Early federal elections in Germany are around the corner. Policies that affect 16 to 30-year olds are not high on the political agenda however. Nevertheless, political and non-political groups are reaching out to them.
War protests aren't the only way to get youth politically active
It was not difficult to pick out Ole Erdmann out of the small group seated around two tables in Bonn's Cafe Nyx. The university student is animated and emanates an air of authority. Most importantly, he exudes optimism, something he and his cohorts in the Young Socialists (Jusos), the youth fraction of chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD), need.
The defeat of the SPD in state elections in North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) on May 22 -- after 39 years of rule -- sent shock waves throughout the Jusos in all of NRW. A positive spin had to be found.
"On election evening, four or five people joined," said Erdmann (photo). They will need the new manpower. Nine lost state elections in a row like the Social Democrats have suffered does not exactly stir up cheerfulness and enthusiasm.
"You have to bring a lot of idealism with you," said Katrin Bierwirt who has been a Juso member for six years. A time where she has watched a slow, steady decline of the party's popularity across the country despite it being in power in Berlin. With the exception of Schröder's reelection in 2002, victory parties for the SPD have been far and few between.
Unemployment, tuition worries
The most recent unemployment benefits laws, particularly Hartz IV, named after Peter Hartz, the man who helped draw up the legislation and who also is head of personnel at VW, are reason for concern with the Jusos. Up until the late 1990's, Germany's welfare and unemployment recipients lived relatively secure lives. The sagging economy and huge federal deficits since then have caused the center-left government in Berlin to make harsh cuts. Having no job is no longer an option, at least that's the word from Berlin.
Thousands protested against social welfare cuts in Leipzig in 2004. Nevertheless, they got Hartz IV and the cuts in 2005
"If someone graduates from university and isn't sure he'll find a job," explained Erdmann, "and then is sitting on college tuition debts, which is what the opposition is promoting, then things will be a lot worse. Hartz IV is a huge problem."
Yet the Jusos aren't expecting to see any changes within the labor market. The Hartz laws are fully embedded in Schröder's "Agenda 2010" which is supposed to reform the German labor market and result in a stronger German economy.
Where they now will see changes is in the university system.
CDU youth for tuition
Before being elected in May, the CDU in NRW pledged to introduce tuition fees at the state's universities. Albeit they are planning a modest 500 euro per semester fee, the Junge Union (JU), the group for those under 35 in the CDU but predominantly made up of students, thinks the move is long overdue. German universities suffer from overcrowding and underfunding.
The CDU wants to levy tuition fees so that lecture halls at universities can continue to be funded
"The fact that we won the state election means that tuition will be introduced at universities in NRW," said Hans-Peter Bröhl, head of the Cologne JU. "There should be tuition for the duration of studies and repayment would start once the graduate found a job."
Continue reading to find out more about the views of young Germany.