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Interview with Dr Rainer Adam, Friedrich Naumann Foundation Regional Director for East and Southeast Europe about German federal election

Libek interview with Dr Rainer Adam, Friedrich Naumann Foundation Regional Director for East and Southeast Europe.
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1. What are the main topics of these federal election in Germany? Are they mostly concerning domestic economic issues or they are dealing also with identity politics, migrant crisis and security?

The Economist has called the German parliamentary election campaign 2017 the most boring in a long time. And indeed when we compare the main slogans of the so-called “people's parties" (Volksparteien) CDU and SPD, one can come to the conclusion that this is the case. The CDU's election manifesto is called “For a Germany in which we live well and which we like" (Fuer ein Deutschland, in dem wir gut und gerne leben). The Economist has called it “vague" and shallow on ideas. In the campaign the CDU stresses traditional themes such as domestic security and the economy.

The SPD's party program bears the title “Time for more justice"(Zeit fuer mehr Gerechtigkeit). Mr Schulz, its main candidate, had selected the theme of “social justice" for his campaign which turned out to be a bad choice. The majority of German voters is by and large not concerned about it: they are concerned about job security, the cost of housing, social transfers, pensions, the costs of the health system.

In a globalized world, international issues have often become national ones. However, foreign policy issues are at the background of most electoral campaign activities. If we exclude debates on the future of Europe, then that is also the case for the current electoral campaign. The current governing coalition parties are playing down identity politics and migration since this would feed the populism of the far left and the far right parties.

The truly interesting question is who will become the third political force behind CDU and SPD. As a liberal I do not find the election campaign boring at all. Just the opposite is true. After an absence from parliamentary representation for four years, it is high time that a liberal voice for freedom be back in the public sphere. Indeed, Germany has suffered from the absence of liberals. Especially themes which would make Germany ready to face the 21st century were not addressed by the grand coalition. Such topics as education, digitalization, modern infrastructure, investments into our common future are at the core of the FDP program. Germany, on the surface doing rather well, suffers because the governing parties have no vision for the future. Ms. Merkel has squandered her chance to prepare Germany for the 21st century. The FDP will put its vision forward to rectify the situation.

2. Not only in Serbia but elsewhere people are more focused on the positions of CDU and SPD. However, election polls suggest that the liberal party FDP will make a major comeback in these elections, with around 10% of popular vote, which would probably be a great sensation in this election. How would you describe the identity of the FDP, the role of leadership and their narrative? What are main reasons for this surge in their popularity?

The election manifesto of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) is titled “Let's think anew" and deals mainly with a liberal vision for a free, progressive, modern, prosperous and peaceful Germany, well embedded in the European Union. After the loss of its legislative representation in 2013 at the national level, the party has reinvented itself through a thorough and comprehensive bottom-up process of informed discussion and deep debate about the future of the party and the future of a liberal voice in German society. The new party leadership did a lot of listening before embarking on the positioning of the party in the political market. Our liberal values are more relevant than ever for the future of German society. Many societal forces have recognized that the absence of the liberal voice at the highest level of national debate, in our federal parliament, came at a high cost to the German people. Liberal strategies to tackle the current political, economic and social challenges of German society were no longer available to the public but urgently needed for the future of an open society.

3. Elections polls also suggest that populist parties such as Die Linke and AfD are losing grounds in electorates. Are these signs that populism can only be a short-term strategy, and not a long-term one?

Both extremist parties are doing rather well. One would assume that parties with such retro-oriented agendas would not find traction with the electorate. This seems not to be the case. Both parties play on the fears of the people, fears of uncertainty and loss in the fast changing first decades of the 21 century. In opinion polls both parties score between 8 and 11 percentage points of the vote. The share of disappointed citizens is larger than one would think, despite the general progress that makes Germany the powerhouse of the European economy, with high per-capita-incomes and living standards, exceptionally good living conditions, a comprehensive social security system, low crime, low corruption, general stability and domestic peace. Their voters see themselves as the losers of globalization and gather behind Die Linke and the AfD. Both parties - as an expression of extreme political positions and populist rhetoric - are about to stay in the political market for the foreseeable future. Of course many disappointed and disillusioned protest voters see in them an opportunity to teach the established parties a lesson. All true democrats have to take Die Linke and the AfD seriously, and should listen to what their voters have to say, what their fears and worries are. These should not be taken lightly. However, what is also clear is that Germany will stay a beacon of stability and moderation in Europe. A large majority of German people hold strong centrist views about politics, and Germany's history has prepared its citizens well for any kind of demagoguery.

4. It is almost certain that the new government will be formed by the coalition around CDU and led by Angela Merkel. However, will it be another "big coalition", with SPD or "small coalition" with FDP and the Greens is hard to tell. But what would be main priorities of the new German government?

This question is hard to answer. Depending on the coalition government we are about to get the new government's main priorities may differ. What seems to be clear is that the next German chancellor will be Ms. Merkel and with her there will not be wild experiments but rather a steady hand and predictable policies. An FDP junior partner could have a positive influence especially as regards domestic reforms to make Germany fit for the digitalization age and prepare the country for an uncertain future. This would certainly mean more investment into the education system, a modernization of our infrastructure, a foreword looking immigration policy, all within the limits of fiscal prudence and with a view of the country's international obligations.

5. It seems that the French president is "on hold" with possible grand political and economic proposals to next German Chancellor regarding potential reform of the European Union. What would be your advice for handling these reforms? Is there any best case scenario for these reforms in that regard? If we assume that the minor partner in government will lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, how would either SPD or FDP approach these proposal?

A prediction in this field is even more difficult than on the domestic side. There are many players at the table and their positions need to be taken into account.

If the current grand coalition would also be the German government of 2017-2021, an SPD led foreign ministry would most certainly continue the current line.

The Economist sees in a so-called Jamaica coalition the best chance for Germany of shaking the country up and preparing it for the future. I am not sure if such a coalition could work. The deep division between a top heavy state-oriented Green party and a Free Democratic vision of a state-independent citizenry seems just too stark.

I am also not sure if a junior coalition partner FDP would lay claim to the foreign ministry. It seems to be more likely that the German liberals will finally embark on new routes regarding the shaping and the allocation of portfolios. What is clear is the FDP's positive attitude towards the EU. The FDP sees the EU as the future for Germany but wants institutional reforms which make the EU more transparent and efficient. This includes a strengthening of the role of the EU parliament, as well as the return to the subsidiarity principle. German liberals want to simplify the European integration process; they want a decentralized and federal EU.

6. Germany is often seen as a role model for our president Vučić. Do you expect any changes after the elections in relations with Serbia? What would be German foreign policy objectives in the Western Balkans in the next couple of years in general?

Again this is difficult to discern. I would assume that not much will be changing in that area of foreign policy. However, the recent policy outlines by Jean-Claude Junker give rise to some optimism as regards the Balkan countries and their relationship with the EU. A German coalition government consisting of conservatives and liberals might certainly insist that the rules as expressed in the acquis communitaire are to be strictly observed.