BERLIN — Germany’s governing conservatives have their pitch straight for September’s general election: business as usual.
That much was clear from the election manifesto presented Monday by the Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Christian Social Union (CSU) Bavarian sister party, which together form a conservative bloc that’s played the leading role in government for the past 16 years under Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel will step down after the election but the conservatives are keeping faith with core messages such as fiscal responsibility, transatlantic cooperation and a middle-ground approach to climate change.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin just over three months out from the election on September 26, CDU chief and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet said the manifesto’s aim was to make Germany „more resistant to pandemics, cyber attacks, extremism, populism and economic crises.“
POLITICO’s Poll of Polls puts the CDU/CSU alliance firmly in the lead, with 27 percent support, followed by the Greens at 20 percent and the Social Democrats at 16 percent.
Here are five things to know about the CDU/CSU election manifesto:
1. Foreign affairs
„The pandemic has shown that our challenges are not national, they are global,“ Laschet said, adding: „That is why we have deliberately placed Europe and international affairs at the beginning of our program.“
In the first chapter of the manifesto, the parties argue that amid the global battle between democratic and autocratic states, Europe and the U.S. ought to strengthen the rules-based international system again.
„To this end, we must work together to rebuild cooperation with our transatlantic partners and develop new structures capable of action with our democratic partners around the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific region and Latin America,“ they wrote.
On Monday, Laschet put emphasis on China. „President Xi [Jinping] considers our democracies too slow to compete with China, and we Europeans must show commitment — liberal and free societies are also capable of being highly effecive,“ he said.
2. Climate change
While committing to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, the manifesto said that policies to reduce levels of carbon dioxide and combat climate change must be economical „if the transformation of the century is to succeed.“
Diesel car bans are out of the question, as are new speed limit restrictions on the highway network. The country should also bet big on „synthetic fuels rather than flight bans,“ according to Markus Söder, Bavarian state premier and CSU chief. He said Germany needed to become a „hydrogen country.“
Söder used the occasion alongside Laschet to lash out at the Greens, who have seen a drop in support in recent weeks after flying high in the spring. „You can do green politics without the Greens,“ he said.
„The Greens have many ideas but no experience,“ Söder said, adding that instead of bans and regulations as proposed by the Greens, the CDU/CSU prefer technological progress to reach climate neutrality.
3. Digitalization and bureaucracy
Laschet reiterated his oft proclaimed conviction that Germany is not digital enough and too bureaucratic.
To illustrate the scale of the bureaucracy problem, he told an anecdote about a traffic light in Berlin that has been stuck in the planning stage for 25 years and will only be installed a few weeks from now.
„Twenty-five years for a traffic light — in that time, Amazon, Google and Tesla have become tech giants while we are playing ping-pong with authorities,“ he said.
According to their manifesto, the CDU and CSU are planning to kick-start the economy after the pandemic by introducing a „bureaucracy-free year“ for entrepreneurs who just founded a startup and „reduce bureaucracy to a minimum“ in a company’s second year, „primarily applying to selected tax regulations and documentation requirements.“
Regarding digital infrastructure, the conservatives vowed to „create a nationwide 5G network throughout Germany by 2025 and provide a total of €15 billion for gigabit networks by 2025.“
The program also includes a commitment to pass a „space law“ that will help small and medium-sized enterprises tool up and compete on orbital projects.
Despite the cost of the pandemic with its lockdowns and furlough schemes, Laschet insisted that higher taxes are out of the question.
The manifesto declares itself to be in favor „social market economy instead of socialist redistribution.“ It says that especially in the wake of the pandemic, the state ought to take a step back to make room for more freedom and less regulation.
Rather than new taxes, both Laschet and Söder said, policies to boost economic growth should create the revenue required to pay the bill for COVID-19.
The parties also say they don’t want to create more debt to pick up the tab.
5. Fiscal policy
Instead, the CDU/CSU wants Germany to return to a balanced budget „as quickly as possible.“
Any discussion about amending the constitutionally-enshrined debt brake — also known as commitment to a „black zero,“ which limits the government’s structural deficit to 0.35 percent of GDP — will be off the table should Laschet become chancellor.
Laschet and his allies are also keen to stress a firm line on European debt: The EU’s joint debt issuance for its coronavirus recovery fund, also known as the Next Generation EU program, must be one-off. „It is not an entry into a debt union — and must never become one,“ the manifesto declares.
The manifesto also affirmed a commitment to European Central Bank independence. „Monetary and fiscal policies must remain separate,“ it said.