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Michaela Richter

In October 1998 the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens1

formed a coalition government, the first ever between these parties at

the federal level. In more ways than one, this new coalition marked a

watershed in Germany’s post-1945 development. Since 1945, Germany

had been a democracy in which political parties hold an especially

privileged position. This “party-state” has operated almost

exclusively through the three major “Bonn” parties, which for nearly

a half-century had governed through shifting coalitions. The Greens

arose as a social movement challenging this hegemony; yet, only fifteen

years after they first entered the Bundestag, they forged a federal

coalition with one of the established parties they had once attacked.

For the first time since 1957, a coalition had been formed that

involved not only a party other than the three “Bonn” parties but also

one not linked to the Federal Republic’s creation. It was, furthermore,

the first coalition ever to have resulted unambiguously from

the wishes of voters.

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Ludger Helms

Learning from the Weimar experience, the founding fathers of the

Federal Republic eliminated the chance of a renewed institutionalized

conflict between the head of state and the federal government

through the creation of the Basic Law [Grundgesetz ]. They primarily

strengthened the power of the chancellor and his cabinet by introducing

the “constructive” vote of no confidence and abolishing the

principle of individual ministerial responsibility, while also reducing

the position of the federal president to a mere representative head of

state. With these clear-cut constitutional arrangements it is not surprising

that Germany has not been among the number of west European

democracies (such as Italy or Austria) for which issues

regarding the power of heads of state have occupied a rather prominent

position on the political agenda of the 1990s.

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Ben Lieberman

The history of the Federal Republic of Germany is closely connected with economic achievement. Enjoying a striking economic recovery in the 1950s, the FRG became the home of the “economic miracle.” Maturing into one of the most powerful economies in the world, it became known as the “German model” by the 1970s. Now, however, the chief metaphor for the German economy is “Standort Deutschland,” and therein lies the tale of the new German problem.

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Frank Decker

The recent federal elections refuted a number of established hypotheses on the development of the German party system and contradicted the electoral strategies of nearly all parties involved. The outcome was neither a further fragmentation of the parliamentary landscape nor the unavoidable establishment of a grand coalition. On the contrary, in most cases, the respective parties failed as a result of their own mistakes in selecting adequate campaign issues, strategies and/or candidates. Aside from party-specific questions, such as the trajectories of both the AfD and the FDP, the future of the German party system seems largely dependent on the relationships between the three left-of-center parties at the federal level.

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William E. Paterson and James Sloam

The 2009 German federal election marked a devastating defeat for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The debacle led some commentators to speculate about the end of the SPD as a “catch-all party“ and—given the recent poor performance of center-left parties across Europe—“the end of social democracy.“ In this article, we contextualize the result of the 2009 Bundestag election within the settings of German party politics and European social democracy, and show how the electoral disaster for the SPD can be explained by broad, long-term political developments. We nevertheless argue that the German Social Democrat's defeat in 2009 provides an opportunity for renewal at a time when the governing Conservative-Liberal coalition—already in disarray—must take some tough decisions with regard to the resource crunch in German public finances.

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Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos and Karen Schönwälder

With the passage of a new citizenship law in 1999 and the so-called

Zuwanderungsgesetz (Migration Law) of 2004, contemporary Germany

has gone a long way toward acknowledging its status as an immigration

country (Einwanderungsland). Yet, Germany is still regarded by

many as a “reluctant” land of immigration, different than traditional

immigration countries such as Canada, the United States, and Australia.

It owes this image to the fact that many of today’s “immigrants”

were in fact “guests,” invited to work in the Federal Republic

in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and expected to leave when they were

no longer needed. Migration was meant to be a temporary measure,

to stoke the engine of the Economic Miracle but not fundamentally

alter German society. The question, then, is how did these “guest

workers” become immigrants? Why did the Federal Republic

become an immigration country?

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Jonathan Olsen

In the 2009 federal election, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) achieved the worst electoral result in its history. Immediately afterwards, the party worked to improve its public image and fine-tune its policies and electoral message, hoping that state elections in the ensuring period might provide some momentum going into the next national election. Yet, in 2013, the Social Democrats improved their result only modestly, with Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) again gaining a decisive victory. This article explores the reasons behind the SPD's failure to radically improve its electoral showing, arguing that this can best be explained by a combination of the impact of the past—namely, the legacy of its economic reforms during the Schröder era and the SPD's disadvantages coming out of the previous Grand Coalition—as well as the weakness of its 2013 chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbrück, and the popularity of Angela Merkel. The article therefore suggests that the immediate future does not look particularly bright for the SPD: any chances of gaining the chancellorship are largely out of its hand, dependent on both stumbles by its rival, the CDU/CSU, as well as the taming of a possible coalition partner, the Left Party.

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Katrin Scharfenkamp and Alexander Dilger

Are the highest politicians better qualified than their peers? In this article, we analyze differences between chancellors, vice chancellors, and ministers of the inner or residual cabinets of the German federal governments between 1949 and 2009 with respect to their social backgrounds and educational, economic, as well as political human capital. Different statistical methods reveal no clear primacy of chancellors or vice chancellors over other members of government. Interestingly, inner cabinets have higher qualifications than residual cabinets, as well as partly chancellors and vice chancellors.

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Konrad H. Jarausch

Perhaps two generations after the modest beginning, the FRG's successes and failures have become amenable to a more balanced evaluation. From the vantage point of the "Berlin Republic," the key question has shifted from whether the second German democracy would survive at all, to the reasons for its relatively positive course and to the extent of its lingering problems. This chapter first delves into the emergence of popular myths that characterized the Federal Republic's difficult search for identity. Secondly, it takes a look at some of the West's actual accomplishments in problem-solving, because such a comparison helps explain the eventual collapse of the East. Finally, it scrutinizes several of the competing explanations so as to reveal their political agendas and discuss their analytical limitations. Instead of presenting a simple success story, this reflection therefore strives for a critical appreciation. The paper concludes that at sixty, the FRG has entered a comfortable middle age, leaving be hind some of its earlier drama, but exuding a sense of competent normalcy. The mythical challenges of postwar reconstruction and recovery of international respectability have receded, followed instead by everyday concerns that are much less exhilarating. There are still plenty of problems, ranging from an aging population to a lack of full-day childcare, but they are shared by other advanced industrial societies. Moreover, after a century of first arrogant and then dejected difference, the German Sonderweg has finally come to an end. As a result of the meltdown of the Anglo-American version of unrestrained capitalism, the German model of a socially responsive market economy has even regained some of its prior luster. Hence, the postwar record of cautious incrementalism inspires some confidence that the Germans will also manage to meet the unforeseen political and economic challenges of the future.

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Andrei S. Markovits and Joseph Klaver

The Greens' impact on German politics and public life has been enormous and massively disproportional to the size of their electoral support and political presence in the country's legislative and executive bodies on the federal, state, and local levels. After substantiating the Greens' proliferating presence on all levels of German politics with numbers; the article focuses on demonstrating how the Greens' key values of ecology, peace and pacifism, feminism and women's rights, and grass roots democracy—the signifiers of their very identity—have come to shape the existence of all other German parties bar none. If imitation is one of the most defining characteristics of success, the Greens can be immensely proud of their tally over the past thirty plus years.