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Ask any relatively well-informed person born in the second half of the last century what their image of Germany is. You will certainly say that it is a great economic power, world leader in the production and export of high quality manufactured goods, from machines to automobiles. You will also remember that it is the leading country in the European Union, whose currency, before the Euro, the German Mark, rivaled the North American dollar in strength and international prestige. He will also say that the European Union is a grouping that brings together 26 countries around Germany, which follow the fiscal rules defined by Parliament and the German central bank, Deutsche Bank. Continue the conversation and you will be reminded that the German educational system is one of the best in the world, with its school-business integration scheme; that companies are managed collectively by employers and employees; that there are practically no strikes in the country and that its social security system is unrivaled in the world. Finally, remember that Germany is a democratic country, the most open to immigrants in all of Europe, and also a pacifist one. This person will probably also remember that after the First and Second World Wars the German Army was never heard of again.

Well then. It looks like all this is changing. Long Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany is now the slowest growing country among the 20 countries using the euro. The predictions are that, after entering recession in 2023, the economy will remain stagnant in 2024. The harmonious relations between capital and labor, a hallmark of German social democracy, are things of the past. As reported by the New York Times (03/22), “A wave of strikes this year has Germans wondering if that is changing now. By some measures, the first three months of 2024 saw the highest number of strikes in the country in 25 years.”

Also according to the article, “Under the weight of rising energy prices and falling production, the country suffered the highest inflation in the last 50 years last year. The burden fell most heavily on low- and middle-income workers. Since 2022, their real wages, according to a recent study, have declined more than at any time since World War II (…) for lower-income workers, who are now preparing for a less prosperous future than before. present, there is little to fall back on. Around 40% of families have little or no net savings.”

And what is the reason for this rapid German decline? According to the aforementioned article, “For decades, Germany’s economy prospered profitably, supported by exports to China and cheap gas from Russia. But Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine led Europe to turn away from the Russian gas that fueled German industry. And Beijing’s deepening “Made in China” strategy is transforming a huge Asian market, once a source of growth for Germany, into an industrial rival (…) The impact on Germany has been worse than anywhere else in the world. Europe, precisely because of its enormous manufacturing industry, which represents a fifth of the country’s global economic production – almost twice that of France or Great Britain.”

There is no way that these economic difficulties will not have political impacts. In the absence of a democratic and progressive alternative to face these difficulties, what has been gaining ground in Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, are the extreme right-wing forces. In the case of Germany, the “Alternative for Germany”, an extreme right-wing party which, according to German intelligence services, of its 28 thousand members, 10 thousand, especially its youth wing, are extremists, many involved in accusations crimes, including a foiled plot in 2022 to violently overthrow the government, is not only the most popular party in the three states holding elections this year, but also polls 20% nationally.

Having already gone through the traumatic experience of Nazism, when the Nazis used elections to seize the reins of the state and shape an authoritarian system, Germany’s democratic forces find themselves faced with a dilemma: how far should a democracy go to restrict a party that Do many believe they are committed to undermining it, without this meaning killing democracy itself?

Editing: Bárbara Luz


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