Election 2021: What an SPD-led coalition could mean for foreigners in Germany
With the Social Democratic Party winning the election by a narrow margin, Germany could be set for an SPD-led coalition. But what might that mean for internationals? We take a look.
There's been a great deal of hubbub in the German press about the potential for an SPD-led coalition after the election.
With the final results putting the SPD on 25.7 percent and the CDU/CSU on 24.1 percent, the conservatives' current junior coalition partner is now the largest party in German politics.
While the German system means that they won't necessarily enter government after this - they have the unenviable task of forming a majority with other parties first - an SPD-led coalition is a genuine possibility after polling day.
So, what do the Social Democrats actually stand for? And how would a win for them change life for immigrants in Germany? Here's what they say in their 2021 manifesto.
The potential to become German?
The right to hold dual nationality is a huge issue for so many immigrants in Germany - whether first generation, second or third. As the CDU's coalition partner, the SPD pushed to change the outmoded "right of heritage" citizenship system to a more progressive "right of birth", meaning that all children born here have the right to hold German citizenship - regardless of whether their parents are German.
Now, in its 2021 manifesto, the party says it wants to "enshrine a universal right to hold multiple nationalities in law", while also reducing the number of years a foreigner needs to wait before applying for citizenship.
Of course, this issue could get lost in coalition talks, especially if the SPD opts for (yet another) coalition with the Union (CDU/CSU). But with its other potential coalition partners - the Greens, Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Left - positively inclined towards dual nationality in one way or another, this change would certainly stand a chance in most forms of SPD-led coalition.
- EXPLAINED: Where do Germany’s political parties stand on dual nationalities and citizenship?
- Could Germany change its dual citizenship laws?
A culture of 'respect' - and the need for 'integration'
'Respect' is undoubtedly the keyword for the SPD's manifesto, which bears the title, "Out of respect for your future" and mentions it more than 30 times within its pages. This includes better conditions for low-earners, legislation to enforce the same pay for the same work for women and men, and, of course, respect for immigrants and people with different migration backgrounds.
A "culture of respect", according to the SPD, "is consistently against any form of discrimination, regardless of whether it is about social origin, gender, migration biography, religion, disability or sexual orientation."
Under the key word "respect", the SPD has put forward proposals to strengthen anti-discrimination and equality law. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp Schulze
In concrete terms, the SPD wants to support the work of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency and update its equality legislation. But it also expects immigrants to play their part, too, and take up the option of state-financed language and integrations courses in order to fit in with the German way of life.
For their part, the SPD says it would ensure access to these services from "day one", as well as working to improve access to Kita spots for all children - something that has long been an issue for new parents.
Recognition of foreign qualifications
This is another biggie: in its section on 'Zusammen Leben' (living together), the SPD dedicates a paragraph or so to the discussion of jobs. As we saw in the aftermath of Brexit, third-country migrants in Germany face major hurdles in getting their professional qualifications recognised in Germany, meaning some lawyers, accountants, master bakers, etc., are unable to prove their competence in their field without jumping through numerous hoops.
The SPD says it wants to ensure that foreign qualifications are recognised in Germany, though details of how this would be done are thin on the ground at the moment. It also wants to end discriminatory selection policies for work in the public sector. At present, a number of public-sector roles (at state universities, for example) are EU-only jobs, meaning highly qualified non-EU people are shut out from applying for them. According to the SPD's manifesto, this would end if they were in power.
National rent 'moratorium'
In light of spiking rents across the country, the SPD want to introduce a 'moratorium' on rents for an unspecified period of time. This would mean that landlords can only raise rents in line with inflation, which at the moment is hovering around the four percent mark.
They also want to tighten up the 'rent mirror' (Mietenspiegel) and standardise it nationally to ensure that rents are linked to the size, facilities and quality of accommodation.
The SPD want to introduce a "rent moratorium" to get control of Germany's spiralling rents. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau
The Mietpreisbremse (or rent controls) also get a mention in the national party's manifesto. "We will also remove the time limit on rent controls and close loopholes," the party states. They do stop short of advocating a national rent cap though - though this was a key policy of the red-red-green (SPD, Green and Left) coalition in Berlin.
Even without rent caps, all of the above could be a major sticking point with the pro-business FDP - if they enter into coalition talks. The FDP is fundamentally against any interference of the state within the housing market.
In an addition to the various state regulations, the SPD also promise to built 400,000 new homes each year, a quarter of which would be social housing.
A €12 minimum wage
To ensure that everyone can save for a pension, the SPD wants to hike up the German minimum wage by around two euros, taking the so-called Mindestlohn up to €12 an hour. This is an ambition it shares with the Greens, so in most forms of SPD-Green coalition it seems likely to become a reality.
Lower taxes for lower- and middle-incomes
"There's no leeway for lower taxes for the rich," SPD chancellor candidate Scholz declared in an interview on 'Klartext' on Tuesday. But according to the SPD's manifesto, this isn't the case for the lower earners. In their 2021 manifesto, the SPD promise to "lower taxes for the majority".
"We will carry out an income tax reform that improves small and medium incomes, strengthens purchasing power and, in return, makes the top five percent pay more for the financing of important public tasks," they say.
The SPD want to raise taxes on the top-earners to pay for tax relief on low- and middle-incomes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow
Will this be a sticking point with the Free Democrats, i.e. the party of "lower taxes", in any coalition agreement? Oddly enough, it just might be. While the liberals are keen for lower taxes across the board, the bulk of their tax relief initiatives would be for high-earners and businesses, so Scholz's reluctance to offer tax cuts for this group could ruffle a few liberal feathers, to say the least. But at least the Greens would be on board - and the Left, will their proposed "wealth tax", are likely to be too.
A simpler (and possibly cheaper) type of health insurance
In 2020, government statistics revealed that an estimated 80,000 people in Germany were living without any form of health insurance - even though people living here are required by law to have it.
The SPD say they want to close this gap and end the 'two-class' healthcare system by switching from the current public/private insurance model to single-payer healthcare, or Bürgerversicherung. This would mean that, rather than everyone being in essence responsible for their own healthcare insurance and costs, everyone would pay a certain amount into the system to ensure that healthcare is provided for everyone else - kind of like the UK's National Insurance system.
The major difference would be that you couldn't opt out of paying this insurance by simply going private, and that people who sometimes fall through the cracks of the German system - like non-working parents or other people without an income or benefits, would also have access to healthcare.
The SPD believes single-payer healthcare could make Germany's insurance system far more equal. Photo: picture alliance / Maurizio Gambarini/dpa | Maurizio Gambarini
There seems to be some suggestion that the self-employed - who currently pay eye-wateringly high amounts for their health insurance as they have to cover the employer's contribution too - would have a slightly easier time of it under this system, perhaps because everyone would pay the same proportion of their income towards the insurance.
"We have already reduced the minimum health insurance contributions for self-employed by more than half," the SPD say. "Our goal is to have income-related contributions like those for dependent employees."
This sort of thing could, however, be a red-line for the Free Democratic Party in any coalition agreement with the SPD. FDP leader Christian Lindner has been clear that his party won't support any lurch to the left in German politics - and for them, shutting out the private health insurance is bound to be seen as just that. However, the Greens and the Left party would certainly be in favour of it, so watch this space.
More support for the start-ups and the self-employed
Here's where things could get a little simpler in coalition talks with the other parties - including the pro-business FDP. The SPD describe start-ups as "important growth engines for the economy" and say they want to turn Germany into the "start-up capital of Europe" by introducing easier access to capital and state-funding, offering organisational support through agencies, and fostering a "culture of second changes" through chances to bankruptcy law.
For freelancers and solo-entrepreneurs, a new type of insurance would ensure that they were covered during difficult times through the job centre - a bit like jobseekers' allowance for the unemployed. They would also be integrated in the pension system step by step, while the social insurance for artists would be expanded to cover a wider range of self-employed individuals.
Lots of foreigners in Germany work in startups, especially in cities like Berlin, Munich and Cologne.
Replacing the 'Hartz IV' unemployment benefit
It may have been an SPD-led coalition (and, indeed, SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz's former idol, Gerhard Schröder) that got the ball rolling with the unemployment reforms back in 2002, but if the Social Democrats get into power this time around, the controversial Hartz IV unemployment benefit or Arbeitslosengeld II - would be for the chop.
Goodbye to all that: the social security reforms that were kick-started in Gerhart Schröder's day could be scrapped under a new SPD government. Photo: picture alliance / Christian Charisius/dpa | Christian Charisius
Does this mean anything other than a rebrand? Yes and no. The SPD say they want to switch to a benefits system based on encouragement rather than sanctions, which would give people the spare money they need to buy a washing machine or a winter jacket rather than just covering basic living costs, and which would involve offer bonuses in return for people undertaking further training with the aim of finding a job.
Rather than bearing the name of Volkswagen's old personnel manager Peter Hartz, who originally spearheaded the reforms, the SPD also have a socially minded new name to replace it: Bürgergeld. (Which translates at 'citizens' fund', not money for burgers - though presumably you can use it for that too.)
Pension age (and rate) remains the same
According to the SPD's manifesto, the current minimum pension of 48 percent of prior income would remain the same - and the pension age will remain the same, as they say they don't plan to raise the retirement age. (The current Union-SPD government is raising this to 67 by 2029 - so presumably this would stay in place.) As mentioned, self-employed people would also stand a better chance of getting into the system and covering themselves for old age, too.
Free bus and train travel for children
Just what it says on the tin: parents would be encouraged to take their brood on public transport rather than by car with free travel for children, while train travel in general would be cheaper than it is now. (Though how much cheaper - and how this will be paid for - is unclear.)
Kids go free? The SPD wants to introduce free public transport for littl'uns. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lisa Ducret
The SPD also want to support the car industry by promoting the development of e-cars. Speed junkies may be disappointed, however, as there'd be a 130km-per-hour (80mph) speed limit on the autobahn in order to reduce emissions. Whilst the Greens and Left are in favour of this, the CDU/CSU and FDP are dead-set against it, so it all depends on which constellation gets a majority.
But first - coalition struggles
Anyone who's seen elections come and go will know that the utopian vision set out in parties' election manifestos doesn't always come to pass after polling day. That's even more the case in Germany, where coalition agreements see manifestos chopped up and repurposed in the aim of compromise every single time.
So, it all depends on what coalition the SPD manage to form. While finding common ground with the Greens (and to some extent the Left) could be relatively plain-sailing, a coalition with either the CDU/CSU or FDP would pose greater issues.
To see what coalitions might be possible after election day, check out our analysis of the polls and potential partnerships here: