"You may be forgiven," announces the Economist in a new article Thursday, "if you have failed to notice that Germany is holding a general election on September 27th." On the other hand, Germany "has Europe's biggest economy and is its most important country." So: what are the big issues at stake? The staid Teutonic candidates themselves, even the German papers acknowledge, may be lacking in dynamism and fire, but that doesn't mean the pundits haven't found important issues to debate.
What will be decided a week from Sunday?
- Not the Chancellorship Though the previously Merkel-dominated race is "suddenly tightening up," Ulf Gartzke remarks in The Weekly Standard that "Chancellor Merkel is bound to stay in office." The "big question"? With the race closer, Merkel may not get enough votes to toss Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party out of the "unpopular 'Grand Coalition'" and team up instead with "the free-market FDP."
- Recession The Economist says the possibility of an extended Grand Coalition "should worry Germany." The country, argues the Economist, has some serious economic problems "such as tax, health care, welfare and labour-market reform," as well as "high savings and a reliance on exports," and with the emergence from recession the public is getting "dangerously complacent." Without prompt attention, "there is a risk that the economy could tip back into recession again." A new Merkel government with a CDU-FDP team-up would be "far more likely to make the attempt" to address these economic issues.
- Social Cohesion "In the run-up to the election," writes Catherine Mayer from Berlin in Time Magazine, "there has been no grand new mission, no ambitious vision of remaking Germany--or Europe, or the world--on view." But maybe there should be. "Wounds that are left untreated fester," argues Mayer, and the "inequities" between East and West Germans, and in particular between "immigrants and others," need attention. Turkish immigrant isolation is a problem, while "offenses by far-right extremists jumped by 16% last year."
- Science At the end of July, Jens Uehlecke in the German newspaper Die Zeit emphasized a very different aspect to the elections. "The future chancellor," he proposed, "must above all promote science and be open to the ideas of the best researchers." His reasoning:
Whoever wins the election will be confronted afterwards with pressing questions that can only be answered with the insight and achievements of research: How can Germany contribute to the halting of climate change? Should it be in investing in renewable energy or in the exploration of technology that can sequester CO2 underground? How do we develop treatments for Alzheimer's or cancer without crossing ethical boundaries? And how do we raise our children so that they will be able to help to find the answers to these questions? In addition, good science policy is also good economic policy ... If the science-based sectors were to grow by ten percent, the German economy as a whole would grow by 2.1 percent.