What do red socks have to do with Germany’s election?

A curious trend swept Germany in 1994 - red socks began appearing in windows and on posters. Twenty-seven years on, the sartorial gimmick is once again making headlines in the Bundesrepublik.

What do red socks have to do with Germany's election?
CDU Secretary General Peter Hintze with a 1994 'on to the future... but not with red socks on' election poster in 1994. Photo:picture-alliance / dpa | Martin_Gerten.

The peculiar scene has less to do with fashionistas than politicians. Then, as now, the red socks were a campaign strategy deployed by Chancellor Angela
Merkel’s CDU party as a warning to voters lurching to the left in upcoming elections.

“Return of the red socks”, “red socks campaign 2.0”, German media has blasted in recent days, harking back to a campaign strategy inspired by the derisory term in the former East Germany for particularly unpleasant communist party members.

The CDU used it in 1994 to warn against letting the far-left PDS into parliament. And it is now being repeated to stir up fears against voting in a leftist government.

Polls show that Merkel’s conservative centre-right CDU-CSU alliance is set to lose against the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) for the first time in 16 years.

READ ALSO: What an SPD-led coalition could. mean for foreigners in Germany

Red stockings with a chocolate Santa during a meeting for the Left Party in Güstrow (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania)in 2014. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

The SPD’s leading candidate, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, is now in pole position for her crown.

A win would potentially usher in the first SPD-led government since the party under Gerhard Schröder lost by a whisker in 2005 to Merkel’s conservatives.

It would also open up a myriad of constellations for which coalition might govern for the next four years — including one which could include left-wing extremists, according to Merkel’s party.

READ ALSO: What do Germany’s small parties stand for – and could they form part of the next coalition?

Red herring?

Heirs of ex-East Germany’s communist party, the far-left Linke, with its anti-NATO stance and staunch opposition to military deployments abroad, was once dismissed as a fringe party.

But now, not a day goes by without a CDU-CSU heavyweight warning against letting the Linke in through the backdoor if voters pick Scholz.

At a key debate on Sunday, the conservatives’ pick to succeed Merkel, Armin Laschet, accused Scholz of being “dishonest” with voters over the issue, saying the SPD candidate harboured secret plans to form a coalition with the Linke.

The radical-left party is also eyeing a spot in the next government as part of a three-way combination that also includes the ecologist Greens.

But Linke’s leader Dietmar Bartsch said his party was the natural partner for the SPD, rather than the liberal FDP, the other possible coalition partner.

The only question is whether the SPD “really wants to implement its campaign programme,” Bartsch said.

On domestic matters – be it climate change, immigration or social policies – the SPD and Greens have more in common with the Linke than with the FDP.

Yet the Linke’s foreign policy stance has always made it a pariah for mainstream parties at the federal level.

Scholz’s refusal to rule it out as a potential SPD coalition partner has only fuelled speculation.

But analysts say there is little chance of the Linke making it into a coalition.

Political analyst Gero Neugebauer told AFP that the threat was being drummed up by the CDU-CSU “in order to mobilise its supporters”.

He said that Scholz’s refusal to voice a clear stance on the Linke was tactical posturing ahead of post-election coalition negotiations.

Scholz’s “official silence also serves as pressure on the FDP, which wants absolutely to govern,” said Neugebauer.

Die Linke’s top candidate Janine Wissler at a press conference in Berlin recently. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm


Scholz, who is also Merkel’s vice-chancellor, is no left-wing firebrand.

The 63-year-old stems from the tradition of SPD chancellors like Helmut Schmidt or Schroeder who are more centrist than their party, said Paul Nolte Berlin’s Free University.

“I expect from a government under a chancellor Scholz the continuity that has always been part of changes of governments in this country. This applies to foreign, European and security policies,” he told AFP.

The SPD has already been taking the lead on social policy in repeated coalitions with Merkel.

And on Germany’s purse strings, Scholz has said that Berlin must return to budgetary rigour in 2023 after unleashing a trillion-euro bazooka to ward off coronavirus pandemic damage to the economy.

Any major changes, said Nolte, could instead come in climate and transport policies.

Nevertheless, Scholz will likely seek to present a new departure from Merkel’s right-left grand coalitions.

“They will certainly want to show how their new agenda is different from these previous coalitions,” said political scientist Tarik Abou-Chadi at Oxford University’s Nuffield College.

By Hui Min NEO

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Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler


Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.