Germany: Red-Green Reelected (24.09.2002)On 22 September the ruling coalition of the left-of-centre Social Democrats (SPD) and their ecologist junior partner, the Greens, won a small but working majority of seats of the German Bundestag, the federal parliament, thereby virtually assuring chancellor Schroeder's re-election in October.
During the last four years, the coalition had introduced harm reduction policies such as expanded methadone maintenance and safe injection rooms for addicts. This year saw the start of a controlled trial of diamorphine (heroin) to enable it's prescription by doctors. Before the 1998 election, the Greens had also campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis. In the coalition negotiations, Schroeder rejected that demand. The Greens got the position of Federal Drug Czar and drugs policy was moved from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Health. The coalition agreement persisted: The Greens got other parts of their agenda acted on, such as gay civil union and a gradual phasing out of nuclear energy, but Cannabis reform remained locked out for that session of parliament.
The 2002 election became a cliffhanger. While the SPD shed votes, dropping to 38.5%, the Greens polled 8.6%, their best result in more than two decades of existence. Under Germany's proportional representation system they take 55 out of 603 seats. Hans-Christian Stroebele, one of their direct seat candidates, even managed to pull ahead of his major party challengers and won a direct seat in a Berlin constituency. Three weeks before the elections, Stroebele had been one of the speakers at the annual Hanfparade in Berlin, the biggest cannabis event in the country.
While the right-of-centre Christian Democrats (CDU-CSU), campaigning chiefly about high unemployment, managed to reclaim some of the votes lost in 1998, their result of 248 seats fell short of the 251 seats won by chancellor Schroeder's SPD. The smaller Liberals (FDP) won 7,4% of the vote, falling not only far short of their over-ambitious goal of 18%, but were also eclipsed by the newly energized Green Party. The reformed ex-communists of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) slipped below the 5% threshold, excluding them from proportional representation seats and left with only two successful direct candidates to represent the Party in parliament.
Both the Greens and the PDS are in favour of cannabis legalisation. SPD and FDP are against full scale legalisation, but are vaguely in support of some form of decriminalisation. Neither has done anything to change the status quo. Before winning the 1998 election, the SPD had clearly been in favour of reform.
The CDU-CSU is hostile to any form of liberalisation. Before losing power it had criminalised sales and possession of drug strain cannabis seeds. Newly introduced "smoke a joint, lose your license" civil penalties got driving licenses revoked even in cases where there was no evidence of a person ever having driven under the influence of cannabis. In July this practice was finally declared unconstitutional by the country's supreme court.
The narrower majority of the red-green coalition should deter more controversial policies. On the other hand the balance of seats clearly shifted towards the Greens and they will demand more influence on key policies. Many of their earlier important projects have been realized during the last parliament. Cannabis reform remains a major unmet demand.
Before the elections, a coalition of drug policy activist groups handed over some 4000 signatures to the Federal Drug Czar, supporting 4 basic demands:
* Depenalisation of possession of up to 30g for personal use,
A solution that meets all or some of these demands seems possible. In addition to pro-legalisation Greens and PDS, politicians of both SPD and FDP have suggested redefining possession of small quantities for personal use as a civil infraction, which would enable police officers to turn a blind eye to it. This could reduce a huge case load of police and prosecutors that has produced little benefit. After cannabis case numbers have increased 8 years in a row, use is still at an all time high. Decreasing confiscation figures at the borders suggest increased personal cultivation, despite the seed ban. In several large cities, even unofficial coffee shops operate. Prosecution rates vary widely between different parts of the country.
Over the next few weeks SPD and Greens will negotiate the working agenda for a new coalition before electing a new government in October.