Germany is voting on September 26. After the election, a coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and the leftist party Die Linke is not impossible. Under what conditions? Response with Ates Gürpinar, member of the management of Die Linke.
Basta! : Today, a coalition government that brings together the Social Democratic Party, the Greens and the Left Party is possible after the legislative elections on September 26. What is Die Linke’s position on this?
Ates Gürpinar : The question has obviously come up a lot in recent weeks. But the first thing is to have a good result on September 26th. Then determine the conditions for participating in a government. The stronger the left-wing party, the more pressure can be exerted on the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens to really achieve another social policy. The SPD today imagines being able to govern with the liberal party, the FDP, but with them, nothing can be done for more social justice, and besides nothing for more climate justice.
It must be a project of a left government, from the point of view of social policy and the redistribution of wealth. Since Merkel has been in power, both poverty and wealth have increased dramatically in Germany. We have to come to a change on this, to raise taxes for the richest to help those who are most in need. On the minimum wage [which is today 9.50 euros gross per hour in Germany], the SPD wants to raise it to 12 euros, we to 13 euros, because it is the minimum so as not to end up below the poverty line upon retirement. We must also not forget the workers in the necessary fight against climate change. The last decisive point as a condition for participating in a federal government is foreign policy. We need to rethink our security policy towards one based on peace, not war, not the export of military equipment.
On social policy, it was under the previous coalition government between SPD and Greens, between 1998 and 2005, with Gerhard Schröder as chancellor, that Agenda 2010 was adopted, with a weakening of social protection, unemployment benefit, deregulation of the labor market. Has the SPD really changed in your eyes since?
We often forget today that there was the 2010 agenda. We need this pressure from the left, otherwise, everywhere where the SPD and the Greens govern at the level of the Länder, we see that we do not he does not arrive at decisive changes in the social field, or in the climate. In Baden-Württemberg, for example, the Green Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann [who has headed the regional government since 2011, first in coalition with the Social Democrats and then with the right-wing CDU party since 2016] has not achieved a great deal from a climate policy perspective. It takes more than the SPD and the Greens to achieve change.
On foreign policy, there is a lot of talk about Die Linke’s demand for the dissolution of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Is this still a condition in discussions with the SPD and the Greens?
The question of the dissolution of NATO is always a central aspect to attack us. What is essential for us is that we have to rethink foreign policy. Afghanistan has shown it once again in a frightening way: it is unrealistic to believe that we can create peace there through military intervention. Die Linke wants to ban exports of military equipment, renounce military interventions abroad, and rethink international security policy. I know very well that we cannot get out of NATO right away, but we have to get out of this old image of the Cold War, with NATO on one side and Russia on the other, because that does not contribute to world peace. NATO allies, such as Saudi Arabia, are not necessarily known to act for peace or to defend human rights in their country. We need to think about global security differently and spend less on Defense. For us, sending soldiers to other countries does not help peace. There are people in the SPD and the Greens whom we can convince to aim for a foreign policy geared towards peace.
Die Linke is already part of government coalitions with the SPD and the Greens at Länder level, in Berlin since 2016 [which is a city-state] and in Thuringia since 2014, with Die Linke at the head of the coalition. Do these red-green alliances work at the regional level?
In Thuringia, we were the strongest party in the coalition, which is not going to happen at the federal level, at least not yet. In Berlin too, Die Linke’s participation in the municipal majority has made it possible to move things forward in social policy, for example to make kindergarten free, raise the minimum wage to 12.50 euros for direct employees and indirect effects of the city. It wouldn’t have been possible without a strong left. In Berlin and Thuringia, the other parties have to do with us.
Is the left party especially strong in the big cities and in the regions of the former East Germany?
For my part, I am in Bavaria, a conservative land. It’s more difficult for us here. But despite everything, here too we also have opportunities to move the lines. Nuremberg for example, has set up public transport for 1 euro per day. This was following a citizens’ initiative launched by Die Linke. Even without being very strong at the ballot box, we can find partners to implement leftist measures. Overall, Die Linke is sure to be stronger in the East and in the cities, but we are also successful in getting things done where we are less powerful. It’s not easy, it’s work, but it is possible, so we keep going. During this campaign for the legislative elections, we perceive a lot of support from the population for demands that we have been defending for years. Today, for example, we see broad support for the construction of social housing, the freeze on rents, even the socialization of housing for large real estate companies, which was an impossible debate ten years ago. And today the SPD and the Greens themselves have recognized that Agenda 2010 was a mistake.
Can Die Linke therefore also act at the level of federal politics while being in opposition?
You can get things through one way or another. Take the example of the national minimum wage. It was a long process, but the fact that it was introduced in 2015 [under a coalition government between Merkel’s party and the SPD] is also due to the work of Die Linke, unions and social organizations. Today, that minimum wage is still too low, it needs to be raised, but it is there. And we were not in government when this measure was finally passed. During the next legislature, a big debate will take place on the field of health, care and dependency. Today we have an absurd system of measuring staffing needs in health facilities, which has led to an underestimation of the number of posts needed. The result is that health care workers endure enormous work overload while earning very little. We have to change things on this, we have to fight for that. Most parties have now found that the health care system can’t just be profit oriented, that it doesn’t work, that you can’t make a profit if you really want to treat people. This fight is not only waged in government, it starts with grassroots organizations. The stronger the left party, the more it will help to ensure that these issues are discussed, whether you are, perhaps, in government or in opposition.
According to the polls, your party is credited with 6 to 8% of the vote. It takes 5% to have a political group in the Bundestag. Is there a risk that the left-wing party will no longer be present in Parliament?
New polls are arriving every day in this pre-election period. Election campaigns are always much more focused on people, on the individual mistakes of candidates, who have no influence on political agendas themselves. But I think we have managed in recent weeks to bring the discussions down to the content level. What is most important to us.
Die Linke exchanges with the other left parties in Europe, including France, Spain, Greece…?
We have constant exchanges, within the European Parliament and beyond, and also thanks to our Rosa-Luxembourg political foundation. In Greece, there is still a strong left. We are obviously also looking towards France, where next year will be decisive. In other countries, such as Italy, and especially in Eastern Europe, left-wing political alternatives die hard. There are obviously historical reasons for this. And on certain questions, for example on foreign policy, there are obviously differences between the left according to the country. It is also due to the fact that we in Germany, with our past, are particularly cautious about military spending and the presence of German troops intervening abroad. These differences between the positions of the European left are interesting to expose and discuss.
 Ates Gürpinar, 37, is a member of the leadership of the German left-wing party Die Linke, the party’s spokesman in Bavaria, candidate for the parliamentary elections on 26 September.
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With the elected officials of rebellious France and probably elected PCF officials, we probably also influence the power in place, but for this government it is most of the time pure communication, we see it, among others, with the creation of the high commission in plan with the appointment at its head of F. Bayrou.
In France, the parties that claim to be on the left diverge sharply, whether on ecological planning with the gradual cessation of nuclear power, with the 6th Republic, with a new distribution of wealth and the 4-day to 32-hour week, retirement at 60, etc. Under these conditions can we make an alliance with the PS, converted to neoliberalism and part of which openly supports the liberal Macron?
If Die Linke does not progress further, is it not due to its desire for an alliance with the SPD, which has followed the same path as the PS in France?
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