-German industry, with very few exceptions, is in a deplorable situation. Most of the plants will be shut which will make unemployment exploding. Ten years after, it is still at 18%, despite investment programs launched by the Federal government, with the support of the European Union. The situation of environment is quite so disastrous. The walls of the buildings in major cities like Dresden or Leipzig are covered by black soot coming from coal-fired power plants and the level of CO2 emissions is considerable. That has had a perverse impact we still today endure. The year chosen as a basis for the commitments of European countries regarding their greenhouse gas emissions was precisely 1990, the year of the pollution peak in the former East-Germany. These commitments won’t be very difficult to comply with, which explains why Germany has still today, an emission rate per inhabitants twice higher than in France and by large above the average in Europe.
Despite all the efforts made by the successive governments, the political party which has the most progressed during last Sunday elections has been the extreme-right party, the AfD which is not far being the most important political force in the former East Germany. In Saxe, CDU lost 8 points with 32.1% and stays by a little margin at the top but is followed by AfD with 28%. In Brandenburg, SPD lost 6% with 26% and is still ahead of AfD with 22%. So the fall of the score of the two major political forces of the country has mainly benefited to the extreme-right party which takes advantage of the poor economic results in these territories, of the massive recourse to immigration and, mainly, of the inefficiency of the policies followed by the governing political formations. The jobless rate fall to 9% as the famous job market “Hartz reforms” decided by the social democrat Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, do not delude people. At that time the major threat was the rebound of immigration from the Eastern to the Western länder which would destabilize prosperous provinces of Rhenany, Bade Wurtemberg and the Rhur.
Through making more restrictive the access to unemployment benefits, notably through the obligation to accept precarious and low-qualified jobs, the mini-jobs, the government was dissuading these migrants from coming. It will get a stabilization of the populations and an artificial reduction of the unemployment rate in the East. But political consequences will be heavy because since that, the SPD never again won a national election. The spectacular rise of the far-right party during these regional elections as during the last European ones expresses, as in France, the rejection of the economic and political solutions made use by the traditional political organizations. It is possible to accept that due to very particular situation of these territories which lived during near half a century under a communist regime. But how explain that this dissent is spreading to the whole Germany?
The economic results of the country, at least the quoted figures to describe it, are making envious every country: full employment, public finances surplus and low indebtedness, trade balance with a large structural surplus and exceptional achievements of the famous “Mittelstand”, this network of family-owned companies which constitutes an industrial tissue without any equivalent in the world. So the question deserves to be asked, how is it possible that the two country major political forces which alternatively governed for more than fifty years don’t take today advantage of these achievements and are under the threat of an extremist political force, as what France knows with the Rassemblement National?
The rejection of the immigration policy cannot explain everything. German economic results are more the produce of statistics than really perceived by the population and the last publications regarding growth are reconciling these two realities. Full employment is by large an illusion because it is the result of the demographic decline, the very high level of part-time jobs, mainly concerning women and at last the hundreds of thousands of mini-jobs. The poverty rate is by far higher than in France and the gap is increasing between the still prosperous industrial areas and the rest of the country. This prosperity is even threatened because German economy is not enough diversified; The banking sector is weakened, the share of the services sectors is too low and the weight of the car industry is excessive, especially at a moment when the sector could be confronted with a deep mutation which could affect the world leader position of the German manufacturers. The commitment in favor of the environment is more the product of a calculation regarding internal politics than a real resolution. The programmed abandon of nuclear power will have as a main consequence to keep in activity until 2038 the East-German coal-fired power plants, along with imposing to consumers a power price twice higher than in France. The new energy policy, the “Energiewende”, based on a massive development of renewable has not had, until now, the expected result on CO2 emissions.
Confronted to these difficulties which cannot have escaped to the attention of German leaders, these ones sheltered themselves in a kind of public finance autism. When the country has a crucial need of investments in infrastructures and a more generous social transfer policy to, notably in the former Eastern Germany, reduce inequalities and stimulate growth, the government doesn’t intend to assume its responsibilities. European pressures will do nothing, to the opposite. But Germany must take into consideration the limits of its model because political consequences are heavy. Signals sent by electors to CDU and SPD are clear. They disapprove the policy followed for ten or so years. The stigmatization of the indebtedness of Southern European countries at a time when their economies are rebounding doesn’t convince anymore anybody. The persistence of nil or even negative interest rates put in danger the equilibrium of the pension systems which include a share of capitalization. But the European Central Bank, without any coordinated rebounding policies in the eurozone has no alternative to keeping its current policy.
The large coalition situation is so fragile that it is the political stability of the country and its role in Europe which is at stake. During ten years, the continent has had to cope with the financial crisis coming from the U.S., the Greek, Spanish and Irish crisis which put in doubt the survival of the euro, the Brexit and the coming into power in Italy of anti-European parties. It wouldn’t be good, for Europe, that a political crisis in Germany, started by the rise of AfD, becomes the crisis de trop.