Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In October, Gerhard Schroeder replaced Helmut Kohl, Europe’s longest serving leader, as Chancellor of Germany. In September elections, Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party SPD had defeated Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), thereby ending Kohl’s 16-year rule. The SPD, which received approximately forty percent of the vote, formed a coalition with the Green Party, which was given the foreign ministry and two other ministerial-level positions in the new government.
In his first year as chancellor, Schroeder is expected to focus on unemployment and other domestic issues.
After World War II, Germany was divided into Soviet, U.S., British, and French occupation zones. Four years later, the Allies helped to establish a democratic Federal Republic of Germany, while the Soviets oversaw the formation of the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). The division of Berlin was reinforced by the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall. After the collapse of Erich Honecker's hard-line GDR regime in 1989 and the destruction of the wall in 1990, citizens voted in the country's first free parliamentary election, in which parties supporting rapid re-unification triumphed.
German citizens can change their government democratically. The federal system provides for a considerable amount of self-government among the 16 states. Individuals are free to form political parties and to receive federal funding as long as the parties are democratic in nature. The country's judiciary is independent.
The Basic Law (Constitution) provides for unrestricted citizenship and legal residence immediately upon application for ethnic Germans entering the country. Individuals not of German ethnicity may acquire citizenship if they meet certain requirements, including legal residence for ten years (five if married to a German) and renunciation of all other citizenships. At year’s end, the new government pledged to liberalize this citizenship law, which has been strongly criticized by international human rights groups for being nationalistic and outdated. Under the new proposal, citizenship will be granted to children born in Germany to non-German citizens, at least one of whom has lived in Germany since the age of 14. Children born in Germany to one or two German-born parents will automatically acquire German citizenship. Foreign adults will be able to receive citizenship after living in Germany for eight years. In addition, dual citizenship will be allowed for the first time.
Germany has no anti-discrimination law to protect immigrants, and even ethnic German immigrants increasingly face hostility from citizens who attribute the country's economic woes and high unemployment to immigration.
The German press and broadcast media are free and independent, offering pluralistic viewpoints. Nazi propaganda and statements endorsing Nazism are illegal. Germany has exceeded other countries' practices in its attempts to police the Internet by blocking access to obscene, violent, or "dangerous" material. The government has brought charges against service-providers and individual users. During the year, however, the law was modified to exempt service-providers from legal responsibility for material beyond their control. The legislative change resulted in part from criticism of the sentencing in May of the head of a major service-provider to a two-year suspended jail term for spreading pornography.
Nazi-related, anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant, and racist incidents all increased during the year, and xenophobic political policies and pronouncements continued to find support among voters. The country’s internal security agency has registered a strong rise in racist and far right radical tendencies. In April, the far right German People’s Union won 12.9 percent of the vote – the best election result for a far right party since World War II – in regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt. In October, the leader of another far right party was sentenced to six months in jail for glorifying violence through CD’s in which the party described the brutal murder of its political opponents.
In June, the government drew criticism from human rights groups for tightening the country’s liberal asylum law. In a move that critics decried as electioneering, all of the major political parties collaborated in the passage of a provision that dramatically cut government benefits to asylum-seekers.
Freedom of religion is established under the Basic Law. State governments subsidize church-affiliated schools and provide religious instruction in schools and universities for those of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish faiths.
Scientologists, who claim 30,000 adherents in Germany, have been at the center of a heated debate over the group's legal status. Major political parties, which exclude Scientologists from membership, hold that the group does not constitute a religion, but a for-profit organization based on anti-democratic principles. Officials have stated that the group financially exploits its followers and exerts extreme psychological pressure on those who attempt to leave the group. They have also stated that Germany's unique history necessitates their close scrutiny of extremist groups that could, like the Nazi Party, begin as a small organization and then undergo explosive growth.
Labor, business, and farming groups are free, highly organized, and influential. In recent years, however, trade union federation membership has dropped sharply due to the collapse of industry in the East and layoffs in the West.