The three parties planning to form a government in Germany announced at a press conference Wednesday in Berlin that they have finalized a deal on a governing coalition. This means the country will likely have a new government well before Christmas.
The deal comes after 21 representatives of the three parties — the center-left SPD, the environmentalist Greens and the free-market, neo-liberal FDP — negotiated the coalition contract in the weeks following the September 26 federal elections.
Germany’s traffic light coalition government?
The parliamentary elections on September 26 saw the SPD make large gains to win the election with nearly 26%.
Ruling CDU/CSU suffered big losses and came in only second at just over 24%.
The SPD decided to explore an alliance with the Greens and the FDP, despite stark difference between the election platforms of the three parties.
The Greens scored an unprecedented success at the elections, beating its previous scores by around 6% to gain third place on nearly 15%, while the FDP attained 11.5% of the vote to come in fourth.
The recent coalition talks would seem to have ironed out many of the differences between the parties, with, among other things, the Greens abandoning their plans to introduce a speed limit on Germany’s motorways, while the FDP has accepted an earlier phaseout of coal-fired energy.
The Social Democrat (SPD) Olaf Scholz, who is expected to take over as chancellor, said the three parties reached a deal to form a new government. Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck said reconciling “welfare with climate protection” will underlie policies of the new government. FDP leader Christian Lindner said “we take on responsibility for a country in a dire situation” and that “there is a will and desire for change” in Germany. “It is our remit to modernize this country together,” he added, according to DW.
Scholz added that fighting the coronavirus pandemic will be a priority for the new government, and he plans to set up a coronavirus crisis team inside the chancellery to coordinate health policy between federal and regional governments.
Alcohol policy in the coalition contract
At a news conference, Scholz and other leaders gave some indications of how the coalition would govern and released the coalition contract (2021-2025) “DARE MORE PROGRESS. COALITION FOR FREEDOM, JUSTICE AND SUSTAINABILITY“.
In contrast to the 2017 coalition contract between CDU/CSU and SPD, the new coalition contract contains a commitment of the incoming government to address alcohol harm.
The 2017 coalition contract mentioned alcohol once and only contained a weak commitment of the government to support tobacco and alcohol prevention – which meant ineffective and costly information and education initiatives.
Commitment to ban alcohol advertising
Bei der Alkohol- und Nikotinprävention setzen wir auf verstärkte Aufklärung mit besonderem Fokus auf Kinder, Jugendliche und schwangere Frauen. Wir verschärfen die Regelungen für Marketing und Sponsoring bei Alkohol, Nikotin und Cannabis. Wir messen Regelungen immer wieder an neuen wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnissen und richten daran Maßnahmen zum Gesundheitsschutz aus.”New Coalition Contract 2021-2025, Germany
- The government commits itself to improving alcohol and tobacco prevention efforts, especially towards children, youth, and pregnant women.
- The government commits itself to strengthen the regulations for alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis marketing.
- And the government commits itself to measure the regulations by the standards of newest scientific insights and to apply those insights to public health protections.
The latter two points are a new commitment to implement evidence-based alcohol policy solutions in order to protect the health of people in Germany. Banning alcohol advertising, for instance, is an alcohol policy best buy solution. That means it is highly cost-effective, scientifically proven, and highly impactful in reducing alcohol consumption and related harms. The World Health Organization includes the banning of alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion in its SAFER alcohol policy blue print.
Commitment to better support children of households with alcohol use problems
There is also a child rights perspective that the new traffic light coalition applies to alcohol and other addictive substances:
Wir unterstützen die Kinder von psychisch, sucht- oder chronisch kranken Eltern.”New Coalition Contract 2021-2025, Germany
- The government commits itself to provide support to children of parents with mental health problems, chronic diseases and addiction issues.
All three categories include alcohol harm. The problem of German children growing up in households with alcohol problems is massive. And it has so far been ignored.
Commitment to implement a child rights based approach
Wir wollen die Kinderrechte ausdrücklich im Grundgesetz verankern und orientieren uns dabei maßgeblich an den Vorgaben der UN-Kinderrechtskonvention. Dafür werden wir einen Gesetzesentwurf vorlegen und zugleich das Monitoring zur Umsetzung der UN Kinderrechtskonvention ausbauen.”New Coalition Contract 2021-2025, Germany
- The government commits itself to enshrine the child rights in the German constitution, following recommendations of the UN Child Rights Convention (CRC).
- The government also commits itself to improve the monitoring of the implementation of the CRC.
Training a lens on alcohol harm helps understanding how all three government commitments are connected: alcohol marketing in Germany often targets and frequently exposes children and youth to alcohol promotions; this is a child rights issue because alcohol advertising exposure make kids take up alcohol use earlier and to consume more alcohol if they’ve started.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO), together with UNICEF and The Lancet have issued a new Commission on the future for the world’s children. The WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission is set to lay the foundations for a new global movement for child health that addresses two major crises adversely affecting children’s health, well-being and development; and the Commission presents high-level recommendations that position children at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The climate emergency is rapidly undermining the future survival of all species, and the likelihood of a world in which all children enjoy their right to health appears increasingly out of reach. A second existential threat that is more insidious has emerged: predatory commercial exploitation that is encouraging harmful and addictive activities that are extremely deleterious to young people’s health.
Children and youth are disproportionately affected by alcohol harm:
- Children suffer from alcohol violence perpetrated by adults, often parents (SDG16);
- They suffer from parents’ household spending on alcohol instead of education, healthcare or nutritious food (SDG1, SDG2);
- They suffer from social norms that are permissive to substance use and detrimental to academic achievement (SDG4); and
- Easy and wide alcohol availability harms children in particular because it leads to unsafe, volatile, and unhealthy neighborhoods. For instance, in Sweden 87% of adolescents agree/ partly agree that alcohol makes public space unsafe and more than half say that they avoid public space because of alcohol (SDG11).
The WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission underlines that commercial governance is essential to protect children from alcohol, tobacco, and other health harmful industries.
Children are the frequent targets of commercial entities promoting addictive substances and unhealthy commodities, including fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, but also alcohol and tobacco, all major causes of non-communicable diseases.”Helen Clark, et.al., A future for the world’s children? A WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission, The Lancet, 2020, ISSN 0140-6736, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)32540-1.
Implementing the CRC in Germany is an important foundation to better protect children and youth from the alcohol and tobacco industries. It is also critical to better support children of households with alcohol use problems.
Alcohol harm is pervasive in Germany. In recent decades, alcohol policy has not been approached from a public health and child rights approach, but from an alcohol industry approach, to safeguard private profits, instead of the public interest.
Big Alcohol’s stranglehold of German alcohol policy
The last attempts to comprehensively address Germany’s alcohol problem were derailed by the alcohol industry in 2009, when then Federal Commissioner for Drugs Mrs. Sabine Bätzing (SPD) had proposed evidence-based and WHO-recommended alcohol policy solutions. But the lobby interference of the alcohol industry and their allies in the conservative ruling party CDU/CSU ultimately derailed the work that had progressed far.
But earlier this year, the German parliamentary health committee held a hearing to discuss the country’s alcohol policy. The committee members interviewed experts in various fields regarding alcohol prevention. The conclusion was that there are evidence-based, cost-effective policy solutions available to reduce and prevent alcohol harm in Germany. What is lacking is political will in Germany and the EU to advance action to solve these problems.
Given the fact that German citizens prioritize health and family more than consumerism and that the government needs resources to recover from the consequences of the pandemic, the case for developing alcohol policy solutions is strong, just like for tobacco.
Study: Germany Has an Alcohol Problem
Germany has an alcohol problem. The country remains one of the most-addicted societies in the world, according to a study by the German Central Office for Addiction Issues (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen, DHS). And alcohol addiction is not the only dimension of alcohol harm that is affecting people, families and society in Germany.
- Alcohol deaths: 74,000 people die every year due to the products and practices of the alcohol industry in Germany.
- Over 11,000 deaths from liver cirrhosis,
- Over 1400 deaths from road traffic injury, and
- Over 14,500 deaths from cancer are caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry in Germany.
- A total of 3 million adults between the ages of 18 and 64 had an alcohol use disorder in Germany in 2018 (abuse: 1.4 million; dependency: 1.6 million).
- Alcohol poisoning: Approximately, 21,700 children and youth between the age of 10 and 20 years were hospitalized due to alcohol poisoning, in 2017.
- Alcohol fueled crime: 231,300 crimes were committed by people under the influence of alcohol. That is 11% of all crimes committed in Germany for the year.
- Alcohol fuelled violence: 40,007 acts of violence were committed under the influence of alcohol in 2016. That is 27.3% of all solved cases in the area of violent crime.
- Alcohol-related road traffic crashes: 13.403 alcohol-related road traffic accidents occurred in 2016 where people got injured. In total 16,770 people got injured and 225 people died in alcohol-attributable crashes.
These numbers are staggering and illustrate just how heavy the alcohol burden is on German society.
- Epidemic levels of alcohol deaths,
- Pervasive secondhand effects from alcohol harm,
- Alcohol problems starting extremely early in life, and
- Alcohol problems affecting every aspect of German society;
Public health, the economy, youth protection, child rights, family well-being, transportation and road safety, public safety and sustainable development are all areas where alcohol adversely affects better policy outcomes as well livelihoods and real-life experiences of people and families in Germany.
The COVID-19 pandemic made matters even worse concerning the German alcohol problem. The Nuremberg Clinic surveyed over 3000 adults on their alcohol consumption and found that 35.5% of survey respondents reported consuming more or much more alcohol than before the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, under-funded addiction counseling centers can not keep up with the rising demand for services.
Germany has been having an untreated – and ignored – alcohol problem for decades. Yet, no government has so far taken any evidence-based stance on alcohol policy development despite advice from public health experts and clear community needs.
According to the DHS Yearbook Addiction 2020, the annual economic costs of alcohol harm amount to €57 billion. But government revenue only reaches a tiny fraction of this with €3.2 billion from alcohol taxation every year.
The German government is relying on information campaigns to encourage “moderate” alcohol use instead of strengthening population-level alcohol policy solutions to effectively prevent and reduce alcohol harm. Such campaigns are similar to the initiatives conducted by alcohol industry funded organizations and their corporate social responsibility projects and are found to be ineffective in reducing actual alcohol harm.
Clearly, the country is in urgent need of political commitment, leadership, and policy solutions to tackle the German alcohol problem.
Some of the other policies in the coalition contract
- Germany will ideally phase out coal by 2030 and commit to 80% renewable energy,
- Increase rail freight transport by 25% and have at least 15 million electric cars on the roads by 2030,
- Push for a European air travel surcharge like the one that is already in place in Germany,
- Allow for immigrants to apply for citizenship after five years and to hold dual citizenship, a potential big change for thousands of ethnic Turks, many of whom remain foreign nationals after decades in Germany,
- Increase the minimum wage to €12,
- Legalize the psychoactive use of cannabis,
- Build 400,000 new apartments a year to fight a housing crisis,
- Lower the voting age to 16, and
- Create a points-based immigration system to draw in qualified workers.
Scholz also stressed the importance of a sovereign Europe, friendship with France and partnership with the United States as key cornerstones of the government’s foreign policy — continuing a long post-war tradition, reports NPR.
At the FDP’ insistence, the prospective partners said they won’t raise taxes or loosen curbs on running up debt, making financing a central issue.
The three-way alliance between SPD, Die Grünen, and FDP — which has never yet been tried in a national government — will replace the current “grand coalition” of the country’s traditional big parties.