Bodo Ramelow’s government in Thuringia: A step in to the unknown for Germany?

Bodo Ramelow took over the regional government in Thuringia. As he is a politicoan form teh post-communist the Left Party how significant or insignificant is this for the future of German politics, and why? Read few comments.

Thomas Saalfeld, Professor of Political Science, University of Bamberg

The most important point I would like to make is this: Thuringia is a very special case, and we should not exaggerate its importance for other federal states, or for Germany as a whole. To begin with, the SPD had coalitions with the Left Party or its predecessor, the PDS in several other states before (Mecklenburgh West Pommerania, Berlin, Brandenburg). So the developments in Thuringia are not quite as spectacular as they appear. What is new is that the SPD is not the largest and dominant party in a coalition with the Left Party. And there has not been a state minister president of the Left Party before. However, Bodo Ramelow is a special case, too. He is West German to begin with and therefore does not have any direct biographical links with the East German regime prior to 1989. Within the coalition, the SPD received virtually all senior portfolios including the ministries of finance, the ministry of economic affairs and the ministry of the interior. And: at the regional level, questions of foreign policy are outside the powers of the state governments. Foreign and defence policy would be a major issue dividing SPD and the Left Party.

Having said all that, the Ramelow cabinet may be a signal for several reasons. It demonstrates that the Left Party, if it reforms itself and confronts its past (which Ramelow has done) can be an accepted part of the German political system, even in the West or amongst the many victims of the GDR regime living in the East. It also demonstrates that there may be strategic alternatives for the German voters and political parties to the current CDU/CSU-SPD or a CDU/CSU-Green government in Berlin. In the future, strategists in the SPD will begin to take this option more seriously than they did in 2013. Nevertheless, it still is a matter for speculation at the moment whether a taboo of post-unification politics in Germany has been broken – the conditions in Thuringia are too specific.

Daniel Hough, Professor of Politics, University of Sussex

The first red-red-green coalition led by a LP politician is indeed a step in to the unknown for Germany. It shouldn’t, however, come as a surprise too many people. The LP has worked with the SPD in regional governments in a number of other eastern German states and life has gone on very much as normal. In fact, one of the accusations made of the eight year SPD-LP government in Berlin was that it was too unadventurous, too timid in its aims and generally very dull. Bodo Ramelow is an eminently down-to-earth and practical politician, and his government won’t be interested in fighting ideological battles. It’ll be interested in trying to solve the practical problems that Thueringen faces. Ramelow’s government is also very important for the SPD – at the federal level it needs to develop strategic options that keep it out of the arms of the CDU. A red-red-green government is still some way off in Berlin, but if it is going to be a medium/long-term option, then governments like this one have to work. And all parties involved know that.

Eric Langenbacher, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University

The world is not going to come to an end with the election of Bodo Ramelow as minister-president of Thuringia. When Winfried Kretschmann became the first Green minister-president in Baden-Württemberg in 2011, there were similar concerns raised and things have turned out just fine. Besides, the PDS/Left Party on the ground in eastern Germany has been much more pragmatic than the national party in the Bundestag. Although this has been the first time they have supplied a minister-president, they have been junior coalition partners in several states such as Berlin and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. The garbage still needs to be collected and budgetary constraints will not allow for massive policy departures.

Nationally, there may be some ramifications. If the SPD and Greens more seriously consider a coalition with the Left, a leftist government could come to power for the first time since 2005. But, this could also backfire electorally, sending more moderate voters away from the SPD and acting as a further motivation for voters to empower the AfD, which will complicate governing dynamics considerably when/if they make it into the Bundestag.

Sebastian BukowWissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätsicherung, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

First of all, this government-turnover shows us the power of including more radical parties within the democratic system of Germany. Like the Greens (eps. Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann), now The Left are elected and able to lead a Land level government. And in both cases it is quite unlikely that there will be a revolutionary policy in the next years. Instead, Bodo Ramelow (originally a west German trade union official) will pursue much more a centre-left than a leftist policy. In this context it might be important to mention, that The Left in East Germany is not only a left-wing party, but a party supported by (sociologically speaking) the ‘petty bourgeois’ mainly.

Second, this new government might be most demanding for The Left itself: Again Baden-Württemberg and the Greens showed this recently. The last months made clear the problems arise when a oppositional left-wing policy on national level gets in conflict with the necessities of a Land level government. The Left will have similar problems as well. This already happened when The Left were (only) the small coalition partner on Land level, and this conflict may increase when leading the Government.

On the other hand side, third, this new government might ‘normalize’ The Left, with an medium-/long-term impact on national level. In fact – even though this is not broadly admitted by the parties yet – this new coalition formation is a very first test run for a red/red/green coalition on national level (lead by SPD on national level). The German Land level always functioned and still functions as a test laboratory, even though new coalition formations might not survive the whole legislative period. This was the case with red/green and it is the case with black/green and red/red/green now.

All in all, this new coalition is discussed in a quite ideological and over-heated way. Nevertheless it is an important step for German parties and coalitions, but there are several more aspects to keep in mind, e.g. the AFD (a problem esp. for CDU, as Thuringia showed as well), the FDP (in both cases it is not clear, what will happen – will they survive or come back) and further new coalitions (esp. cdu/green coalition in Hesse). It is quite obvious, that German parties try to find new coalition partners for future coalitions on Land and national level. The German party system – or at least the coalition architecture – becomes more fluid, esp. Greens and SPD are now able to organize coalitions with all other relevant parties (except the AFD). The CDU got caught in a strategic trap at least and tries to win the Greens as a new coalition partner – otherwise CDU could only govern with SPD right now, but the SPD can govern with CDU, Greens and The Left, which is a much more comfortable situation for them. This might be one reason why esp. CDU/ CSU criticizes the new red/red/green coalition very harsh.

Ed TurnerLecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

Often in German politics previously unthinkable coalitions have been tried out at the regional level, and then adopted nationally – red / green (SPD/Green) being the most important example.  But they won’t necessarily be adopted: for instance, there have been CDU/Green coalitions in a couple of regions, but this did not lead to a CDU/Green coalition nationally, after the last election.  It does point to the SPD’s desire to expand its strategic options beyond being a junior partner in a grand coalition.

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One Response

  1. Let Left front arrange to leave NATO. UNITED NEUTRAL GERMANY .

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