Sunday, August 14

These are the German democratic challenges that political parties have not discussed | View

The rest of Europe eagerly awaits the outcome of the German federal elections on September 26, as they are important for the future politics of the entire continent.

This was a strange campaign by German standards. Even perennial domestic issues such as integration, street safety and education were sidelined by discussions about the personalities of the top candidates and the response to the pandemic. It is disappointing to note that both politicians and experts have paid little attention to the state of democracy in Germany. And yet possible sources of internal dissatisfaction in Germany could fuel anti-democratic forces at home and abroad.

High turnout and a fair campaign will reconfirm the robustness of the German electoral process. Despite possible domestic and foreign interference, there is little doubt about the integrity and legitimacy of these elections. However, there is growing concern that Germany’s democracy is no longer future proof.

All the major political parties have pledged to strengthen democracy at home, on paper. In practice, only the Greens’ manifesto mentions the reform of what many living in Germany now see as a disconnected system, and even this stated commitment reads like campaign rhetoric when considering the concessions they would be expected to make in the event. of them becoming minority partners in government.

Furthermore, other parties appear to be quite content with the status quo of the current democratic structure despite all its shortcomings.

Enigma of political participation and citizenship

The next legislature could be a good time for courageous leadership and reform, in the face of great challenges.

First, during the term of the next parliament, approximately 1 in 5 people of voting age residing in Germany will be de facto totally or partially excluded from the electoral system. As surprising as this statistic may sound, the calculation is simple. In 2020, 11.4 million people o 13.7% of the total population residing in Germany did not have German citizenship. Add to this the fact that Germany will require between 200,000 and 400,000 new workers per year until 2060 to maintain its productivity and pension system.

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With the proportion of non-German citizens residing in Germany growing at a rapid pace, Germany will soon have three-tier citizenship: German citizens – as full voters, other EU citizens – as partial voters and third-country nationals – of course. voting citizens. Left unaddressed, the continued underrepresentation of such a significant proportion of law-abiding and tax-paying non-citizens could become a democratic time bomb.

Tackled head-on in the next legislature, Germany could serve as an example of how to solve the conundrum of political participation and citizenship.

Germany can take modest pride in the efforts made to diversify its political class. Still, the second and third generation Germans with foreign-born parents and grandparents have had to work their way through the ranks of the major parties.

Current German legislation on citizenship and naturalization, and even more so, the extensive representation rights granted to EU citizens, are part of the problem.

Considering such a significant part of the population only from an economic perspective and waiting for the first generation to be patient for decades so that their children can access those rights is dangerous. A political debate about the alternatives to the citizenship binary or neither is long overdue.

One approach could be to extend certain political rights to fellow EU citizens with permanent residence, who do not have the need or the intention to apply for German citizenship, but who will remain in the country for the long term. Extending the mandates of migration councils and giving them real access and influence over the ability to contribute to the political agenda, even if the electoral districts they represent cannot vote, could be another.

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Finally, the naturalization process can be simplified and expedited. the Council of Experts on Integration and Migration (SVR), an advisory body, has just recommended reducing the period from 8 to 4 years and removing many obstacles. Compared to the rest of Europe, the proportion of foreigners applying for naturalization is relatively low in Germany, ranking fifth from the bottom only above Denmark, Austria, Slovakia and Lithuania.

East-West Division

Second, German democracy will never progress if it cannot overcome its 32-year East-West divide.

The mainstream politics may complain about declining membership in the former West Germany, but it has never managed to carve a real niche for itself in the “new Laenders.” Since the two most popular parties in the eastern states, Die Linke (The Left) and Alternative fur Deutschland, will not be part of any ruling coalition anytime soon, citizens of the East will continue to resent their sense of being a second. class citizens.

Political scientists in Germany and elsewhere have shown that political parties are no longer seen as the only vehicles for citizen participation, even in the West, although no other form of representation has replaced them. It is true that there is no shortage of grassroots informal citizen participation.

There is only one clear example of a government that has introduced a special minister of citizen participation and civil society– the green government in the state of Baden Württemberg. Therefore, the new German government should be concerned with immediately testing alternative methods to engage citizens with a focus on the East.

Promote innovations in democracy such as citizens’ assemblies, introduce special agencies for citizenship outreach, introduce a second chamber of the local assembly by lottery (as in Eupen, the capital of the German-speaking region of Belgium), as well as a significant boost en The financing of the “Demokratie leben program” and the institutionalization of this financing plan through a Law for the Promotion of Democracy should be a priority.

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Civil and political society

A third challenge, and no less dramatic, is Germany’s outdated definition of politics, which basically only sees political action as possible and legitimate within the triangle of political parties / government, business and trade unions. But civil society has grown and advanced in stark contradiction to the outdated laws that regulate it.

The fact that an official of a local tax office has the power to grant or rescind the vital charity status of organizations if they consider that the work of an organization is ‘political’ is not only arbitrary, it is harmful. While both in their coalition contract and in their election programs, the CDU / CSU and the SPD demonstrate concern over state enforcement of the rules, the core of the problem is an outdated conceptualization of politics. The Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (GFF) has drafted a law that can satisfy conservatives’ appetite for control and oversight, but also gives civil society organizations room to operate without fear of repercussions.

The list of challenges doesn’t end here. The question also persists of how to balance freedom of expression and decrease the rise in hate crimes, the AfD, and discussions about reforming the electoral model. The challenges described above may be less prominent than the perennial ones, but they are no less fundamental.

The coalition that ends up ruling Germany for the next four years will neglect these issues to the detriment of the political system, the cohesion of society and its own political relevance.

Goran Buldioski is the director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe.

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