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German economic boom pushes youth toward Merkel

© FRANCE 24

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2013-09-20

With Germany’s elections set for Sunday, polls show young Germans turning to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. How did the country’s economic boom turn young Germans to the right? FRANCE 24 reports from Germany.

If recent polls are to be believed, the German left can no longer count on what has been one if its more loyal constituencies over the past decade: young people.

Indeed, those under 18 prefer centre-right Chancellor Angela Merkel to her rival, Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck, 27% to 20%, according to a survey of 150,000 young Germans.

French-German tensions

In an interview with the BBC on September 19, French Social Economy Minister Benoit Hamon slammed Germany for seeking an economic edge over other European countries by underpaying workers.

While Merkel has called on France to lower wages in order to boost competitivity, Hamon said he hoped the German leader elected on Sunday would "play fair with an economic model that isn't based on a competition of who can pay workers the least".

It is the first time since 2002 that German youth have leaned toward the right.

Luckily for Steinbrueck and the left, Germans under 18 don’t yet have the right to vote in Sunday’s legislative elections.

But Germans aged 18 to 30, who can vote, are not much kinder to Steinbrueck’s SPD party. A poll carried out by German magazine Focus over the summer indicates that this age group has also shifted its allegiances to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, 14% to 12% for the SPD.

However, neither of Germany’s traditional political parties got as much support in the poll as the Pirate Party (30%), which defends freedom on the internet and opposes any restrictions placed on downloading or sharing films and music.

‘Things aren’t as good elsewhere’

So are young Germans satisfied with life in Europe’s strongest economy and a likely third term for Merkel?

Christina Bocklisch was born in Jena when the city was still part of East Germany. (Photo: FRANCE 24)

“It’s clear that we live in a country that has a stable economy, that we have everything we need and most things we want,” said Christina Bocklisch, a 30-year-old scientist in Berlin.

Fabian Bentley, 26, echoed that sentiment. “It’s hard to complain when we live in a country with such a low unemployment rate,” noted the medical technician, who lives in Berlin.

That contentment is bolstered by a sense among young Germans that their counterparts elsewhere on the continent don’t have it quite as easy.

“You always need to put things in perspective, and compared to other countries, Germany is a good place to be a young person right now,” Bocklisch reflected.

Citizens of other European countries seem to agree. A report published in May by two British research institutes found that Germany was among the world’s best liked and most respected countries.

When Jessica Unger travels abroad, she does not say that she's proud of being German out of fear of having to justify what her country did during World War II. (Photo: FRANCE 24)

“I was surprised by that result,” 25-year-old Berliner Jessica Unger said. “I always thought people saw us as harsh and organised above all.”

Proud to be German?

In allowing much of the world’s anti-German sentiment, left over from World War II, to be replaced by admiration, has Germany’s economic success freed the country’s young people from the burden of history?

Not entirely, many young Germans say.

“I don’t think that I would ever actually say ‘I’m proud to be German’ when I go abroad,” Unger said. “I would still feel obligated to justify myself after what happened during World War II.”

Bocklisch agrees. “The only times young Germans will openly tell non-Germans that they’re proud of their country is on special occasions like the 2006 World Cup,” she explained.

Fabian Bentley is satisfied with life in Germany, but fears that the growing number of retired Germans will overstretch the country's social security system. (Photo: FRANCE 24)

“We’re always reminded of our past,” Bentley offered. “Like during the street protests in Greece, when protesters were comparing German politicians to Nazis.”

Moreover, young Germans are aware that the EU economic policies favoured by Merkel are much loathed in certain European countries -- especially on the southern part of the continent, where the austerity measures she has promoted are seen as a form of economic imperialism.

“There’s a risk that Germany’s reputation may take a nose dive,” Bocklisch speculated, though she remains firm in her faith in Merkel’s stewardship of the economy.

“[These measures] are necessary,” she said, “and Germans are pragmatic.”

Date created : 2013-09-20

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