Skateboards, climate change and freedom: Germany’s next generation parliament
BERLIN – Emilia Fester is 23 years old and has not finished college yet. Max Luck is 24 years old and describes himself as a militant cyclist. Rhea Schroder is 29 years old and has a rainbow flag on her Twitter profile. Muhanad al-Halaq is 31 years old and came to Germany from Iraq at the age of 11.
And they are all in the German parliament now.
The German election result was messy in many ways. The winner, the Social Democrats led by Olaf Scholz, barely won. No party got more than 25.7 percent. Voters spread their ballots equally among the candidates attached to the left and right.
But one thing is clear: the Germans chose their youngest parliament, and the two parties at the center of this generational shift, the Greens and the Free Democrats, will not only shape the next government, but are also set to help shape the future. Huh. Country.
For now, the Greens, focused on climate change and social justice, and the Free Democrats, who have campaigned on civil liberties and digital modernization, are the kingmakers: whoever becomes the next chancellor has an almost equal need for both sides to form the government. Definitely needed.
“We will no longer leave politics to the older generation,” said Ms Schröder, a newly elected MP for the Free Democrats from Hamburg. “The world has turned around us. We want to take our country to the future – because it is our future.”
For decades, Germany has been governed by two rival establishment parties, each run by older men, and, more recently, by a somewhat older woman. Indeed, when Chancellor Angela Merkel took office in 2005 at the age of 51, she was the youngest chancellor ever. Germany’s electorate is still older, with one in four voters over 60, yet it was a young vote, some of it outraged, that lifted the two upstart parties.
Fully 44 percent of voters under the age of 25 cast their vote for the Greens and Free Democrats, while only 25 percent of voters in that age range voted for Ms. Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, the traditional centre-left party. Voted for.
The most immediate impact will be felt in Parliament. Roughly one in seven MPs in the late parliament were under 40. Now the ratio is closer to one in three. (In the US Congress, one in five members is 40 or younger. The median age in Congress is 58, compared to 47.5 for Germany’s new parliament.)
“We have a generational rift, a very radical polarization that didn’t exist before: it’s under-30s versus over-50s,” said Klaus Hürrelmann, a sociologist who studies young people at the Herty School in Berlin. “The youth want change and both these parties got the change vote.”
The Greens finished third, while the Free Democrats finished fourth, both of which saw their vote share increase. The split-screen quality of the race was unmistakable: candidates from the two traditional parties campaigned for the status quo, while the Free Democrats and Greens campaigned without change.
“It shouldn’t stay as it is,” read a Free Democrats campaign poster.
Both parties are already indicating that they intend to change the old ways of doing business in German politics. Their leaders reached out to each other ahead of meetings with representatives of major parties ahead of coalition talks – an unprecedented move, a process that began over the weekend.
Instead of publicizing their meeting with a leak to a newspaper or a public broadcaster, they posted a selfie of four of their leaders on Instagram, causing a sensation in a country where political discussion has reached new audiences. more focused than using social media. .
Many young lawmakers now moving to Berlin, like Mr Luck, say they will bike or – in Ms Fester’s case – skateboard to work. Some are looking to rent communal housing. Others plan cross-party “beer pong” gatherings to meet each other. And all of them are in regular touch with their voters through social media.
“What are your hopes and apprehensions for the traffic light?” Mr Luck last week asked his followers on Instagram with the Social Democrats referring to the party colors of green, yellow and red, the most likely governing coalition of the Greens and Free Democrats.
Within hours, Mr. Luck, selected for the Greens, received 200 comments. “It’s really important for me to keep that straight line for my voters,” he said. “Young people yearn to be heard. They have realized that politics has betrayed them; those in power did not take their issues seriously.”
The two issues that most alarmed young voters in the election were climate change and independence, polls show.
“There is no issue more important than climate change – it exists,” said 20-year-old Roberta Müller, a first-time voter in Berlin’s Steglitz district. “It doesn’t seem very democratic to me that older people decide — and effectively destroy — our future.”
It also played a big role in dealing with the epidemic. Schools were closed and college classes went online, while billions of euros in aid flowed into the economy to keep businesses afloat and prevent widespread layoffs.
“Hair salons were more important than education during the pandemic,” said Ms. Fester of the Greens, who, 23, is the youngest of the 735 members of the new parliament. “There was a lengthy discussion about how hair salons can stay open. , but universities and kindergartens remained closed.”
The pandemic also took a toll on key workers, who are often badly paid – and young – by highlighting how Europe’s largest economy continues to develop the digital infrastructure needed to be competitive in the modern, globalized world. How far am I behind?
A small group of parliamentarians has also helped to increase the diversity of what was previously a mostly homogeneous chamber. There will be more women and MPs from ethnic minorities than ever before – and Germany’s first two transgender members of parliament.
At 31 years old, Mr. Al-Halaq of the Free Democrats can be considered one of the “old” new members of parliament.
Born in Iraq, he was 11 when he moved with his family to Germany, settling in the southern part of Lower Bavaria, which he would now represent in parliament. He wants to serve as a voice for a new generation of Germans who were born elsewhere but have successfully learned the language and trade – he worked in a wastewater facility – to become active members of society.
“I wanted to be an example to other youth that you can lead as a working man, no matter where you come from, how you look or what religion you follow,” Mr. Al-Halaq he said.
Despite a woman being the Chancellor for 16 years, the percentage of women represented in parliament rose only slightly from 31 percent in the previous legislature.
“I know there are some people who are happy that we now have 34 per cent women’s representation in parliament, but I don’t think that is anything to celebrate,” said Ms Fester, who has promoted feminism as a part of her campaign. included as one of the issues. “Old, white people’s predominance is still very much visible, not only in politics but in other areas where decisions are made and money flows.”
Germany’s smaller parties have traditionally defined themselves by issues rather than adopting a broadly defined ideological stance. They also agree on many things; Both sides want to legalize cannabis and lower the voting age to 16.
“There are other coordinates in the system now, progressive and conservative, collectivist and individualistic, that explain differences better than left and right,” Ms Schröder said.
Still, the two junior parties disagree on a lot. The Greens want to raise taxes on the rich, while the Free Democrats oppose tax increases. The Greens believe the state is essential to addressing climate change and social issues, while the Free Democrats are relying on industry.
“The big question is, will they cripple each other or will they manage to build on the innovation and innovation that they represent in the next government?” Sociologist Mr. Harelman said. “The balancing act will be: You get the climate, we get the freedom.”
Last week, the incoming new MPs went to the Parliament House, the Reichstag, to learn the rules and procedures, as well as how to find their way.
“The first days were very exciting,” said Ms. Fester. “It was like orientation week in the university. You get your travel card and you have to find your way – only in the Reichstag.”
Mr Luck said he still had to remind himself that it was all real.
“It’s a nice feeling,” he said, “but then it’s also humbling: we have a huge responsibility. Our generation campaigned for us and voted for us and they expect us to do something. We let them down. can not do.”
Christopher F. schuetz Contributed to reporting.
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