Socialism Today - Germany's Tories in crisis
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Issue 45, September 1999

Germany's Tories in crisis

THE DREAM of the former chancellor, Helmut Kohl, was to go down in history as the architect of German reunification, European unification and as the chancellor with the longest term of office in German post-war history. In the last few weeks this dream has been shattered. His name, and his conservative CDU/CSU and FDP coalition government which lasted for 16 years, are now identified with corruption and illegal donations to political parties.

Nearly every day a new piece of truth is revealed. If the pieces of the puzzle are put together, it shows that there has been a systematic practice in the Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU) to accept donations from big business in private meetings. This money, hard currency handed over in suitcases, was then deposited in secret bank accounts, to which only Kohl and his inner circle had access. They spent this money stabilising their system of power and buying support for their policies, especially inside the party. For example, the weapons dealer, Karlheinz Schreiber, donated one million deutschmarks ($530,000) to the CDU. Out of this, he gave DM100,000 to Wolfgang Schäuble, the current chairman of the CDU/CSU. The same practice can be found at the Bundesland (federal state) level of the party. In Hessen the CDU had secret foreign accounts amounting to DM13 million. It is still unclear where this money came from.

Many people ask why the leadership of the CDU and big business adopted this practice at all. In Germany, donations to political parties are not restricted in their amount and companies can even claim tax reductions on them. But there are advantages in secret financing. The donator can remain anonymous - where such donations have been declared, they were entered as miscellaneous income - whereas official donations have to be registered. This regulation was introduced under public pressure after the 'Flick scandal' in the late 1970s. Not publishing the donators' names also allowed the Kohl government to conceal the direct connection between donations by companies and political decisions. For example, it has now been proven that before the sale of the East German chemistry complex, Leuna, to Elf Aquitaine, large donations were made to CDU politicians by Thyssen/Krupp, a German partner of Elf Aquitaine. The CDU were also able to realise tax advantages by hiding the money or splitting it up into smaller sums.


The media is now denouncing the 'Kohl system' and his 'patriarchal style of leadership'. In effect, they are blurring the fact that this form of corruption is a normal part of capitalist society. There is no independence of the state from business interests in this system. The present corruption scandal involving German bourgeois politicians is only the latest of a long list of scandals throughout the last decade. The group picture of the Maastricht Treaty in 1991, for example, shows seven politicians, including Kohl, from different EU countries, who have been involved in corruption scandals since: François Mitterrand (France), Felipe Gonzales (Spain), Konstantinos Mitsotakis (Greece), Charles Haughey (Ireland), Giulio Andreotti (Italy), and Wilfried Martens (Belgium).

These corruption scandals are only the illegal part of the story. Billions of deutschmarks and other European currencies are spent legally every year by big business all over Europe to buy political decisions. The money spent forms part of their everyday conduct - just like advertising expenditure. After the collapse of the former Stalinist countries, the world's capitalist rulers pointed to the privileges enjoyed by the Stalinist bureaucracies. But the privileges of capitalist politicians are even greater and their system is just as rotten.

This is why the political capital gained by the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) led 'Red-Green' coalition government in Germany, at the expense of the CDU/CSU, will be limited. The mood among working-class people is more against the establishment in general than the CDU/CSU and Kohl in particular. In a survey, 72% of German voters see corruption as a problem of all the establishment parties. Only 24% of the population trust the political parties; 72% mistrust them. Compared to the month before the CDU/CSU scandal, the approval rating of the SPD-led government has increased by only 5%, to 31%. But 66% of the population are still disappointed with the government's policies. If there were elections today, abstentions would reach 40%.


The CDU have been thrown into crisis by the affair but it is unlikely that the party will meltdown as the Italian Democrazia Cristiana did after the 'Tangentopoli' corruption scandals of the early 1990s. But it is not ruled out, however, that this scandal could speed up a regroupment of the German political landscape.

The potential for the development of a far-right, populist party, like Jörg Haider's FPÖ in Austria, undoubtedly exists, and the erosion of support for the CDU would be an important factor in this. But more important will be the impact of the neo-liberal policies that are being pursued by the Red-Green government - itself facing a number of sleaze allegations involving politicians from the leading SPD, which were revealed only a few weeks after the beginning of the Kohl affair. The current president, SPD member, Johannes Rau, for example, accepted DM185,000 from the state bank, West LB, to finance his birthday party and used their airplanes for his holiday travel. The SPD prime minister of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Glogowski, had to retire because he was revealed to have accepted 'hospitality' from a beer corporation to finance his wedding reception!

Sozialistische Alternative Voran, the German section of the Committee for a Workers' International, is calling for an independent inquiry composed of trade union delegates to bring out the truth about the financing of all political parties. We also call for the opening up of the books of the banks and big corporations, and an end to the state financing of political parties.

Lorenz Blume,
Sozialistische Alternative Voran

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