the breakdown: what’s up in german politics – for expats

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This is the first post from our brand new series: all about Germany, especially for expat / English speakers who may find it a little tricky following the ins and outs of what’s going on in this, our chosen country of residence (or maybe you’re ‘passing through’ – we all know how that goes :)).

Not culture, not music or fashion, this post series is all about politics and the ins and outs of what’s going on in society. We’ll also take an occasional look back in time, perhaps even forward in time, and write about historical happenings that have gone to make Germany the country that it is. Beauty spots, warts, and all.

And I can’t help thinking that this is somehow a perfect time to begin – with Germany having got its new government just a couple of months ago at time of writing. For example, instead of the bespectacled and curly-haired PR-conscious bundle of ambition, Mr Jens Spahn, now we have Karl Lauterbach as Gesundheitsminister (health minister).

Jens Spahn: the bespectacled and curly-haired PR-conscious bundle of ambition

A TL;DR biography of Mr Karl Lauterbach would perhaps include the fact that he became famous during the (up til now) covid pandemic by popping up on every chat show and twitter feed in town, as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles.

With his trademark round spectacles, slightly strange manner of speaking and thousand-yard stare, Mr. Lauterback has been a highly polarising figure over the last two years. “Lauterbach warnt” (Lauterbach warns) has become his byline, and apparently, if you google that phrase, you get more hits in Germany than “Lewandowski scores” etc. etc. You get the picture.

Karl Lauterbach: almost a caricature of himself, popping up everywhere and anywhere to warn us

Is Lauterbach any good? Well, apart from the fact that in the last couple of years he’s been a spout of depressing facts and made himself almost into a caricature of himself, popping up everywhere and anywhere to warn us, he does seem to have got it right most of the time. Also, he seems to have as many qualifications for this kind of thing as you might want, studying for his doctor’s degree in Aachen and San Antonio (Texas) and studying epediomology in Harvard, before going on to hold a fellowship also at Harvard in the nineties. Whereas our friend Spahn had an apprenticeship as a banker – working for a short time as a bank clerk – before then studying political science and law. Just saying.

Annalena Baerbock by Stefan Kaminski (CC4 Licence)

Annaelena Baerbock’s trial by fire: wounded but visibly strengthened in performance through the process

The Green Party, as I’m sure you know, surged high in the polls early on in the lead-up to the election, then sank down a fair bit, and finally ended up – together with the FDP – in a “kingmaker” (or queenmaker, you pick) position. The Green Party was until recently headed by Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck (now that they’re both in government, they’ve had to hand the party reins on to someone else, as is standard in the Green Party).

Annalena was nominated as wannabe-chancellor and sent out to do battle in the no-holds-barred election race. As is probably no surprise, she took some hits in this high-profile position; she ended up limping back to base at the end of it, having carried the green banner high through thick and thin, having been wounded but yet having visibly strengthened in performance through the process.

Then Habeck stepped into the limelight, and it seemed as the whole thing (Baerbock being the chosen one) had been a cynical ploy on the part of Habeck to get her to vie for people’s attention on behalf of the party and take the personal hits that would unavoidably accrue, and then to step out from behind her shadow and, having avoided all possible slings and arrows, take things over.

Heiko Maas: the small bespectacled young fellow who bimbled around the world stage being vaguely apologetic

However, after the coalition (FDP, SPD and Greens) had huddled for a month or so to bash out a way that they could govern successfully, it came about that Baerbock had been given the position of Foreign Minister (taking over from Heiko Maas, the small bespectacled young fellow who had bimbled around the world stage being vaguely apologetic for the last few years).

Christian LIndner as finance minister: cue creepy voice hissing “My precious” in the background

Many people thought that Baerbock would do well almost anywhere except in this position, but there again she seems so far to be rising to the challenge…Harbeck, meanwhile, has had a brand new ministry created for him – Economics and Environment – so that Christian Lindner (FDP) could get his much coveted goal (cue creepy voice hissing “My precious” in the background) of being the new Finance Minister.

In the early days of the brand new government, things were quiet…the newspapers were talking up the fact that it seems like the FDP got a whole lot of its own policies in place, with the SPD doing so-so and the greens seemingly having had to let go of a number of their planned policies – like a speed limit that’s less than a zillion kmph on the autobahn, and having to include gas as among the semi-renewable fuels given the nod for being if not completely green, at least a good bit more green.

the ghost of xmas past known as Friedrich Merz has become head of the CDU

Elsewhere, the ghost of xmas past known as Friedrich Merz has become head of the CDU – the party of Frau Merkel who spent gazillions of years in power and is now in opposition. While Merkel had pulled the centrist party a good bit to the left, which left the SPD without a real political platform, things seem to be changing.

Friedrich Merz Photo by Michael Lucan via CC 3 licence
Photo by Michael Lucan via Wikimedia under CC 3 Licence

After a disastrous run-up to the election which included choosing as proposed chancellor one of the weakest candidates to step up to a podium in quite some time (Laschet) over the only politician that seemed able to win them another four years in power (Söder), on the grounds that Soder came from their sister party, the CSU (basically the CDU in Bavaria), the CDU did disastrously and, as we all know, lost the election.

Cue power struggle, which fell to three candidates: Rottgen, who seems capable but just far too nice, Brandt, who no one has ever heard of and didn’t seem to have much reason at all to be there, and Friedrich Merz.

a slightly retrograde idea of a woman’s role in society – although, actually, he’s staunchly Catholic so his views may actually be quite liberal when you take context into account

Merz has wanted to be chancellor – and/or head of the CDU – for ever. In politics ages ago, he left to become a successful businessman, before returning a couple of years ago. There were always certain drawbacks with Merz, particularly that he’s a good bit further to the right than anyone else in the CDU front benches, and that he’s prone to the odd PR gaffe including various remarks displaying what we could call a slightly retrograde idea of a woman’s role in society – although, actually, he’s staunchly Catholic so his views may actually be quite liberal when you take context into account…

UPDATE: And now: in a trial by fire – the Ukraine crisis has loomed out of nowhere to challenge the brand new coalition, with pressure from Western allies and Ukraine itself to send weapons – which Germany is still refusing to do – while wondering if Putin decides to turn off our gas supplies in the middle of a cold winter if the German government starts to play tough….what to do?

This and more in the next episode of….GERMAN POLITICS FOR EXPATS – our brand new monthly blog article series…

The main image of this post is taking from Wikipedia and used under the Creative Commons 1.0 LIcence