In the invitation to your party congress you asked for a written summary of our reflections and experiences with coalition governments or other forms of alliances with social-democratic or green parties.
I am very curious about your discussions, because in the Party of Democtratic Socialism of Berlin we had similar debates nearly four years ago.I will try to answer your questions, but first I must apologise for my poor English. Perhaps there is someone in this seminar who could translate German into English? But if not, I will do my best.
On 21 October 2001 we had early elections to the Berlin City Parliamant. The “Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin” is one of the 16 Laender- or Federal parliamants in Germany. The results were very good for the left wing parties. ( PDS: 22.6 % = 4.9 %; SPD (Social Democrats): 29.7 % = 7.3 %; CDU (Conservatives): 23.7 % = -17.1 %; Green Party: 9.1 % = -0.8 % and FDP (Liberal Business Party) 9.9 % = 7.7 %) The so called „grand coalition“ of the social democrats (SPD) and the conservatives (CDU) collapsed and after unsuccessful coalition negotiations between the SPD, the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP), we formed a red-red coalition between SPD and PDS.
Since January 2002, we have in the Berlin government (Senate) a social-democtratic Mayor, Klaus Wowereit; five social-democratic ministers (Senators) and three ministers from the PDS. The PDS ministers are: Harald Wolf, for the Senate Department for Economics, Labour and Women's Issues; Thomas Flierl, for the Senate Department for Science, Research and Culture; and Heidi Knake-Werner for the Senate Department for Health, Social Services and Consumer Protection.
The overall experiences of forming the red - red coalition are positive. During the party Congress in Berlin in April 2004 we had a discussion aimed at taking stock of the first half of the legislative period. After this debate the party congress decided with a clear majority that the overall result was positive.
We did make many big decisions that where not possible in the past. We now have in Berlin more social justice, more civil rights, but we also have many problems. Tomorrow the Berlin boroughs will have the opportunity of referendums for which it will be necessary to change the Berlin constitution. This change will only be possible because of the red-red coalition. People with drug-problems are also no longer treated as criminals, but instead get help in special “drug consumption
rooms”, i.e. rooms which are monitored by doctors and specialists. As the drugs are still acquired illegally this arrangement has the cooperation of not only the department of prosecution, but also of the police and the government. We also created a better situation for refugees. For instance, now they no longer have to live in alloted and segregated accommodation but in normal flats and are therefore more integrated into society. Additionally, they no longer have to buy food in supermarkets with special coupons, but instead get normal money. We have saved the future of the three big opera houses, the three universities, and, last but not least, of both zoos. The fact that we have more operas, zoos and universities than most other cities of the world is a direct result of Berlin’s divided past. Many people in the West which thought before the red-red coalition was formed, that the PDS is an old Marxistic-Leninistic communist party, now see that we are a normal modern socialistic party.
But the most important thing in the last three years was the total change of the financial politics. This brought us some hard discussions in the party, with both the trade unions as well as with some (former) friends on the left. The PDS (and the SPD) said before the elections that the financial reorganisation will be the key for the future of Berlin. In the past the „grand coalition“ mounted up debts of 40 billion Euros on a budget of 20 billion Euros. They got deeper and deeper into debt to pay the accumulated interest using money that could have been used for social, cultural and educational purposes. That was not our way. We wanted a change and we made it. Our goal is it to reduce the expenses to match the income (without debts and interest) by 2006 and we are optimistic to achieve this. We also sued the federal government to pay two thirds of our debt. The Federal Constitution Court will make the decision next year. This is the most important decision for the future of Berlin.
But, as you know, to reduce the costs in the budget is not easy and so we have disussions.
Our position in the opinion polls fluctuates. Shortly after the last elections we had 22 % which then dropped to 13 % because many of our voters were disappointed because we were not able to solve the problems of Berlin very quickly. After the resignation of our very popular former top candidate Gregor Gysi and our “Waterloo” in the federal elections of 2002, we had only 9 % resulting in very hard debates in the whole Federal Party to end this coalition. Since the extraordinary session of the PDS-congress
in July 2003 where we elected our Party Chairman Lothar Bisky this discussion changed to one about the „how“ of left coalitions and no longer about the „if“.
Since then, we maintain a solid 15 % in the polls and a right wing coalition has no chance in Berlin. SPD, PDS and the Greens have about 60 % in all polls and so we are in an optimistic regarding the elections in 2006.
The problems we had in the coalition basically resulted from federal politics. For instance the issue about „unlimited support“ of George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks and the conflict resulting from the fact that we and our ministers protested on the streets against the so called „Hartz-Reformen“, reforms going to the heart of the social system of the country. So we found ourselves to be part of the government and the opposition at the same time.
But in comparison to the grand coalition we had a very harmonic working coalition.
Conclusion: In the society we lost some support on the radical left, but we gained much more acceptance in the middle of the society. Of course, not all of them will elect us in the future but we think that this development has value for the party generally, because we show in Berlin that the PDS is not only a good left wing opposition, but even more, it is a pragmatic modern left wing party in the government.
Not because it is fun to be a part of a government, but to change the politics in our way.