THE POLITICAL PAGE
March / April 2010
The Ship Rocks - Regarding the situation of the Federal Government in spring 2010
Something is changing in Germany at present. Many perceive the change. But it isn't a change for the good. It doesn't rumble like thunder but it is slowly getting misty like fog. The change is perceivable politically, as well as spiritually. "The Political Page" will address both cases and call for more prayer.
Many Christians are backsliding into unchristian habits - they are grumbling and judging like the world does. The spiritual man, however, feels it, prays and brings it before God. He is quiet and listens. Some of them are overwhelmed and moved to tears just as Jesus cried over Jerusalem. Others are praying like priests on behalf of the processes within the country, but also for political figures. It is not dark now but the contrasts between light and shadow are fading more and more into an imprecise grey. The modest but extremely courageous resignation of the delicate but brave woman from "all her offices" was like the breakthrough of a sunbeam, which for a short, crucial moment, clearly displayed light and shadow in the country.
I have never started a 'Political Page' like this. But I feel it is important to sharpen the spiritual awareness of my readers and, with "extended antennas", to perceive the spiritual situation of our dear country.
The Political Situation
Since 27th September 2009 we have a new coalition, as a result of the Bundestag election. The new coalition is called the 'civil' coalition in contrast to the 'left' one. The SPD (Social Democrat Party) formed the opposition with its new top representatives (Gabriel and Nahles), together with the Green Party and the Left Party. Since October we have a new government, a Merkel II Cabinet. The Cabinet consists of CDU, CSU and FDP members. Guido Westerwelle, the chairmen of the FDP, is the Vice Chancellor and Foreign Secretary.
Even before the election, Angela Merkel said this was her favoured coalition and the FDP opted for the coalition with the Union, as well.
Disappointed by the course of the CDU in the large coalition during the past 4 years, many CDU-voters now sided with the FDP, which resulted in a record vote of 14.6% for this party. Together with the 27.3% for the Union and the 6.5 % for the CSU, the 'love match' between the 'civil' parties was ready to be celebrated. Westerwelle and Seehofer changed the way they addressed each other, from a formal to an informal manner. For many years already Westerwelle has addressed 'Angela' in an informal way.
Everybody, including the main players, expected a stupendous start. But the opposite was the case: a traumatic start, a false start. Almost every theme ended in controversies, be it tax relief, health care reform or the nuclear power phase-out. Politicians always pointed to the coalition agreement, which provided ammunition for both sides because of its unclear formulation.
Disputes, debates and controversies are all part of the democratic culture. Disputes with the political opposition are normal - even with a coalition partner - but with clear differences. However, the blunders the coalition partners have made in public during the past 4 months are alarming and cause the people to doubt the coalition's ability to govern. This impression has increased since mid February and escalated in the rhetorical tirades of Guido Westerwelle about State social benefits for the 'Hartz IV' receivers (the unemployed who receive a minimum of social benefits). Of course, discussion is necessary in regards to Hartz IV. It was not what he said, but the way he said it. It was a blow to the poor; generalised and one-sided, polemicising and polarising. This wasn't a debate but a disaster. Not the words but the spirit through which he spoke was polluting the country.
What is Hartz IV? Why is Westerwelle opening this discussion, and why now? Is the 'civil' coalition able to continue? And what does 'civil' mean? These are the questions we want to address.
1. What is Hartz IV?
In 2003, in context with the necessary reforms of the 2010 agenda, the former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder assigned Peter Hartz, the top manager of VW, to propose reforms to social benefits for the unemployed. The 1st draft was revised four times before it reached its present form, with the official name of "The 4th law for modern services on the labour market" from 24th December 2003.
Whoever was unemployed for more than one year moved from 'unemployment benefits I', receiving 67% (with a child) and 60% (without a child) of one's last net wages, to 'unemployment benefits II', also called Hartz IV. In addition to the monthly rent (incl. utilities), he received 359/month in cash. Additional earnings are deducted from his unemployment benefits except for 100, which he is allowed to keep as "additional earnings".
Included in this standard rate, which is to cover minimum living wages, are:
Food (132.83), clothing (35.54), furniture, electricity (52.78), health (13.28), transportation (16.16), communication and information transmission (31.59), leisure time (40.57), others (36.26). For people who are not receiving Hartz IV, it is good for them to see how every cent has to be calculated and how all the needs of life are being considered, and not just the need of food, and of course, at a minimum rate. (All this is in order to understand what we are talking about!)
These are the rates for adults. Children and teenagers receive a percentage from this basic amount of 359: from 14 years 287 (80%), from 6 - 14 years 251 (70%), up to 6 years 215 (60%).
More and more it became clear that children are not little adults, who can be discounted in percentages; think of clothing and shoes, which are worn and grown out of rapidly or school trips and teen parties, where a poor child immediately turns into an outsider. (School trips are financed by the unemployment office on request.)
In this context the Federal Social Court and the Hessen Higher Social Court, called the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe,and declared that the calculation of the standard rate for children was unconstitutional. They pointed out that children have different needs than adults. Poor children are excluded from better education (e.g. tutoring) and hardly have the chance for social advancement, especially in Germany. (OECD – Study). The Federal Constitutional Court has the duty to control the compatibility of a law with the Basic Constitution Law.
On 9th February 2010 the Federal Constitutional Court announced its decision, which demands a 'human margin of subsistence' according to the Basic Constitution Law 1§1, which states: "The dignity of man is inviolable", and according to 20§1: "The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social Federal State. "
On the basis of this Basic Constitution Law, people receiving social benefits are firstly awarded 'human dignity'. They are not 'parasites' nor are they 'inferior', as many of them feel. For this reason thousands of people, who would be elligible to receive these benefits, are ashamed to register at the unemployment office – but like the employed, they are equal members of our society. Those who have to stand in line at the unemployment office or send thousands of job applications or are considered to be difficult to place in a new job – all need to hear: "You have dignity and nobody can take it from you." So don't doubt it yourself. It was given to you by the Creator. It is In-vi-o-la-ble!'
According to 20§1, the German State, as a 'social' State, has the responsibility to care for the needy. The State does this with tax money. Through the Basic Constitution Law, our State has organised a large 'solidarity society'. Whoever doubts it, by depreciating the poor, breaks the solidarity and divides the society.
The Federal Constitutional Court does not only throw doubt on the present Hartz IV laws (from 2003, 2005, and 2007) but it also points to:
2. The Indemnification Law
The amount of the standard rate plus rent and heating for the Hartz IV receivers causes problems for low wage employees in the restaurant business, security services, postal delivery services ands other businesses such as hairdressers, cleaning companies etc. After having worked full-time, paid taxes and social security contributions, they don't have more money than the Hartz IV receivers who didn't work during this time. There are people with such low wages that they could qualify for Hartz IV support in order to reach a 'humanly dignified margin of subsistence'. Aside from this, those families who are working (!) do not qualify for Hartz IV benefits that the unemployed receive, e.g. refund of expenses from school trips for children, reductions for swimming pools or museums. This is where a reform is desperately needed! To solve this problem, without legislation, would be a greater problem than the transparency of Hartz IV standard rates. In all fairness, full-time employees have the right to claim housing and child benefits. And by including these additional benefits, their income would be far higher than the amount of the Hartz IV receiver. Basically there are three possibilities to establish the indemnification:
3. The Development of the FDP and its Chairman
'The party is in a downright difficult situation', said Wolfgang Gerhardt, the former head of the FDP at the beginning of February. And Wolfgang Kubicki, the chairman of the FDP fraction in Kiel, added: 'At present we are experiencing a certain breakup of the FDP.'
What happened? Within 4 months the FDP dropped in the polls from an election record of 14.6% to 8%. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.
The citizens do not understand why the party seems to have a fixation on tax cutting in view of empty cash registers and historical rivers of red ink.
Many had no understanding for Mr. Westerwelle's veto against Mrs. Steinbach.
The 'growth acceleration law' of the coalition seemed, at a closer look, to be aimed at those with a higher income.
The reduction of the VAT for the catering industry, which was an unnecessary exception to the rule in the tax system which, according to the FDP, needed to be simplified, had to be interpreted as a clientele policy. When at the end of January the FDP received a cheque for over a million Euros from a known hotel chain, the party received its new name: 'the Mövenpick Party'.
Mr. Pinkwart, deputy of the FDP, tried to back peddle in the face of the election in Northrhine-Westfalia due to the disastrous reaction of the public to the process, which had only been valid for a few days. Publicly! By this the FDP disgraced itself again and the old cliché of the 'tumbling-party' was dug out of the relic box of history.
None of the FDP Minsters has gained a halfway respectable standing in the public opinion. A Forsa survey showed at the beginning of February, that 37% of the people were content with the work of Minister Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, 35% with Westerwelle, 27% with Rösler, 26% with Brüderle and 15% with Niebel, who also had to fight with the burden of taking over the ministry which, as FDP General Secretary, he wanted to do away with.
In this situation the chairman of the party called an emergency meeting at the beginning of February. They decided to continue and keep on course.
Still, one thing did change.
On 9th February the Federal Constitutional Court announced its decision on the Hartz IV laws. The underprivileged, the migrants and the unemployed were given attention, quasi in a magnifying glass, and the entire world talked about them and that the rates, among other things, especially those for children, will have to be raised.
This was a signal for Guido Westerwelle. In the past few months he tried to score points abroad as chief diplomat of the Federal Republic and he was, without major mistakes, quite successful. But the party at home seemed to be left without a leader and, therefore, he thought it was right to return to domestic policy for the sake of his party, as speaker of the 'party, for the middle income groups' and to raise his voice. There is nothing wrong with that, even though it is not unproblematic for a foreign minister to interfere so strongly in domestic policy.
However, the way he did it was not worthy of a top politician with full government responsibility. He appeared as he had been known in the past:, 'without doctrine of the mean', exorbitant, provocative, hurting, divisive, polemically exaggerated, and caustic.
The things he pointed out weren't wrong - the lack of justice between low-income earners and Hartz IV receivers. But the way he spoke was cruel. "Whoever works should have more than those who don't work. We should be allowed to say this in our country." This statement emphasises a basic principle, which has been accepted generally. But Guido Westerwelle is magnifying it to such an extent, as if it were a taboo in this country, see here! and that only he is bold enough to address.
This is the way populists address grievances, which are obvious to everyone. They think they are the only ones to see the problems but they are not offering any solution to what they see.
And there is one more thing populists do: they look for a scapegoat. All the resentments of the others can be layed on this scapegoat and they come out of the situation as a hero – be it Jewish, Muslims, Gipsies or the Hartz IV receivers, in this case.
"Whoever promises the nation prosperity without effort, makes an open invitation to restore late Roman decadence." Westerwelle doesn't refer to the millionaires who are transferring their money to Switzerland without effort – a loss of billions of Euros – but he means the few percentage of the receivers of social benefits, who have accepted their level and are not ready to accept the jobs offered by the unemployment offices. We are talking about 2 – 2.5% and even if there would have been an average of 5% of the population , with a maximum of 1 billion Euro, it would be an economically maintainable poor investment, calculated from a Hartz IV total amount of 36 billion. Besides this, those who are not willing to take up a job will be penalised with a benefit cut, which can end with the issuing of vouchers. The group of people with such behaviour ranges from 3 – 350,000, out of a total of 6.73 million benefit receivers. The republic will not suffer any loss from them. In the end the 'Imperium Romanum' didn't disappear due to an oversupply to the Plebeians, the lower class, but the decadence of the higher class. So much for Mr. PhD. Westerwelle's comparison.
But why does Mr. Westerwelle point so strongly towards these 5% of people refusing to work? Because he wants to score for himself and his party. And indeed the downward tendency of the FDP turned around and its acceptance has risen to 10%. 44% agreed that he was right compared to 45% against. Parallel to this, the lower values regarding his personality show that the people didn't agree to the way he addressed the problem.
'Challenge and promote' are the targets of Hartz IV, i.e. encourage and help the receiver to take up a job again. This, however, depends on many factors: (Family, children, health, place of residence, mobility etc.)
Roland Koch's statement, made at the beginning of January, long before Westerwelle, is valid for some: "We need to find ways to avoid the possibility of finding pleasure in living by Hartz IV." Of course! In this context we talk about the long term unemployed whose number could only be reduced from 2006 – 2009 to 9.5% despite booming years.
On the other side, however, there is the army of benefit receivers, who in the 1st year of unemployment already have burned their fingers by the many job applications they wrote and who are trying to get a job, even in the 2nd year as Hartz IV receivers. They take whatever they get and have low wages: 16% earn less than 5 per hour, 32% earn 5-7.5, 27% between 7.5 – 10. These are 75% below 10/hour - the most important thing is to have a job!
Would it be possible to talk about these brave fellow citizens, alongside the lazy lay-abouts, who are working out of their inner sense of personal dignity and who do not want to be a burden on society. It would strengthen the willingness of the tax payers in our solidarity community to care for those living in the shadows, if the discussion was concentrated upon them.
Instead, Westerwelle and others point to the lazy ones and is fuelling tacit anger towards the Hartz IV receivers, which produces a reluctance in the employed people to pay for 'those there' and this is dividing society. This is a populism, which is unworthy of a Vice Chancellor who should stand for the whole of society.
Meanwhile, his tone seems to be softer, he makes statements instead of slogans and he seems to be changing his mind slowly.
4. The State of the Coalition
Even long-serving fellow members of the FDP, who have experienced the coalition under Helmut Kohl in 1998, cannot think of such a gap of alienation, which now exists between the Union and the liberals. Only a short time has passed since their brilliant start together.
On both sides, they weren't aware of the changes in time and in themselves. During the election campaign 2002 against the 'red-green' - this was even before the Schröder Agenda of 2010! - where everyone talked about the 'reform jam', Merkel and Westerwelle were a young tandem, who 'told the truth to the people', promised reforms and hard cutting – and so lost the election. In 2005 Merkel was more cautious and won. As Chancellor she had the duty to create a government together with the SPD, which required compromises on both sides and changed both parties much to the chagrin of the voters.
Meanwhile the FDP developed in opposition. They stuck to their vision promised in the election campaign of 2002 – which didn't cost them anything. They kept to the 'per capita fee' in the insurance industry with an equal premium rate for all members, which required enormous support from the State for the weaker people, or i.e. to the total slimming down and simplification of the tax system or for tax relief.
Based on memories from 2002; they were thought to be the political dream couple. But their fortune was based on a past consensus, upon a 'puppy love', filled with wishes, projections and deceits. Following this, the phase of disillusion would soon have to follow in order to hopefully reach reality, which does not allow alternatives.
The CDU, which brought more social responsibility into the marriage with the SPD, was the one who changed. Merkel introduced elements into the programme of the CDU, which were imputed to the SPD (e.g. day-care facilities for children). She did it out of her sense of responsibility and not for emotional reasons.
These were the interior factors which changed.
The global financial crises and its effects on the budget were the changes from the outside. Tax breaks and other costly projects could no longer be financed. First of all, the population had to be protected from the effects of the economic crises through the extension of the short-time work and then the budget had to be consolidated before giving away 20 billion in tax relief.
And thus every advance of the FDP ended in an argument, whereas one must say that it mainly concerned subjects Merkel had once supported in the past. Therefore, the basic tenor of the FDP over the CDU is: "It has become social-democratic and has to learn to rethink things faster." The opposite melody says: "The FDP has to reach reality."
But now the FDP has promised its voters solemnly: "We keep our promise! And slowly we are asked by the economic lobby: 'Where have these tax reliefs gone?'" Therefore, it is understandable that Westerwelle is forming a front against the minimum wage requirement, which would burden the economy.
Briefly - the suspicion of the FDP is increasing. They say that Angela Merkel wants to present them as a chaotic group, which is unable to govern and wants to keep them small like they did with the SPD. Westerwelle is opposing this with all his might, partly due to personal hurts, but also due to clear calculations of the party. His tirades and invectiveness does not seem to be genuine but calculated, his fearlessness is not authentic but political.
On the other side, Westerwelle shows a populist performance causing head-shaking and incomprehension, then growing contradiction up to the point where the Chancellor had to rebuke the Vice-Chancellor in public. "These are not my words nor my way of speaking": when has this ever happened in a government coalition!
The more time passes the more it becomes obvious: the main mistake of this coalition was at its beginning in the coalition negotiations. All the divergences, which are a problem today, should have been discussed internally and expressed accordingly. But this didn't happen. Angela Merkel was, according to what she says, exhausted after the election campaign. Thus she allowed the liberals too much freedom and she rubber-stamped their ideas, thinking they will very soon reach reality and see what works and what doesn't work. She also thought that the parties of the same civil camp will not fight as strongly as the other parties outside. But she was wrong in both cases. Thus the things that have failed in the coalition negotiations will have to be resolved in crisis meetings.
Opposites attract. That's true! Even in this case. Because the Chancellor and her Vice-Chancellor could not be more different in character then they are. It is not impossible to reach a fertile, effective cooperation but this requires a new phase of uniting, appreciation and trust.
Politics is made by people and not by computers. That's why the personal relation of two politicians also influences the politics they make.
5. And what does 'civil' mean?
It is called the 'civil coalition'. But what does this mean? And what does 'civil' mean?
All present factionalisms finally show that the Union and the FDP have different interpretations of the word 'civil'. Due to these dissimilarities, we can understand the differences.
For the CDU/CSU 'civil' means a citizen, who understands society as a 'solidarity community' with internal coherence, which the State has to organise and guarantee.
For the FDP the citizen is an individual, who earns his fortune by his own efforts. The State is regarded as an annoyance rather than a help in this case.
Therefore, it is clear that the FDP is a party of entrepreneurs, of the successful and top performers, but it can never be a 'people's party' in its approach.
On the other hand, the CDU is a 'people's party' with a free market policy and with a social-state wing.
Therefore, the Union can join with the FDP, as well as with the SPD or the Greens with which it has many things in common, in its vision of society as a solidarity society.
And exactly this is worrying the FDP, that the Union will join the Greens instead of them and could possibly form a 'black-green' government, as in Hamburg.
For the future, it means a free choice of colours. But there are only a few choices for the FDP in its present orientation. The FDP has to cooperate with the Union or it will return to the opposition. And then for a very long time.
We as Christians seek the sense of solidarity in all social ranks. In our country everyone should be free to develop themselves and if he cannot do so, he should know that he is being cared for.
We always should be thankful for our democratic and social political system. It is a privilege to live here and everybody should thank God for that. And also the other important thing: we should point out to the people in the environment, the neighborhood, in the family, to our colleagues or in public discussion , the greatness and beauty of the solidarity community of our people and the way we support it and are supported by it. It lives by our effort and our awareness as citizens up to and including our tax declaration.
This is the meaning of being 'salt and light' in our society, to be people of light with positive incentives.
F.A.Z. vom 11.1.; 16.1.; 20.1.2010
Berliner Zeitung vom 2.3.2001
Rheinischer Merkur vom 4.2.; 11.2.; 25.2.; 4.3.2010
FOCUS vom 8.2.2010
DER SPIEGEL vom 13.2.; 22.2.2010
Stern vom 11.2.; 18.2.; 4.3.2010
Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Bundesverfassungsgericht – Pressemitteilung 5/2010 ("Hartz IV Gesetze")
Bibel von A-Z. Wortkonkordanz zur Lutherbibel 1984