Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
photo: former German Chancellor Helmuth Kohl.
Copyright Bundespresse- und Informationsamt.
Germany in crisis
The German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is in a serious crisis.
Under its former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, secret illegal campaign donations
were common. Kohl distributed the money among his men. Today, the former
Chancellor refuses to reveal the donators names, leaving room for the wildest
speculations. Sixteen years in power and over twenty years as party chief
of the CDU have made him partly lose his sense of reality. All possible
rivals were eliminated from his entourage, leaving him largely with men
who followed his will and did not seriously question his actions. Kohl's
behaviour is not unique in Western countries. The late French President
François Mitterrand had established an even worse court-system.
Kohl is not the only responible for today's crisis. In fact, the "Kohl-system"
started already under Germany's first post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
Kohl learned as a young man how to establish a network of systematic distribution
of favours. The German democracy has largely become a party system and
is as such the expression of the crisis of Western democracies. The "Western
victory" over the communist regimes has lead, ten years after the fall
of the Berlin Wall, to aftershocks in the Western world. As long as there
was an ennemy with an even worse system, nobody dared to question the established
systems. As the communist danger faded away, self-examination started.
In Germany, the biggest party finance scandal took place in the region
of Hesse - as far as we know today, with no direct connection to Helmut
Kohl. Former party officials had about ten million dollars at their disposal,
hidden in foreign bank accounts. Some of this money could come from a donations
scandal in the 1980s, the famous Flick-affair. Among those responsible
for the Hesse-affair is former regional party chief and Interior Minister
in Kohl's government, Manfred Kanther. In his years in office, he presented
himself as Kohl's man of law and order. Today's backlash is understandable.
What shocks people most is the way in which party financial matters
where treated, with people walking around with hundreds of thousands of
marks in attaché cases and envelopes. Today's CDU party leader Wolfgang
Schäuble, a former secretary of state under Kohl, is not very credible
in his handling of the crisis. Not only because he was formerly one of
Kohl's men. Firstly, he could not remember having met the lobbyist and
arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber. Then, on December 2, 1999, he admitted
in parliament that he had met him once. "That's it", Schäuble said,
but forgot to add that Schreiber also gave him 100,000 marks in campaign
As long as the CDU's former treasurer Walther Leisler Kiep and former
CDU tax consultant Horst Weyrauch completely disagree on the date of creation
of the secret party accounts - Kiep says they were created after he left
office in 1992, Weyrauch says they existed already during Kiep's office
activities from 1971 to 1992 - the end of the affair is still far away.
The now-ruling Social Democrats (SPD) don't have a perfect record either.
A regional minister in North Rhine-Westphalia had to resign over a scandal
- even the German President Johannes Rau (SPD) is involved, although his
probable failings were minor. The SPD Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Glogowski,
had to resign over another scandal as well as local SPD party official
Klaus Heugel in Cologne, involved in insider trading. The SPD is or was
in power for decades in these regions (in Cologne, the fourth city of Germany,
for 43 years!). Social Democrats are human too. Too many years in power
corrupts all parties.
It is very unlikely that the other parties, the liberal FDP and Bavaria's
conservative CSU, are completely trustworthy. Both were involved in the
1980s Flick-affair and had other scandals among their members too. Only
the Green party seems to be unaffected by finance scandals. They have other
credibility problems to overcome: their partly unrealistic party program.
It would be to easy to limit the problem of crisis to the political sphere
only: politics, economics and society largely interact (but let's leave
that for another article).
The overall picture in Germany looks grim to voters, especially because
there is no alternative to the established parties. The computer- and internet-revolution
demands "sacrifices" from "ordinary people" in order to adapt the economy
to the needs of the information age. As during the industrial revolution,
these years of change are delicate and require credible leaders that can
explain the necessity of adaption and its costs to voters. Therefore, the
credibility crisis in Germany must be overcome as soon as possible.
Since both CDU and SPD are under pressure, there might be a miracle
in the sense that Germany's two main parties could reach an agreement on
necessary economic and social reforms - that have been blocked during the
nineties due to party politics - in order to regain the confidence of the
voters in their capacity to govern and shape Germany's future.