A glimpse into elections in Germany

As EU residents and European political observers know, residents of all EU countries voted yesterday in elections for representatives to the European Parliament. This was the second election I experienced in Germany, the first being the federal elections held last fall. 

As somewhat of a political nerd, one thing I found most interesting during both electoral processes was the types of posters and talking points different parties used to promote themselves. Since there are more parties in Germany's parliamentarian system, there's more diversity in viewpoints. In the U.S. it seems like politicians are more likely to rely on vague buzzwords like "trust" and "honesty," support for education and veterans, telling voters that a candidate will represent their interests and not Washington's, etc. Basically, a lot of the same on both sides.

Here, however, I found the posters here to often be much more illuminating, offering clearer indications of what a party actually stands for. I have collected here some pictures I took over the last week of some of the many, many campaign posters ("Plakate") seen in towns and cities across Germany, just to give you a taste of what the talking points are here. With the exception of the NPD and possibly AfD (which I'll address), I would say that all of these would be considered established parties in Germany, as opposed to highly disregarded fringe groups. Some were taken with my cell phone, so apologies for less-than-stellar quality.

The above is a placard from the the Green Party (die Grünen). The poster says, "For Climate protection without borders/limits." Thus, implying that they are for preventing climate change, period (i.e. without concessions), as well as implying that tackling this issue is something that transcends country borders.

Another one from the Greens. This one says, "Atomic energy off, nature on." Harping on what became a major theme in German politics after the Fukushima disaster, when many Germans became very strongly anti-nuclear power and the German government began abandoning all reliance on nuclear power. 

The Greens got 10.7 percent of the vote on Sunday (11 seats).

Die Linke ("The Left") is, as the name would imply, a left-leaning party that has tended to focus on supporting government spending for social projects. This placard says, "Prohibit arms exports!"

Another one from Die Linke. The meaning of the text is clear. This is one example of why I find placards here so interesting. With only two parties in the U.S., it's more likely that a candidate would have something wishy-washy to say on any issue that was seen as controversial or lacking widespread agreement -- i.e., in this case instead saying that he or she supports "a responsible immigration policy toward refugees" -- whatever that means. But here, rather than trying to pander to a wider audience, Die Linke makes it clear what their stance is -- they are pro-refugee.

Die Linke received 7.4 percent of the vote Sunday (7 seats).

This poster is from the Piraten Partei (Pirate Party). They originally started as a party focused on protecting internet freedoms, though they have since expanded their focus to cover a range of left-leaning issues. This one is fairly standard -- "The rent is too high; Create living space."

Another one from the Pirates: "Not buyable, just voteable."

The Pirates received 1.4 percent of the vote on Sunday (1 seat).

This is a poster featuring a CDU candidate. The CDU is the largest party in Germany (it's the party of current Chancellor Angela Merkel), and they also received the largest share of the votes in Germany for the European Parliament elections. I thought this slogan was very striking. Many Europeans, Germans included, are wary of the EU and fearful that committing to it fully means the loss of sovereignty and national identity. This slogan is one way of trying to assuage said fears. It says, "Give Europe a direction" -- meaning, that the CDU aims to be a leader in the EU and to guide it, presumably in a way that would be favorable to Germany. It also harps on the general perception that Germany is the leading force in the EU now, thanks to its economic might.

The CDU received 30 percent of the vote on Sunday (29 seats).

Now let's look at a couple of the more interesting parties...

Ah, the NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany). This is the token extreme far-right party in Germany. They are frequently referred to as Neo-Nazis, although they could never actually use this terminology to describe themselves since it would be illegal to actually declare your party to be in any way Nazi-affiliated. Their platforms are typically xenophobic, anti-Europe and highly nationalistic with a healthy dose of fear-mongering. This particular poster says, "Maria instead of Sharia," basically saying that Germans should fear an Islamic takeover of their country.

Overall this party is widely derided and disliked in Germany, and they typically only do well in specific regions, often in the East. In the recent elections, they  1 percent of the vote, enough to send one delegate to the European Parliament (something they've never done before). Not as striking a showing as was the case for rightest parties in other countries like France and Denmark, but still, a disheartening development for many Germans. 

Apologies for the poor quality; this was a phone picture. This was the opposite side of the above poster -- perhaps less inflammatory, but still fear mongering. This reads, "D-mark (i.e., Deutschemark) instead of Euro bankruptcy." It's also hard to tell, but this sign is fairly high off the ground, as is typical of many NPD signs. This is a way to try to prevent the signs from being torn down or vandalized, which is a common occurrence. 

This is the last party I wanted to talk about, AfD (Alternative für Deutschland / Alternative for Germany). This party has stirred up a lot of conversation in Germany because it is gaining in popularity, but is widely seen as simply a more palatable version of the NPD. It's a Eurosceptic party that has clearly been using populist tactics to try and appeal to the masses.

This poster specifically is very interesting for two reasons. The words themselves -- roughly translated as, "Have the courage to be Germany" -- strike a chord with a populace that in the last 60 years has never really felt comfortable with the idea of being proud to be German. This is not common rhetoric, and it understandably has made many people very uncomfortable. The other interesting aspect of this poster is it's use of the German flag. Think for a second how many of the other posters I featured used the German flag -- the answer is none. The AfD is clearly taking a nationalist tone, although it's doing it in a less inflammatory way than the NPD. 

With this last one, I unfortunately deleted the picture I took of the actual poster, but I still wanted to highlight it because I think it again sends a very clear message. The poster itself says, "Switzerland is in favor of direct democracy. We are, too." That isn't necessarily inflammatory in and of itself, but it takes a new meaning when you think about what Switzerland recently did with its direct democracy system -- it voted to severely restrict immigration into the country by use of quotas. This reverberated across the EU, since one major principle of the Union is that of free movement. Thus, when the AfD hearkens to Switzerland, they're making a very pointed reference to immigration control and implying that they would be in favor of the same thing. Being anti-immigration a common populist, nationalistic tactic, and as we've already seen, it's a tactic the NPD is no stranger to. It's clear why many political observers in Germany are worried about the rise of this party, particularly after it secured 7 percent of the vote in the European elections, enough for 7 seats.

There are, of course, more parties than those listed here (the most significant one omitted was the SPD, but I didn't find any of their posters all that interesting). All in all, the German political debate feels a lot more substantive to me than what we have in the U.S. thanks to its multiparty system, it was interesting to get a window into German politics every time I walked down the street.