German politics has a reputation for being boring but lately, a series of uncharacteristically entertaining party conferences, packed with quips and political games, has brought much amusement. In such serious times, this is not a good thing.
As a reporter from Germany who covers the country, I have found this year’s ongoing battery of parties’ traditional annual kick-off conferences a surprisingly fun way to come back from the Christmas holidays.
Featuring lots of media-savvy jibes and in-jokes at the expense of other parties – even within the governing coalition – which ranged from jovial to polemic in tone, the meetings conveyed a pinch of drama and spectacle usually said to be missing from German politics.
Admittedly, following politics could become more fun if this trend continues, but it is a worrying development. Germany’s problems have grown in number and complexity, while differences in the country’s first-ever three-way federal coalition are proving hard to overcome.
Germany’s rough reality has made it tempting to resort to oversimplified and sometimes dishonest albeit punchy quips.
Accordingly, jests abounded during the meetings regarding major current challenges like the climate crisis or completing the Zeitenwende in defence politics as a response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
CSU state party leader Alexander Dobrindt, for example, reduced the worrying shortages of medicines and hospital beds for children to the catchy slogan “Kids before Cannabis”, implying that Social Democrat Health Minister Karl Lauterbach is more concerned with legalising weed than helping children.
Meanwhile, his party colleague Markus Söder launched a jibe at Social Democrat Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht, who has stumbled from one faux pas to the next in her efforts to follow up on Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s promised military modernisation.
“Ms Lambrecht is glued to the office more tightly than some are to the ground,” Söder, chief of the conservative CSU, told reporters at a party conference in front of the picturesque backdrop of a Bavarian monastery.
Being glued to the ground nods to the climate activists of the “Last Generation” movement, which has drawn attention with a myriad of disruptive protest campaigns such as blocking streets by glueing themselves to the pavement.
Similar remarks also came from parties within the governing coalition of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the liberal FDP, although the Greens are admittedly yet to hold their meeting later this month.
“Gluing is out, tackling issues is the order of the day,” FDP leader Christian Lindner postulated during his party’s traditional “Epiphany Meeting” (the double meaning, by the way, is absent in the German original name).
Both the hapless Lambrecht and the activists, dubbed “climate gluers” by the tabloid press, are easy targets. It is tempting to focus on pithy remarks rather than actually address the serious issues of how Germany can catch up after decades of military underfunding and how it can still reach its climate targets, on which it is lagging.
This is especially true for the FDP: The party holds the transport ministry, one of the main culprits for Germany’s stagnating emissions reductions, whose policies do not measure up even according to the ministry’s own calculations.
The controversial debate around outbreaks of violence on New Year’s Eve and whether the ethnicity of the offenders should be considered in the political response was figuratively slammed shut during the FDP meeting:
“Whoever violates the rule of law shall hear only one bang in future: the bang of the bar door in prison,” one representative said – a reference to the abuse of firework rockets.
Meanwhile, Lindner also promised his party would not only keep making proposals that “match reality”, another jibe at the Greens’ expectations, but would do this with “cheerful obtrusiveness”.
Such cracks in the governing coalition as well as the abundant crises do not need political slapstick, they need honest debates, constructive and stable politics.
While these things might seem uninteresting from the outside, for Germany, they are what works.
In challenging times, let politics be boring.
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Views are the author’s.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]