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)
The opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been largely unable to revive its fortunes after damaging revelations about questionable campaign financing during Helmut Kohl's 16 years as chancellor emerged last year. Meanwhile, the government, led by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Gerhard Schroeder, scored important political and economic successes throughout 2001. After the September 11 attacks against the United States, Schroeder affirmed Germany's willingness to take on a greater international role, and in November the cabinet approved the deployment of troops to assist the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Faced with some protests at the decision within his coalition government, Schroeder called for and narrowly survived a parliamentary vote of confidence in mid-November.
Germany was divided into Soviet, U.S., British, and French occupation zones after World War II. Four years later, the Allies helped to establish the democratic Federal Republic of Germany, while the Soviets oversaw the formation of the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). The political division of Berlin was reinforced by the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall. After the collapse of Erich Honecker's hardline GDR regime in 1989 and the destruction of the wall in 1990, citizens voted in the GDR's first free parliamentary election, in which parties supporting rapid reunification prevailed.
Schroeder's SPD defeated Kohl's CDU in the September 1998 elections, ending Kohl's 16-year rule. The SPD formed a coalition with the Green Party, which was given three ministerial-level positions in the new government. Despite criticism of his economic policies and defeats in several state elections in 1999, Schroeder successfully pushed a major tax reform bill through the opposition-controlled Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament, in July 2000. Favored by economists, big business, trade union leaders, and foreign investors, the bill contains Germany's most radical tax reform since World War II.
A parliamentary committee investigating unreported political contributions to the CDU under Kohl's administration has encountered resistance from the former chancellor, who admits receiving more than $1 million from secret benefactors but refuses to name the donors. In July, his lawyers successfully blocked the public release of files from the former East German secret service, the Stasi, which reportedly contain recorded telephone conversations in which CDU officials refer to secret party funds. Kohl's refusal to cooperate with investigators has drawn criticism from within the CDU, which forced him to resign as honorary chair of the party. He retains his seat in parliament, however, and therefore his immunity from prosecution.
In March 2000, CDU Secretary-General Angela Merkel became the first woman and former East German elected to lead the party. Her political credentials and her criticism of Kohl early in the finance scandal earned her the confidence of the party and its supporters. However, she has since been beset by party infighting and has been criticized for being weak, indecisive, and lacking in coherent policy ideas. In June, a CDU-led coalition government in Berlin collapsed following a financial scandal, and the party suffered a decisive defeat in the October mayoral election for the city-state.
Germans can change their government democratically; the next federal elections are scheduled for the fall of 2002. The federal system provides for considerable self-government in the 16 states. The country's judiciary is independent.
The German press and broadcast media are free and independent, offering pluralistic views. However, Nazi propaganda and statements endorsing Nazism are illegal, with violators facing fines or jail terms of up to three years. 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. In December 2000, the supreme court ruled that individuals outside Germany who post Nazi propaganda aimed at Internet users inside Germany could be prosecuted under German law. However, it is unlikely that the ruling can be enforced in practice. In April 2001, police opened a wide-ranging investigation into the sale of neo-Nazi music on the Internet, raiding 103 homes and questioning 106 suspects.
Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed. Public rallies and marches require official permits, which are routinely denied to right-wing radicals. In September 2000, the government banned the German branch of Blood and Honor, an international skinhead group. Individuals are free to form political parties and to receive federal funding as long as the parties are democratic in nature. Both houses of parliament filed a request with the Federal Constitutional Court in March 2001 to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). A fringe party with some 6,000 members, the NPD advocates pro-German policies and opposes immigration, and its members have been blamed for inciting violence against foreigners.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Basic Law (constitution). 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 exclude Scientologists from membership, claiming that the group does not constitute a religion, but rather a for-profit organization based on antidemocratic principles. New anti-terror measures passed in November 2001 lifted the constitutional protection of religious organizations; religious groups can now be banned if they are suspected of inciting violence or undermining democracy. In December, Germany banned more than 20 Islamic groups and carried out raids on their premises.
The Basic Law gives ethnic Germans entering the country unrestricted citizenship immediately upon application. Parliament passed a law in 1999 granting automatic citizenship to the children born in Germany to foreign immigrants. Foreign adults can now receive citizenship after living in Germany for eight years. The law also allows dual citizenship for the first time in German history, although only until age 23, when dual citizens must choose between either their parents' or German nationality. In July 2001, an immigration commission concluded that Germany would have to accept up to 50,000 immigrants every year to support its economy by rectifying acute domestic skills shortages. However, initiatives to grant work permits to foreigners have met with resistance from opposition politicians.
Germany has no antidiscrimination law to protect immigrants, and even ethnic German immigrants face hostility from citizens, particularly in the east, who attribute the country's social and economic woes to immigration. In early July, the Council of Europe criticized the government for failing to curb an increase in racist and anti-Semitic attacks, noting that such attacks had increased by nearly 60 percent in 2000 to a total of 16,000 attacks. The rising tide of racist violence led the government to announce measures to crack down on neo-Nazis, including the allocation of new funds for an educational effort to fight racism and for victims of violence.
In the wake of lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors against German companies, Germany established a fund in 1999 to compensate nearly 1.5 million Nazi-era slave laborers who were forced to work for German manufacturers. Half of the money is to come from German industry, the other half from the government. In June, the lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a compensation package worth $4.6 billion.
Trafficking in women is a serious problem, according to reports by the U.S. State Department. Some 80 percent of these come from Eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R. Laws against trafficking have been modified to address the problem more effectively, and they currently provide penalties of up to ten years in prison. In October, the parliament approved a law improving the status of prostitutes. The law removed some of the penalties linked to prostitution, as well as giving an estimated 400,000 prostitutes new rights, including their entitlement to pensions and health and unemployment insurance. In August, a new law giving legal recognition to same-sex relationships came into effect, although the measure was opposed by the conservative states of Bavaria and Saxony.
Labor, business, and farming groups are free, highly organized, and influential. Trade union federation membership has dropped sharply in recent years, however, as a result of the collapse of industry in the east and layoffs in the west.