special report on Germany
Steady as she goes
Angela Merkel and the art of the possible
Mar 11th 2010 | From The Economist print edition
Merkel and Westerwelle give it a whirl
IT IS hard to think of another big country where a recent election was such a non-event. Both America and Japan responded to the economic crisis by electing governments of a different colour, and Britain may do the same in a few months’ time. In Germany, after a flaccid campaign last September, voters made a judicious adjustment. Angela Merkel was re-elected as chancellor but the grand coalition she had been heading did not survive. Her conservative union—the CDU plus its Bavarian sibling, the Christian Social Union (CSU)—acquired a new coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party.
The result was both an endorsement and a rebuke. Voters rewarded Mrs Merkel for her deft handling of the economic crisis. Polls show that Germans’ trust in government rose during the crisis. Yet turnout in the election was a record low of 71%, and the two big parties that have dominated post-war politics were humiliated. The SPD’s 23% of the vote was a disaster, and the CDU and CSU’s combined 34% was their worst result in 50 years. Only the strong showing of the FDP, which won a record 15% of the vote, spared Mrs Merkel from having to continue a grand coalition that her party did not want.
Guido Westerwelle, the FDP’s leader and now Germany’s foreign minister, proclaims that the election result will bring about a “spiritual-political transformation”. His party is Germany’s most forthright defender of free enterprise and a smallish state. It returned to power after 11 years in opposition by promising to slash taxes and “make work pay again”. If Mr Westerwelle has his way, the new coalition will begin to move Germany out of the shadow of “father state”.
Keep it mellow
But such transformations are not Mrs Merkel’s style. Her four-year partnership with the SPD, normally a political foe, was a soothing blend of measured progress and opportunistic retreats from Mr Schröder’s reforms (which many Social Democrats had come to regret). She sat out factional fights, making the course she eventually chose look Solomonic. Her stewardship of the new alliance is likely to be similarly cautious. She operates best behind the scenes and above the fray.
Nor are the voters in the mood for adventure. The FDP’s surprisingly strong showing during capitalism’s worst post-war crisis does not look like a mandate for less state and more market. Its campaign emphasised tax cuts rather than a leaner state. In a poll conducted for the German Banking Federation, 61% of voters wanted more social protection and just 23% favoured more market. The political middle, which Mrs Merkel intends to colonise, wants a balance between social sensitivity and economic responsibility, says Klaus-Peter Schöppner of TNS Emnid, a pollster. Mrs Merkel’s mandate is to reassure.
选民们也没心思冒险。自民党在这场战后资本主义最严重的一次危机中的强势表现，并不像是弱化国家和强调市场化的意思。该党在选举中更多地强调了减税，而不是精简国家机构。在一次为德国联邦银行进行的民调中，61%的选民想要更多的社会保障，只有23%的人更偏好市场。而默克尔力图打入其中的政治中间派，想在社会敏感问题和履行经济职责之间找到一个平衡点，一家名为TNS Emnid机构的民调专家Klaus-Peter Schöppner如是说。默克尔的留任是一剂定心丸。
Her style makes sense for many of Germany’s problems. It worked in the crisis, to which she reacted pragmatically and flexibly. It seems right for issues that require the patient pursuit of long-term solutions, such as education and the integration of ethnic minorities. But some of the hard choices now facing Germany may need a different approach.
The new government has had a muddled start. The coalition agreement is specific mainly about two issues, taxes and education, notes Andreas Pinkwart, an FDP leader and vice-premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. There is to be extra money for education and research, 欧24 billion of annual tax relief and a simpler income-tax system. This will have to be reconciled with a recent amendment to the constitution obliging the federal government to get close to eliminating its structural deficit by 2016, and the Länder to do so by 2020. As the anchor of Europe’s currency, the euro, Germany has an interim target of bringing its budget deficit below 3% of GDP by 2013. That is “an absolute must for Germany to be credible in the European context”, says Axel Weber, president of the Bundesbank, the central bank. This year and next the deficit is likely to exceed 5% of GDP. In appointing Wolfgang Schäuble, a tough-minded elder statesman of the CDU, as finance minister, Mrs Merkel signalled that she has every intention of meeting the deficit targets.
新政府面临一个混乱的开局。北莱茵-威斯特伐利亚州（该州为德国人口最多的州）社民党领导人，副州长Andreas Pinkwart表示：合作执政的纲领主要围绕两个问题，税收和教育。对于教育和科研应额外拨付资金，实现年度减税240亿欧元以及简化所得税税制。这将与最近一次 的内容达成一致， 案责成本州联邦政府到2016年基本消灭结构性赤字，全国则在2020年实现这一目标。关于欧元，这一欧洲汇率赖以稳定的基石，德国提出了一个过渡性的目标，到2013年将预算赤字降至GDP的3%以下。用德国央行 Axel Weber的话讲，“这是在欧洲大背景下，德国要想保住信用就必须达到的绝对目标。 而今明两年的赤字预计仍将超过GDP的5%。默克尔任命意志坚定的基民盟政界元老Wolfgang Schäuble出任财政部长，这是她决心实现削减赤字目标的信号。
The government has not yet explained how it hopes to reconcile these goals. Deep spending cuts would fit with Mr Westerwelle’s ideas for a transformation. But the liberals have not made a consistent case for shrinking a state that is not particularly big by OECD standards (see chart 7), so attention has focused on the demand for tax cuts which, faced with record deficits, even most FDP voters now reject.
So far Mrs Merkel has contained the clashes. She managed to keep down a rebellion by state premiers from her own party against the coalition’s first big initiative, an 欧8.5 billion package of tax cuts called the “growth acceleration law”. The next round is likely to spark further insurrection. The coalition’s approval rating has sagged, along with support for the FDP. Mrs Merkel’s strategy will become clear only after North Rhine-Westphalia’s own election in May, which will decide the survival of the state’s CDU-FDP coalition as well as the federal government’s majority in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the legislature.
The more important battleground is the modernisation of Bismarck’s welfare state, which pays for pension, health and other benefits by taxing employment. According to one calculation, the unfunded future cost of these programmes pushes up public debt from 65% of GDP in 2007 to an implicit 250% of GDP. While investing more in the young, Germany must brace itself for ageing.
Some progress has been made on pensions. The grand coalition decided to raise the pension age, gradually, by two years to 67. But it also rolled back reform, for example by issuing a pre-election pledge that pensions would never drop even if wages did. “The next generation will pay dearly,” says Friedrich Breyer of the University of Konstanz. Partly because of the reforms so far, says Hans Fehr of the University of Würzburg, by 2030 pensioners “will experience a dramatic drop in income”. That argues for a further shift from state to private financing. The Bundesbank calculates that to keep pension contributions at their current rate of 20% of wages, the pension age will have to rise to 69 by 2060.
养老金制度已取得一些进展。大执政联盟决定逐步将养老金发放起始年龄提高2年至67岁。同时也进行一些退让性的改革，比如在选举前做出保证，即使薪水降低，也不会降低养老金。“下一代人将会付出更多。” 维尔茨堡大学的Friedrich Breyer说，部分因为目前进行的改革，到2030年时养老金领取人的“收入将会大幅下降”。这就表明从国家到私人理财制度都需进行进一步的改变。德国央行认为，要维持养老金目前所占工资额的20%的比例，到2060年时，养老金发放年龄至少要升至69岁才行。
Reform of health care may be the government’s most ambitious undertaking. Germany is already the fourth-biggest spender on health after America, France and Switzerland. It does not have America’s uninsured millions but suffers from un-German inefficiency. Germans are Europe’s most dedicated patients, visiting their doctors an average of 18 times a year. Dr Rösler, the FDP health minister, wants to decouple health and employment costs and encourage patients to economise. His main idea is to convert part of workers’ contributions into a fixed monthly payment that would act as a sort of insurance premium. More efficient insurers could charge lower fees. To lighten the burden for low earners, Dr Rösler would subsidise them through the tax system.
Hartz IV, though only five years old, is also ripe for reform. Some 5m people considered capable of working collect the welfare benefit but only 1.4m are actually employed. Activating the economically inert group would pay multiple dividends: it would spur growth, channel immigrants into the labour market and, some economists believe, give a fillip to the underdeveloped service sector, easing Germany’s dependence on exports. Currently people with low-paid jobs can keep part of the benefit, which ought to encourage work, but the settings are skewed. Once income exceeds 欧100 a month, benefits quickly tail off, in effect imposing a tax rate of 80%.
All of this is highly contentious. Unions howled at the increase in the retirement age to 67. Dr Rösler’s idea of a flat fee for rich and poor alike is vociferously opposed by the CSU, and the subsidy plan fits ill with the FDP’s enthusiasm for tax cuts. The constitutional court recently told the government to rip up its formula for setting Hartz IV benefits and start anew. Most reforms imply a shift in responsibility from state to citizen. With more than 40% of German voters receiving a state transfer of some kind (including pensions), politicians tread carefully.
Mrs Merkel wants to introduce reforms, but whether and when she does so will depend on her keen sense of what is politically possible. The calculation will not be simple. Germans have a low tolerance for measures that widen inequality. The Agenda 2010 reforms tested that tolerance, alienating the SPD’s core supporters and fuelling the rise of the ex-communist Left Party. More than two-thirds of Germans disapprove of earlier reforms to pensions and health care, according to a 2007 poll by the University of Stuttgart. Even the FDP now takes pains to show a social conscience, which is one reason why during the election campaign it said so little about slimming down the state.
Yet as pensioners tug one way, upwardly mobile young voters pull another. They “don’t want to be spoon-fed” by the state, says Peer Steinbrück, who was finance minister in the grand-coalition government. Mr Westerwelle recently tapped into popular resentment against Hartz IV beneficiaries by complaining that in Germany “there seem to be only people who get tax money but no one who earns it.” Heinz Bude of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research detects a middle-class disenchantment with welfare, akin to America’s before Ronald Reagan.
前有领养老金的人扯着后腿，后有地位渐显的年轻选民们拽着胳膊。曾任执政大联盟财政部长的Peer Steinbrück说，这些年轻人不想被国家“拿着勺喂”。威斯特维勒日前就因为其针对哈茨四号方案的受益人的一句话激起了民愤，他抱怨说：能分到税款的人虽多，但好像没有一个人配拿这个钱。汉堡社会研究所的Heinz Bude发现，中产阶级对福利制度已不报幻想，这一情况与里根时代之前的美国相类似。
The North Rhine-Westphalia election will not settle the matter, but it will give Mrs Merkel’s government its first firm indication of whether it is on the right track. Jürgen Rüttgers, the state’s CDU premier (and the party’s most vocal defender of “social” policies), is likely to be re-elected. But his coalition with the FDP could lose its majority, which could force the CDU to form either a grand coalition with the SPD or a partnership with the Greens. That would be a rebuff to Mrs Merkel’s government and perhaps a fatal blow to Mr Westerwelle’s transformation agenda.
北莱茵-威斯特伐利亚州的选举解决不了这些问题，但可以首次给默克尔一个稳定的信号来确定一切是否步入正轨。基民盟在该州的 Jürgen Rüttgers，也是本党“社会”政策最敢言的捍卫者，有望连任。但他与自民党的联盟有可能失去多数地位，这迫使基民盟要么与社民党组成联盟，要么与绿党合作。若果真如此，那将是默克尔政府的一次失败，并会给威斯特维勒的变革计划造成致命打击。
But Mrs Merkel might sense an opportunity. The CDU and the Greens already govern jointly in two small states, in Hamburg by themselves and in Saarland as part of a “Jamaica coalition” (named for the colours of the country’s flag) that includes the FDP. Such exotic alliances are bound to become more common. The rise of the Left Party makes it more difficult for traditional coalitions such as CDU-FDP to build majorities in the Bundestag. A CDU alliance with the Greens in North Rhine-Westphalia could pave the way for something similar at federal level after the 2013 election.
The CDU’s origins are in the Catholic Centre Party of pre-war Germany, the Greens’ in the protest movements of the 1960s. But the CDU has embraced environmentalism, and today’s Greens are mostly prosperous burghers with a liberal bent. Entrepreneurs in Baden-Württemberg, another candidate for such a coalition, vote CDU but their wives are often Green, says Winfried Kretschmann, the party’s parliamentary leader in the state. Such a partnership would be harder to forge at federal level, but Mrs Merkel might like to have a go. Whatever the colour of the coalition, she intends to head it.
基民盟的前身是二战前的天主教中心党，绿党则起源于1960年代的抗议运动。但基民盟已信奉环保主义，而今天的绿党成员大都市具有自由倾向的富裕市民。在巴登-弗腾堡州的党派“企业家”是两党结盟的又一候选对象，“他们支持基民盟，但他们的妻子通常支持绿党。” “ 企业家”在州议会的领导人如是说。这种合作在联邦层面上很难实现，但默克尔或许会决心一试。不管成员如何变化，她都要领导执政联盟走下去。
哈茨方案（The Hartz concept）是德国政府针对失业人口实施救济、培训和促进再就业的社会福利方案。源于2002年2月施罗德政府对失业救济方面的社会福利进行改革，组成一个智囊班子，头目是Peter Hartz，因此这一改革方案以Hartz命名，从2003年1月实施Hartz I方案，以后又不断完善，到2005年1月年推出Hartz IV方案，也称哈茨4号方案。
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