Germany's president said that "hatred and enmity" were starting to poison political debate. He warned politicians to heed the voices of voters in order to counter the rising tide of populism.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a call for civility and repudiation of hatred and enmity on Thursday during an event to mark the 70th anniversary of Germany's constitution, known as the Basic Law.
"With all freedom and in the heat of conflict, something must be retained that can be summed up in two concepts: decency and reason," said Steinmeier, standing alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 200 citizens who received invitations to the event.
"And that is also the reason that we are here, because we do not want hatred and enmity to penetrate our debates like a poison," the president said.
He also called on political leaders to listen to the concerns of their constituents, warning that populism feeds off feelings of political impotence.
"Impotence is poison to democracy," he said. "Populists make insidious use of feelings of this kind. They convert justified concerns into blind rage."
President: Germans don't know their constitution
Steinmeier also expressed regret that Germans were not better versed in their own constitution. Citing a recent study by Infratest dimap, in which participants were asked which topics they thought about in connection with the Basic Law, the president said that while most people approved of their constitution, they did so without knowing its precise contents.
"Twenty-seven percent mentioned Article 1, human dignity, or generally the basic rights. This was followed by equality, freedom of expression and the press, the rule of law, down to freedom of worship at 4%," Steinmeier said.
He then noted, however, that this could be the sign of a stable economy and lack of major political crises.
"A constitution must prove itself when times are hard. Would we have sufficient constitutional patriots in such times? I believe yes, but we have to reinforce this constantly."
Steinmeier had invited Merkel and a group of citizens to engage in a question and answer session during voting for the European Parliament. The European Council on Foreign Relations has estimated that one-third of votes in the 751-seat legislature could be won by anti-European populists.
es/jm (AFP, dpa)