2001 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.5
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 1

Overview

The opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) reeled in 2000 from damaging revelations about questionable campaign financing during Helmut Kohl's 16 years as chancellor. As the CDU's new leadership worked to restore the party's image, the government, led by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Gerhard Schroder, scored important political and economic successes.

Germany was divided into Soviet, U.S., British, and French occupation zones after World War II. Four years later, the Allies helped to establish a democratic Federal Republic of Germany, while the Soviets oversaw the formation of the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). The division of Berlin was reinforced by the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall. After the collapse of Erich Honecker's hardline GDR regime in 1989 and the destruction of the wall in 1990, citizens voted in the GDR's first free parliamentary election, in which parties supporting rapid reunification prevailed. In the spring of 1999, the German military participated in NATO air strikes in Kosovo, its first combat mission since World War II.

Schroder's SPD defeated Kohl's CDU in September 1998, ending Kohl's 16-year rule. The SPD formed a coalition with the Green Party, which was given the foreign ministry and two other ministerial-level positions in the new government. Despite criticism of his economic policies and defeats in several state elections in 1999, Schroder successfully pushed a major tax reform bill through the opposition-controlled Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament, in July 2000. Favored by economists, big business, trade union leaders, and foreign investors, the bill contains Germany's most radical tax reform since World War II. The SPD also won major state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in May and Schleswig-Holstein in February. Prior to the campaign finance scandal, the CDU had been favored to win in both states.

A parliamentary committee investigating unreported political contributions to the CDU under Kohl's administration has encountered resistance from the former chancellor, who has admitted receiving more than $1 million in unreported donations but refuses to name the donors. He has also vowed to block the release of files from the former East German secret service, the Stasi, which reportedly contain recorded telephone conversations in which CDU officials refer to secret party funds. Kohl's refusal to cooperate with investigators has drawn criticism from within the CDU, which has forced him to resign as honorary chair of the party. He retains his seat in parliament, however, and therefore his immunity from prosecution. In February, CDU leader Wolfgang Schaeuble resigned over criticism of his handling of the scandal.

In March, CDU secretary-general Angela Merkel became the first woman and former east German elected to lead the party. Her political credentials and her criticism of Kohl early in the finance scandal earned her the confidence of the party and its supporters. However, by year's end she was beset by party infighting and criticized for being weak and indecisive, and for lacking coherent policy ideas. In July, the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, fined the CDU some $3 million over the financial scandal, leaving the party in dire financial condition. A CDU state official in Hesse resigned in September over allegedly covering up embezzlement of party funds in the early 1990s. CDU general secretary Ruprecht Polenz was apparently forced to resign in October in an effort by Merkel to reassert control over the party. Polenz had been criticized for not doing enough to divert attention from the party's internal problems. A policy paper on immigration published by the CDU in November only deepened divisions between party right-wingers and centrists. It also drew sharp attacks from immigrant advocates and other politicians for its references to a Leitkultur, or "guiding culture," to which immigrants must conform. Opinion polls in September put Merkel 20 points behind Schroder.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Germans can change their government democratically. The federal system provides for considerable self-government in the 16 states. The country's judiciary is independent.

The German press and broadcast media are free and independent, offering pluralistic views. However, Nazi propaganda and statements endorsing Nazism are illegal. Germany has exceeded other countries' practices in its attempts to police the Internet by blocking access to obscene, violent, or "dangerous" material. The government has brought charges against service providers and individual users. After a series of racist attacks during the summer of 2000, state and federal officials agreed to crack down on neo-Nazi Internet sites. German NDR Radio reported in August that some 90 right-wing groups had transferred their sites to U.S.-based service providers to avoid the crackdown. In December, the German supreme court ruled that individuals outside Germany who post Nazi propaganda aimed at Internet users inside Germany could be prosecuted under German law. However, it is unlikely that the ruling can be enforced in practice.

Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed. Public rallies and marches require official permits, which are occasionally denied to right-wing radicals. A Berlin court in August banned a march planned to mark the anniversary of the death of Nazi-era deputy leader Rudolf Hess. In September, the government banned the German branch of Blood and Honor, an international skinhead group. Individuals are free to form political parties and to receive federal funding as long as the parties are democratic in nature. Beginning in October, the government, the Bundestag, and the Bundesrat all voted to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). A fringe party with some 6,000 members, the NPD advocates pro-German policies and opposes immigration, and its members have been blamed for inciting violence against foreigners. The ban was before the constitutional court at year's end, and a final ruling could take years.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Basic Law (constitution). State governments subsidize church-affiliated schools and provide religious instruction in schools and universities for those of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish faiths. Scientologists, who claim 30,000 adherents in Germany, have been at the center of a heated debate over the group's legal status. Major political parties exclude Scientologists from membership, claiming that the group does not constitute a religion, but rather a for-profit organization based on antidemocratic principles. Officials accuse the group of financially exploiting followers and exerting psychological pressure on those who attempt to leave it.

The Basic Law gives ethnic Germans entering the country unrestricted citizenship and legal residence immediately upon application. Parliament passed a law in 1999 granting automatic citizenship to the children born in Germany to foreign immigrants. The law also allows dual citizenship for the first time in German history, although only until age 23, when dual citizens must choose between their parents' or German nationality. Foreign adults can now receive citizenship after living in Germany for eight years. In August, the government launched an initiative to grant 20,000 new work permits to foreigners with excellent skills in computer technology. The move was aimed at rectifying acute domestic skills shortages. In December, the government relaxed a three-year-old ban on the employment of asylum seekers.

Germany has no antidiscrimination law to protect immigrants, and even ethnic German immigrants face hostility from citizens, particularly in the east, who attribute the country's social and economic woes to immigration. The interior ministry recorded some 600 attacks by neo-Nazis or far right-wingers against immigrants, Jews, and the homeless each month from January to July 2000, and at least 1,100 attacks in August. Three people, including a Mozambican immigrant, were killed in such attacks. What appeared to be a rising tide of racist violence led the government to announce measures to crack down on neo-Nazis, including the allocation of new funds for an educational effort to fight racism and for victims of violence. Schroder toured the country during the summer appealing for tolerance and announced the government's intention to ban the far-right NPD.

In the wake of lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors against German companies, Germany established a fund in 1999 to compensate Nazi-era slave laborers who were forced to work for German manufacturers. In May 2000, the upper house of parliament approved a bill paving the way for compensation worth ten billion German marks ($4.6 billion). Half of the money is to come from German industry, the other half from the government. In August, Germany's Roman Catholic Church announced that it would pay some $5 million in compensation for its role in forced labor during the Nazi era.

Trafficking in women is a serious problem, according to reports by the U.S. State Department. Estimates of the number of women trafficked through and to Germany per year are variable, ranging between 2,000 and 20,000. Some 80 percent of these come from Eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R. Laws against trafficking have been modified to address the problem more effectively, and currently provide penalties of up to ten years in prison. In October, the Bundestag voted to allow women to serve combat duty in the military. In December, the Bundesrat began debating proposals to give legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

Labor, business, and farming groups are free, highly organized, and influential. Trade union federation membership has dropped sharply in recent years, however, as a result of the collapse of industry in the east and layoffs in the west.

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