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The Political Culture of Germany

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Final Paper: The Political Culture of Germany
The Country of Germany is known for many things Oktoberfest, the autobahn, the Rhine River and a very horrific and turbulent past. The Germany of today continues to be forged out of the mistakes of its past. From Hitler, to Nazism to concentration camps, Germany has worked diligently to move past its horrible past and become a true political and economic leader in the European Union and the world. It has brought stability and has opened its doors to many immigrants from both the East and the West. All of this had shaped the German political landscape. It has much strength and very few weaknesses. Today the German political system and culture is the model for the whole of Europe. It has the most stability and therefore has emerged as the leader for the European Union. To understand Germany’s current political culture, its past must be examined. Germany has a very checkered past that included the two World Wars that they started and the attempt by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime to wipe out the entire Jewish population of Europe at the time. Out of this came the Constitution of 1949, a collaboration of the previous German constitution of 1871 and the Weimar constitution of 1919.

The most important feature involved the sharing of political power between the central government and the local states or the Länder. (Darlington, 2012) This sharing resulted from the negative experiences from Germany’s past and the desire to not let an authoritarian state or figure come to power. Specific parts of Germany’s Basic Laws address and curb any extreme political parties from disturbing the political democratic balance. The article that curbs any future uprising is Article 18 which states:

“Whoever abuses freedom of expression of opinion, in particular freedom of the press, freedom of teaching, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, privacy of posts and telecommunications, property, or the right of asylum in order to combat the free democratic basic order, shall forfeit these basic rights.”(“The German Constitution,” 2012, para. 2) This article has been used twice since its creation and is seen as a vital component that protects the German democracy. The Basic Laws also details the makeup of the German Government and how it should operate while at the same time putting in place an intricate system of checks and balances. The German political system was forced on the Former East Germany when they unified in 1990. The new Germany has since then made its case as the one true European power. The setup of its government lends defines the makeup of its political culture. The German government is made up of several branches. The Executive branch has the head of state which is the President. This position is a ceremonial position that holds now real political power. The head of the government is the Chancellor which is the same as the Prime Minister in other countries such as England. This position is elected every four years by a majority vote by all elected members of the Bundestag. This majority is known as the Kanzlermehrheit or Chancellor’s majority. (Darlington, 2012, p. 1) The chancellor has a cabinet which carries out the day to day operations of the German government.

The Legislative Branch is made up of two houses. The lower house of the German “Congress” is called the Bundestag. The elected members on the Bundestag serve four year terms and are elected via a mixed member proportional representation system. (Mertes, 1994, p. 2) Half of the members are elected from 299 constituencies and the other half is elected from the list of the parties on the basis of each 16 different Länds or regions of Germany. (Darlington, 2012) Voters vote twice in this system. One vote for the member to represent them and another vote for a party list from their region. This helps to determine the number of seats one particular party has in the Bundestag. The voting system was created to keep out small extremist parties from membership. The upper house is the Bundesrat. It is not made up of elected officials but rather appointed by one of the 16 different state cabinets. The states can have between three to six delegates depending on calculation based upon the state’s population. The total number of delegates appointed is 69. There is a large multi-political party presence in the German government The Christian Democratic Union or CDU, is the largest conservative political party that has a focus on Christian values. It has been a major political power in Germany since the end of World War II in both national and regional elections. (Mislan & Sarkisian, 2012, Chapter 3.3) Another conservative political party is the Christian Social Union of Bavaria or CSU. It has a unique relationship with the CDU because its shares the same ideology and Christian values but the CSU has a presence and influence in the large state of Bavaria that the CDU does not have.

Their chief rival is the Social Democratic Party or SPD. This party is socialist in nature but has recently taken on more modern view capitalism. The remaining smaller parties are the “neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), a socialist party called The Left, and an environmentalist party known as Alliance ’90/ The Greens”. (Mislan & Sarkisian, 2012, Chapter 3.3) All of these parties in the German political culture make it very difficult for one party to gain a majority in legislative elections. For major issues to be handled or dealt with, the politics of collaboration must be practiced. This is Germany’s biggest weakness. Germany’s political culture is based upon collaboration and consensus. They are thus a prisoner of their consensus democracy. The democratic process in Germany is characterized by a “culture of consensual decision-making and a complex policy-making process which provides a high level of institutionalized veto points on multiple levels.”(Schweiger, 2010, p. 3) This makes the ability to institute rapid policy change in response to internal and external pressures very difficult. The need for consensus has to involve two or more large parties which come together to form coalitions. The inherent tendency of the German political system is to force the two main parties CDU/CSU and the SPD to cooperate and form a grand coalition to address issues on the federal level and also domestic issues. (Schmidt, 2007)

When the coalition’s attempt to enact or press for changes in domestic or national policy they face a roadblock from the regional chamber of the legislature, the Bundesrat, which is dominated by the opposition parties. Therefore, an elaborate political minefield must be created with consensus hinging on the ability for all parties involved to make deals and side-deals in order to push the main political objectives and get them enacted. This has resulted in a distinct inability to gain momentum to change policy in crucial areas such as economic policy, employment, welfare reform and education. (Schweiger, 2010, p. 4) The cycle then ensues in which the decline in the electoral support for larger parties produces even more complex bargaining processes between a new diversity of party coalitions on the federal and the regional level in the Bundesrat and this prevents the introduction of a clear policy agenda. (Schmidt, 2007) Germany is trapped in the cycle of always having to achieve consensus and collaboration on each and every issue from elections to domestic policy. The German political system also suffers the existence of veto powers on multiple levels within their government.

The power of the veto in the German political system is designed to be used on multiple levels within the system and leads to a high level of political stability and thus helps keep the status quo in line. However, on the other hand, it also keeps the ability and level of policy change very low. This plays into the basic needs of the German culture; the marked and mush needed desire for political stability and the fear and loathing of political instability.(Mertes, 1994, p. 3) A result of Germans never wanting to repeat their mistakes of the path, stability is paramount and controlled by the multi-veto system in place in Germany. Each level from the legislative to the executive must determine and assess the laws and policies that best meet the needs of the party, the region and the people in those regions. There the veto power of each keeps the German political ship sailing in the center and not allowing it to veer extremely of course. Recent changes in reduction in births to rampant immigration from the Middle East had gone relatively unchallenged by the German government because no side can gain the necessary majority or get past the veto powers in order to enact real change (Cerny, 2004) Germany’s consensus democracy model is one that keeps stability in place but prevents real change from taken place in terms of political policy; The German people do not like instability or extremism to take ahold of their politics or their culture.

The walls that divided West Germany and East Germany came down in 1990 and the new, unified Germany has been on the course to carve its own new path that has nothing to do with their horrific past. As a result, their political culture is built to keep everyone happy all at the same time but not really deal with the issues at hand. German’s are hampered by their inability to identify with the national state or their state or region. Political parties are regional in nature and bound by history to stay within the confines of the consensus managed political culture. They look to each other to make collaborations that show the unity of the country and make the political wheels continue to turn. To deal with her issues Germany must take the time to cut loose from the consensus chains and make a decision in the best interest of its future. Immigration is a problem that will not go away without a political fight. A majority of Germans are not happy with how their government manages immigration in their country, although recent research indicates that they are more willing to share public resources with immigrants than other European countries. (Mislan & Sarkisian, 2012, Chapter 3.4) With the doors to the country open, many immigrants from around Europe, the Middle East and Africa have flocked to Germany and a current of anti-foreign sentiment continues to churn while the government does nothing. The one group of immigrants that is garnering the most attention from the Germans is Muslims. They have chosen not to assimilate into the German culture and remain stubborn in their resolve not to. This immigration issue must be dealt with by the German government in order to maintain peace and prosperity in the future.

Not sure if the consensus and collaborative democracy model can make the immigration work for unified Germany and maintain the harmony they have tried so desperately to build. Germany has evolved from the horrors of its past and has polished itself of to be a shining example in the European Union. The consensus model in their political culture is one that both provides stability but also prevents real policy change from occurring because so hard to gain the necessary votes to establish and majority. The government is setup to maintain that stability with 2 congressional houses, the Bundesrat and the Bundestag. The power politically is very much divided among the government, the political parties like the CDU and the SDU, and the Lander or state. The Germany government is not only a shining example but its own worst enemy. The insatiable need for stability and status quo has made the German political culture, boring. Real political policy change is the hardest thing for them to achieve domestically. Their future as a powerful member of the European Union and major power in the West is held delicately in the balance as they attempt to navigate their growing domestic issues such as immigration. Germany has all the ability and want to be a national power, but is scared both politically and nationally to repeat the mistakes of its past. They are always wondering what the rest of the world thinks of them. It is time for their political culture to make the leap and become the type of government that is not only respected abroad but it is nationally respected at home as well. Good luck Germany.

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