1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

How German parties copy ideas from other countries

September 22, 2021

You don't get extra votes for originality in politics — across Germany's election manifestos, influence from elsewhere is everywhere. Here are some of the policies that have been taken from other countries.

party campaign posters
In election year, all German parties seek to learn from other countriesImage: Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture alliance

As the election campaign moves into its very last phase, DW takes a look at the main political parties and some of the ideas they have borrowed from other countries:

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) — Make the long-term unemployed into street cleaners (from Denmark)

With poll ratings dropping to historic lows, some representatives of Armin Laschet's struggling center-right Christian Democratic Union decided to try and shore up its conservative base in early September.

Sven Schulze, CDU leader in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, told the Bild tabloid newspaper that the party was thinking of forcing the long-term unemployed to do community work, such as sweeping litter and leaves from the streets. 

Several other leading conservative figures echoed the idea, including the CDU's Berlin parliamentary leader Burkard Dregger, and Michael Kuffer, interior policy spokesman for the CDU's Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

But the policy has apparently been cribbed from the Danish government, which has recently launched such an initiative on the grounds that it could help immigrants integrate into the labor market. The plan was met with widespread criticism in Denmark, with some claiming it did nothing to help people find work and others pointing out that overburdened local authorities were left with the task of finding work for people to do.

Denmark Tells Syrians to Return Home

Social Democratic Party (SPD) — Pension reform (from Sweden)

The front-running SPD has often brought up the unsexy but important issue of pension reform. The Swedish pension model has long been seen as attractive to many German politicians because it's similar to the German one — mixing public, private, and company pensions, with the key difference that Swedes pay an additional contribution that is put in state funds that are invested in capital markets. 

The pro-free market FDP, unsurprisingly, is very keen on this idea, though the SPD has also spied something else it likes about the Swedish model: The fact that private pensions can also be offered by state institutions.  

Green Party — BPA chemical ban (from France) 

Perhaps surprisingly, Germany is behind many of its neighbors when it comes to banning toxic chemicals. Bisphenol A (BPAs) is used in many plastic products including food containers, and has been linked to poor sperm quality and asthma. BPAs have also been found to disrupt the fertility of fish when it passes into ecosystems. 

The US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) has already banned the use of BPAs to make baby bottles. The European Union has listed BPAs as a "substance of high concern," while France has banned their use since 2015. The Green party election manifesto specifically cites the French example, saying it is keen to protect consumers. 

Boy looking at computer screen with video conference showing
The FDP wants to introduce new methods for teachingImage: Michael Schick/imago images

Free Democratic Party (FDP) — Learning Analytics (from China and the US), Points-based immigration (from Canada)

The FDP has made the digital overhaul of Germany one of its main projects — though to be fair, the other parties have all recognized that Germany's poor digital infrastructure is a huge issue for voters. But the FDP's plans appear to be the most ambitious, with a wholesale plan to plug the entire education system into a kind of artificial intelligence.

This plan is called Learning Analytics, an idea already implemented in the US and China, and involves mining massive amounts of data about students in order to optimize learning environments. "Artificial intelligence offers the possibility of individualizing learning and teaching for children and young people," the FDP manifesto promises. Perhaps considering Germans' sensitivity about privacy, the manifesto hastily adds that this must of course happen under strict data protection. 

The FDP is also very interested in Canada's famous points-based immigration system, a model that German politicians of many parties have enthused about over the past two decades. The points system, also used in Australia, is seen as a way of organizing immigration to favor those most likely to integrate into the job market (for instance, because of their age or language skills). This would, the FDP argues in its manifesto, attract more skilled workers (which German businesses are desperately short of) from non-EU countries to Germany — even before they have a job offer.

Left Party — Four-day/30-hour workweek (from Iceland)

In early July, Iceland's Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) described the country's seven-year experiment in reducing working hours as a "complete success." Employees described feeling healthier and less stressed, while employers had no complaints about productivity. The shift encouraged companies to streamline their operations: there were fewer meetings, and unnecessary tasks were cut. 

Germany's socialist Left Party first floated the idea of a four-day workweek in 2020, gaining much media attention. But, that specific phrase does not appear in the current election manifesto (as it did in an initial draft). Instead, the manifesto states that the party "supports trade unions in their fight for a significant reduction in working time, towards a 30-hour week."

Porsche production
The Left Party would like to introduce a four-day workweekImage: Marijn Murat/dpa/picture alliance

Alternative for Germany (AfD) — Banning Muslim clothing, more referendums (from Switzerland), restrictive immigration (from Japan)  

No country is mentioned more approvingly in the far-right party's manifesto than Switzerland, (where co-leader Alice Weidel also keeps a home). The AfD manifesto claims Switzerland has both a better tax system (taxes on above-average incomes are lower there) and better trains than Germany.

Like Switzerland, and several other European countries, the AfD would like to ban the wearing of the Muslim burqa and the niqab. The AfD also wants to import what it calls the "Swiss model" on referendums, which it even goes so far as to describe as a "non-negotiable" condition of any coalition negotiations (this is academic since all the other parties have ruled out a coalition with the AfD). The model would see ordinary citizens be allowed to make law proposals, though it's unclear how exactly those proposals would make it to a referendum stage.

The AfD is also enamored by Japan's immigration system, which it sees as particularly restrictive and protective of national identity.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year’s election and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight