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AFGHANISTAN

Germany’s election campaign to nowhere

A government car scandal, an industrial policy paper no one wants to accept responsibility for and plenty of noise: Katharina Schuler from Zeit Online believes German voters deserve a better election campaign.

Germany's election campaign to nowhere
Photo: DPA

It’s been just over a week since the Social Democratic Party’s chancellor candidate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, arrived at the government’s briefing room in Berlin to explain to the gathered national press corps exactly how he would run his election campaign.

The people, Steinmeier lectured, have greater expectations this year than politicians. In light of the worst economic collapse in the country’s post-war history, a “casting show” would simply be wrong. Instead, he promised the centre-left SPD would lead a broad “campaign with ambitious goals.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel from the rival conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) essentially agrees with that assessment. During a party gathering several months ago, she warned against the false belief that politicians could rely on their old electioneering habits. This time around, voters expected more.

But anyone watching the current political debate in Germany with those words in mind must be pinching themselves. Can this be real?

Instead of jumping on health care, the CDU and pro-business FDP are – to name just one example – focusing on the so-called government car scandal, which has now spawned a sequel. Since they couldn’t prove Health Minister Ulla Schmidt – from the SPD – did something wrong by taking her government-issued sedan with her on a Spanish vacation this summer, they’re now taking a look at her trips in previous years. Whether the investigations yield anything of substance is irrelevant.

So the minister is the focus, not her policies. The SPD’s chancellor candidate even has to explain why he’s keeping Schmidt in his team of campaign experts rather than discuss policy issues.

At the same time, the Social Democrats have presented a serious campaign platform with their “Plan for Germany” but since nobody’s interested, SPD boss Franz Müntefering has to resort to polarising rhetoric. “Merkel doesn’t care about the unemployed,” he spews, revealing just how desperate the Social Democrats have now become. After all, not even he would believe that Merkel doesn’t have time for the unemployed.

The CDU reacts with feigned outrage while giggling behind closed doors. Nothing could be better for the chancellor, who is widely popular, more than such baseless and empty attacks.

But when it comes to substance, it’s especially Merkel’s conservatives who would rather take cover. If there was ever need of proof for this theory, Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg just provided it. When a detailed industrial policy paper – developed in his own ministry – recently became public, he immediately distanced himself from it. He did so despite the fact many of its main points are part of the official CDU campaign platform.

And every time someone tries to start a serious debate – such as Germany’s role in Afghanistan – it’s not one of the leading opposition politicians or someone in the current government. No, it’s up to a political pensioner like Volker Rühe, a former Christian Democratic defence minister.

To be fair, it has to be said that the blame for his dud of a campaign doesn’t just lie with the political parties. The media is also playing its part by economically dividing its attention to the often irresponsible tone and irrelevant spats.

This when there are plenty of important campaign issues. The Afghanistan deployment, for example, is something the parties need to discuss with and explain to their voters. Or nuclear energy policies, a fundamental question that will have a great affect on the country for years to come. And above all, the future of the social security net. Here the parties’ visions have never been blurrier. There are other issues – like how to deal with the internet – that have only recently been added to the agenda and spark great interest. They should be acknowledged by the government. And the list could easily be lengthened.

Anyone that doesn’t want to keep voters away from the ballot box on September 27 and has an interest in preventing them from joining joke parties should at least make an effort to deliver on the promise of a serious campaign. The five main parties still have 40 days to prove that they’re electable.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Zeit Online, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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ENERGY

German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

With Russia's invasion in Ukraine exacerbating high energy and petrol prices, Germany is set to introduce a second relief package to limit the impact on consumers.

German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

The additional package of measures was announced by Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Sunday.

Speaking to DPA, Habeck said the wave of price increases throughout the energy sector were becoming increasingly difficult for households to bear.

“Extremely high heating costs, extremely high electricity prices, and extremely high fuel prices are putting a strain on households, and the lower the income, the more so,” he said. “The German government will therefore launch another relief package.”

The costs of heating and electricity have hit record highs in the past few months due to post-pandemic supply issues. 

This dramatic rise in prices has already prompted the government to introduce a range of measures to ease the burden on households, including abolishing the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) levy earlier than planned, offering grants to low-income households and increasing the commuter allowance. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

But since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on February 24th, the attack has been driving up energy prices further, Habeck explained.

He added that fears of supply shortages and speculation on the market were currently making the situation worse. 

How will the package work?

When defining the new relief measures, the Economics Ministry will use three criteria, Habeck revealed. 

Firstly, the measures must span all areas of the energy market, including heating costs, electricity and mobility. 

Heating is the area where households are under the most pressure. The ministry estimates that the gas bill for an average family in an unrenovated one-family house will rise by about €2,000 this year. 

Secondly, the package should include measures to help save energy, such as reducing car emissions or replacing gas heating systems.

Thirdly, market-based incentives should be used to ensure that people who use less energy also have lower costs. 

“The government will now put together the entire package quickly and constructively in a working process,” said Habeck.

Fuel subsidy

The three-point plan outlined by the Green Party politician are not the only relief proposals being considered by the government.

According to reports in German daily Bild, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FPD) is allegedly considering introducing a state fuel subsidy for car drivers.

The amount of the subsidy – which hasn’t yet been defined – would be deducted from a driver’s bill when paying at the petrol station. 

The operator of the petrol station would then have to submit the receipts to the tax authorities later in order to claim the money back. 

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, fuel prices have risen dramatically in Germany: diesel has gone up by around 66 cents per litre, while a litre of E10 has gone up by around 45 cents.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The everyday products getting more expensive in Germany

As well as support for consumers, the government is currently working on a credit assistance programme to assist German companies that have been hit hard by the EU sanctions against Russia.

As reported by Bild on Saturday, bridging aid is also being discussed for companies that can no longer manage the sharp rise in raw material prices.

In addition, an extension of the shorter working hours (Kurzarbeit) scheme beyond June 30th is allegedly being examined, as well as a further increase in the commuter allowance.

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