Go to contents

[Opinion] Germany’s “Anxious” Elections

Posted September. 22, 2005 23:04,   


The German word "zukunftsangst" means “fear of the future.”

The German weekly magazine Der Spiegel summarized the overall feelings of voters toward the general election held in Germany on September 18 with this word.

With unemployment rates reaching 11.6 percent, the highest rate since World War II, Germans live in fear of not knowing when they will lose their job, so they are reluctant to spend their money, even if they have it. Will the economy improve? Fearing the spreading of fear, is one the stages of collective nervous breakdown. With a single party failing to win majority, the results of the election resulted in a jumbled coalition government.

Mainz University Political Scientist Jurgen Poulter described the mindset of Germans as “wash me without getting me wet.” People know that they need reform by loosening the rigidity of employment and reducing excessive welfare benefits in order to improve national competitiveness. This was proved when the conservative opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union, led by Angela Merkel, became the biggest party, and by the pro-corporation Free Democratic Party also gaining seats.

However, the people are still afraid of reforms. That is why the ruling Social Democrats are only behind by three seats. The media strategy by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that warned, “If Merkel becomes chancellor, social justice will disappear” seems to have succeeded.

What is sure, however, is that no matter who becomes chancellor, ultimately they will all have to move in the same direction. The economic pledges made by Merkel and Chancellor Schroeder are surprisingly similar. They focus on improving corporate competitive power and revitalizing the market. The difference is that one has bold frontal approach while the latter approaches it in a gradual, roundabout way. Nevertheless, this is a big difference.

It is reported that 36 percent of the German population prefer a coalition of the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, but if this actually happens, some worry that Merkel will become like a guest trapped in a hotel elevator. That is because she won’t be able to pursue her reform policies the way she wants because she won’t have a strong government behind her.

With 190 billion Euros in tax revenues, 80 billion Euros in pension costs, 30 billion Euros in unemployment allowance costs, and 40 billion Euros used to pay interest on the national debt, continuing such excessive welfare programs is the same as committing national suicide. How many more anxious days do the Germans need to spend before accepting reform wholeheartedly?

Kim Soon-deok, Editorial Writer, yuri@donga.com