Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Research Paper on Government

Current government in Germany

It goes without saying that the institutional structure of the German polity was and is an important reason for the lack of reforms everybody seems to complain about in Germany for quite some time. The high number of veto-players whose consent is necessary in order to embark on structural reforms makes it very risky and difficult to venture “bold policy change. (Cohn, 2006) However, to explain the shortcomings of the German government by exclusively pointing to the institutional structure has two flaws: it neglects the fact that the first Schroder cabinet initiated some far-reaching changes between 1998 and 2002 and it plays down the relevance of political programs.

The red-green government can at best partly blame the institutional features of the German polity for its policy failures. Rather, it was the logic of coalition government, party competition as well as the lack of a clear agenda in a number of most important policy areas that defined the performance of the first red-green government. In this perspective it fits very nicely that the red-green coalition made far-reaching decisions in those policy areas for which it had a comparatively clear and well-developed agenda. (Henderson, 2005)


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An analysis of the red-green government has to take these aspects into account. It has to address the questions whether parties and party programs mattered and whether there was a causal nexus between the performance of the last government and the institutional structure of the political system. The aim of this paper is, hence, twofold. First, I will analyze and compare a limited number of policy areas. The outputs in these policy areas were shaped by the logic of party competition and by programmatic platforms rather than by institutional constraints. Second, I will examine whether the institutional structure defined the sort of gridlock that prevented “bold policy change” between 1998 and 2002. (Cohn, 2006)

In those areas that voters conceived as most important in the two last federal elections, the red-green coalition performed poorly. It failed to reduce unemployment substantially and to address the most pressing problems and challenges in social and economic policy. At the end of the term Germany had one of the highest rates of unemployment in Europe and its growth rates tailed most other industrialized nations. Furthermore, in 2002 Germany even violated the criteria of the European Stability and Growth Pact.

However, as just mentioned, the red-green government had in fact initiated some reforms. Among the most prominent are surely the decisions in foreign affairs, for example, about the deployment of troops to Kosovo and the military support for the United States after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Also remarkable were the tax reform, the introduction of an eco tax, increased child benefits, a reform of old-age-protection, the new Industrial Constitution Law (Betriebsver-fassungsgesetz), the new bill on Same Sex Partnership, the reform of the German Law on Citizenship law, and the phasing out of nuclear power plants. (Leadbeater, 2005)

It goes without saying that in many cases these reforms had less effect than previously assumed, and very often they fell short of former promises. Nevertheless, what they at least demand is a closer look in order to substantiate or refute this overall impression of total policy failure of the first red-green government. It is, of course, impossible to present an encompassing and detailed picture of the different policy areas. The following comparison must be selective. It has the goal of making clear the relevance of coalition-government and of programmatic aspects in decision-making for the output of the last government (Schiller, 2005).

The Alliance for Jobs, Training and Competitiveness clearly is part of what has become known as “Old Politics,” which means “preoccupation with economic growth, stable prices, a stable economy, strong military defense and conventional political style.” (Schiller, 2005) “Old Politics” roots in the classical cleavage structure especially between capital and labor as defined by Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan in their path-breaking study about party systems. (Schiller, 2005) “New politics” is, on the other hand, symbolized by the red-green’s ecological policy. “Adherents of the new politics ... demand that ecological imperatives guide economic decisions, that rights to participation and the freedom to realize alternative lifestyles should be extended, and unilateral disarmament be promoted in order to reduce international tensions.” (Cohn, 2006)

New politics has its basis in postmaterialist values and attitudes that have led to social movements and to Green parties in many West European countries. However, what remains difficult to classify is Germany’s foreign policy. Even though many aspects of Germany’s foreign policy seem to belong to new rather than to old politics, Schroder’s security policy in particular was very much shaped and influenced by traditional concepts of “national interests” and a “realist” perspective on international relations. Hence, Germany’s foreign and security policy of the last four years has been a mixture of “new” and “old” politics. (Schiller, 2005)

The three policy areas in question differ significantly in their outputs and in their programmatic platforms. What these three examples have in common, however, is the fact that the institutional structures that very often are regarded as the prime constraints for “bold policy change” only had supportive roles as veto players. Neither cooperative federalism nor judicial review hampered the red-green coalition in a decisive manner in the three selected areas.

At the beginning of the term, the Alliance for Jobs Training and Competitiveness was supposed to be a cornerstone and a major part of the red-green government between 1998 and 2002. In the framework for the Alliance for Jobs, different policies were to be discussed, new ideas developed, and compromises found. The agenda of the alliance reflected these ambitious goals. Already at the first meeting in December 1998, a dozen primary topics were put on its agenda; in later meetings, a few others were added to this list (such as immigration, enlargement of the European Union, women’s issues, and the labor market). However, it soon turned out that the Alliance for Jobs was not the arena in which opposition to the reform of the labor market and the modernization of the economy could be overcome. The alliance also failed to develop new concepts. This was due to a lack of efficient means and competencies, structural deficiencies, and an ambiguous programmatic foundation.

The Alliance for Jobs never possessed the means or the competency to fulfill the aforementioned goals. Even the most important success, the Consensus on Training from June 6, 1999 that included the guarantee that “every young person who is willing and able will be trained” (Henderson, 2005) could only be realized through state support, and temporarily at that. But this institution could not enforce decisions or force compliance on the part of the actors involved in compromises found in the framework of the Alliance for Jobs. In addition, many of the topics agreed upon at the first meeting required parliamentary approval. In these cases, the alliance was more or less just informed, but as an institution it had hardly any influence on the decisions about tax reform, immigration, the reform of codetermination, or the pension scheme. In a nutshell, the Alliance for Jobs neither had the competence for effective decision making nor the agreement’s necessarily lasting and positive effects.

Structurally, the Alliance for Jobs depended on the willingness and the capacities of the parties involved committing themselves to the compromises found in these meetings. However, as it turned out, there were not only conflicts between trade unions and employer organizations, but also among members of these two groups. Neither all employer organizations nor all trade unions supported this institution without reservation. (Leadbeater, 2005) These conflicting attitudes partly reflected organizational traditions, interests, and problems that on the whole might indicate that the interest group system partly has lost its capacity to function as a “node” in the German policy network. Finally, the Alliance for Jobs was based on an ambiguous programmatic foundation. With the Alliance for Jobs, Gerhard Schroder tried to appeal to both the traditionalists and the modernizers in his party. While the form (tripartite institutionalized talks) seemed to fit perfectly well with the social democratic tradition, the main goal was nevertheless to modernize the economy on neo-liberal terms.

In contrast to the labor market policy and the Alliance for Jobs, the ecological policy of the first red-green government has been characterized as one of the “few success stories” of the red-green government. (Schiller, 2005) In fact, even though some might regard this as an exaggeration, the red-green government has at least partly fulfilled promises made during the election campaign and the coalition agreement. According to Kern/Koenen, several decisions constituted a radical change in this policy field: the phasing out of nuclear energy and the introduction of eco-taxes, while others were mostly failures. (Schiller, 2005)

With the phasing out of the nuclear energy, the Greens fulfilled a longstanding demand and a promise the party gave during the election campaign. It should be remembered that in the 1980s some social scientists claimed that this kind of decision was impossible, that there could be no reversal as far as nuclear power plants were concerned, and that this would be a good enough reason to deny the political majority the right to build nuclear power plants in the first place. (Cohn, 2006) Even though in an international comparison the decision looks less far reaching, in Germany the phasing-out of nuclear power plants surely was important for the Greens. It was based on an agreement between the government and the electric companies from June 2001. The bill approved by the cabinet in September 2001 put this agreement into practice. The Bundestag finally adopted the bill in January 2002.

An approval of the Bundesrat was not necessary. The basic points of this policy change were that no new power plants would receive a permit and that the existing power plants would be shut down by about 2020 (if certain conditions were fulfilled). Even though this can be regarded as a sort of “bold policy change,” since it brings to a close an industry that was held to last forever, the final decision has been watered down, especially by the SPD. The longterm perspective especially and the possibility to shift nuclear power sources from one plant to another, which gives reason to believe that the last plant will exist far longer than assumed, originate in pressures from the SPD. (Schiller, 2005)

Similarly, the decision about the introduction of an eco-tax rate was regarded as part of the ecological modernization of the German economy. The basic idea was to make certain resources more expensive (especially fossil fuels and electricity) and to finance the pension fund with these taxes in order to reduce or limit the contributions of the employees and the employers to this branch of the social security system. (Schiller, 2005) All in all, this reform was to save energy, reduce pollution, and restructure the German economy. In addition, the funding of the pension fund by taxes tends to transform the social insurance system towards a more liberal, tax-based model.

Again, even though the increases seemed modest, they symbolized a reorientation in the energy policy. But these measures were discussed controversially in the government and between the coalition partners as well. Due to the lobbying of different industries, some significant exceptions were included in the bill (especially for industries that consume non-renewable energy sources on a large scale, such as the coal industry). Schroder, the famous “car man,” opposed more far-reaching changes. Thus, it was again the Greens who had to make substantial concessions. (Henderson, 2005)

Neither the Greens nor the SPD had a clearly defined agenda in foreign policy when taking office in 1998. The election campaign in 1998 was dominated by domestic issues, and neither the SPD nor the Green party had a program to deal with upcoming questions concerning international politics. Schroder was a known euroskeptic, and Joschka Fischer, the future foreign minister, delivered only vague messages about foreign policy during the campaign. Nevertheless, it was probably in this area that the red-green government made the most important decisions that resulted in a “paradigm shift” in Germany’s foreign policy. (Leadbeater, 2005)

These changes contrast with the rather vague and unspecific program. And it fits perfectly well with this image that the new government had to make its first far-reaching decision in this field even before it officially took office on October 27, 1998. On October 12, 1998, the old and the new government had jointly to decide, on the request of the Clinton administration “within fifteen minutes,” whether Germany would participate in military actions in Yugoslavia, even if there would be no mandate from the United Nations. (Schiller, 2005) Whatever the hopes and fears of the SPD and the Greens might have been at that time, the decision to play an active role in this military strategy and the famous Vorratsbeschluss by the old Bundestag on October 16, 1998 was the beginning of a new era in Germany’s foreign and security policy.

For the first time since 1949, Germany had decided to participate in a military action that was motivated by political aims and not for reasons of self-defense. (Schiller, 2005) Even though this decision did not come out of the blue, it surely marks a break in German postwar foreign policy. It was followed by other changes that no one would have conceived as possible a mere few years earlier. In April 1999 the Federal Government accepted the New Strategic Concept of the NATO that gave the alliance the right for out-of-area interventions. This new strategy, which many thought could transform the alliance into an interventionist institution, had to have ramifications for the German army.

The former exclusive orientation towards self-defense no longer fit with the new concept. As a consequence, the (German army also had to be restructured in order to comply with these new parameters. The strains that put these changes on the coalition and the ruling parties became more apparent when the government failed to muster its own majority for its decision to deploy troops to Macedonia in August 2001. Only 267 members of the SPD and 38 from the Greens voted in favor of Germany’s participation in this UN mission. (Cohn, 2006) The events took an even more dramatic turn for the decision regarding the participation of Germany in the war on Afghanistan when the chancellor linked this decision with a vote of confidence in order to secure a majority for the motion of the government. This, of course, raised the stakes, because a defeat for the government in this decision would have meant the end of the coalition, the dissolution of parliament, and eventually new elections.

Once again, neither the Bundesrat nor the Federal Constitutional Court, which rejected the PDS complaint against the New NATO Strategy, put any restraints on the government in foreign policy. Traditionally an area where the executive had to have more prerogatives for action, foreign policy experienced a major shift in this period. In addition, foreign policy was driven by external developments rather than shaped by a clear and well-defined agenda.

Some important positions even were developed on a sort of ad hoc basis. The refusal of Gerhard Schroder to support the United States in a war against Iraq, even if there were a UN Security Council resolution, was clearly very new. Similarly, Schroder not only showed an ahistorical approach to foreign policy, and it sure was not pure chance that he emphasized a new “German way.” But nevertheless, all this demonstrates that, in this policy field as well, important changes were possible that might even challenge the qualification of Germany as a semi-sovereign and “tamed” power.” (Henderson, 2005)

The tax reform, very much opposed by the FDP and the CDU in the Bundestag, found the support of Berlin, Bremen, Brandenburg, and Rhineland Palatinate in the Bundesrat, all states in which either the CDU or the FDP participated in the government. (51) Sabine Kropp reports that these governments were promised “considerable financial resources to improve their infrastructure” (Leadbeater, 2005) in exchange for their approval. Similar negotiations took place when the government tried to privatize parts of the pension insurance. Again, the mixed governments in Bremen, Berlin, Brandenburg, and Rhineland Palatinate were targets for package deals. For their approval, they were promised different side-payments. The SPD/PDS coalition in Mecklenburg West Pomerania was even at the brink of breaking up over this decision, because Harald Ringstorff, the state’s minister president, had cast his votes in favor of the bill, while the coalition originally had agreed to abstain. (Leadbeater, 2005)

Even if one admits that the performance of the first red-green government was comparatively weak, it can hardly be denied that some changes occurred, and it can well be argued that in foreign policy a “paradigm shift” took place. (Cohn, 2006) Maybe these changes were not enough to deal with the social and economic problems and challenges the government faced between 1998 and 2002, especially in terms of the domestic agenda. But it should be noted that up until very recently, few would have thought it possible that Germany could phase-out nuclear energy plants or participate in military actions without a UN mandate outside of German territory. It is only fitting with these changes that, at the end of his first term, Chancellor Schroder defied a decision of the United States for the first time since 1949 and that he did this by mobilizing nationalist sentiments.

Whether one approves of these changes or not, they were not (or only marginally) restrained by the often-quoted institutional structures. The three policy fields examined in more detail show that other aspects were more important. Ecological and foreign policies were limited by the constraints of coalition government. But, in both policy areas, Schroder could also demonstrate that the German chancellor democracy provided him with some influential means to put through his policies, especially when the smaller party had no strategic option.

The poor performance of the Alliance for Jobs was due to the fact that the government had no clear concept for solving the problems of the labor market. Thus, all in all, Habermas’s skepticism regarding the performance of the red-green government was justified. Even though the last red-green government could claim to have embarked on some reforms (and in some areas it even was able to make some important changes), it was never able to define the content of its ecological and social modernization. In short, it lacked an overall project and a long-term perspective, which is necessary to make a difference.
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