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Germany braces for social unrest over energy prices

     German offi-                                     Scholz's    deputy,    the
              cials  have  expressed                                Greens'   Robert    Habeck,
      Dfears  that  a  worst-                                       seems to understand that. As
      case  winter  of  energy  prob-                               economy  minister,  Habeck
      lems could prompt an extrem-                                  has the lead on energy policy
      ist backlash. How bad things                                  and has been forced to make
      get may depend on how well                                    hard choices that often contra-
      they  manage  the  crisis  —  in                              dict his own environmentalist
      policy and perception.                                        credentials. Polls show he has
         State and federal lawmak-                                  won  points  for  regularly  ex-
      ers in Germany are exploring                                  plaining  the  rationale  behind
      a sweeping set of measures to                                 those decisions.
      save energy, from turning off                                   Though there are limits to
      street lights to lowering build-                              what communication can do.
      ing temperatures; and they are  Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Ger-  Habeck  was  booed  at  town-                  Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay
      pleading with the public to cut                               hall events last week. Howev-
      consumption at home.           and how it will get paid for is er,  those  protests  were  more  out the legitimacy of process- versity  of  Duisberg-Essen,
         Whether those efforts spur likely weeks away, at least.    anti-war than anti-democratic.  es like voting."             told DW.
      a call to solidarity or a call to  The smallest of the parties  Evaluating the risk            He  cited  East  German        Inflation and energy prices
                                                                      The Federal Interior Minis- street protests in 1953 and the will  disproportionately  im-
      arms won't become clear until in the governing coalition, the
      the cold sets in and bills come neoliberal  Free  Democrats   try  told  DW  that  protests  of peaceful  revolution  of  1989, pact  the  country's  most  vul-
      due.  Yet  Chancellor  Olaf (FDP),  control  the  finance     similar  magnitude  to  those and  the  West  German  anti- nerable,  according  to  eco-
      Scholz is not in a wait-and-see ministry,  which  gives  them  against  pandemic  restrictions nuclear  movement  in  the nomic models, as low earners
      mood,  telling  public  broad- significant power of the purse.  are foreseeable, depending on 1970s  and  80s,  as  examples have  less  disposable  income
                                                                    how much the cost and supply that deserve a stronger anchor to  absorb  increased  costs.
      caster,  ARD,  last  month  that Its  minister,  Christian  Lind-
      spiraling  heating  costs  are  a ner, has made clear he intends  of energy burden society.  in   Germany's    collective That  also  makes  them  more
      "powder keg for society."      to use that power sparingly, as  "We can assume that popu- memory.                          susceptible  to  anti-govern-
         In  explicitly  naming  the he  stands  up  for  his  party's  lists and extremists will again  Inequality means instability  ment  rhetoric  than  other  in-
      elephant  in  the  room,  the values of low tax, low spend-   try  to  influence  protests  to  Longer-term risks to social come groups.
      chancellor  and  his  govern- ing, and low regulation.        their  liking,"  Britta  Beylage-  cohesion, however, don't end  "Pandemic, war, and infla-
      ment are on the hook for nip-     The FDP's bigger partners,  Haarmann, a ministry spokes-  with the coming of spring.     tion endanger the lower mid-
      ping social unrest in the bud.  Scholz's  center-left  Social  person,  told  DW  in  a  state-  Germany was once one of dle class. If we can't manage
         "In using this 'powder keg' Democrats  and  the  environ-  ment.  "Extremist  actors  and  Europe's  most  egalitarian to  stabilize  them,  then  their
      narrative,  the  chancellor  is mentalist Greens, are pushing  groups  in  Germany  can  lead  countries, in which class and fears  of  being  permanently
      trying  to  make  way  for  key for  a  more  generous  helping  to a growth in dangers if cor-  social  status  had  less  influ- pushed  down  grow,"  Pickel
      decisions," Ricardo Kaufer, a hand.                           responding  social  crisis  con-  ence  in  determining  one's said, "then we may see more
      professor of political sociolo-   Even  if  the  government   ditions allow for it."        success in life. That is chang- people  take  to  the  streets  in
      gy at the University of Greif- gets the measures right, they    The Federal Police, which   ing,  as  Germany  follows  a Germany.  And  even  more
      swald, told DW. "So all actors could still get the messaging  fall  under  the  ministry,  told  general  trend  towards  grow- virulent,  agreement  with  the
      who could potentially stand in wrong, which political scien-  DW  they  have  "no  insights"  ing income inequality.       [far-right  populist]  AfD  and
      the  way  of  measures  are  ca- tists say can be just as impor-  into  specific  threats  arising  "We're  seeing  that  social the  appearance  of  solutions
      joled into compromise."        tant   in   steering   public  from the crisis.              mobility  can  no  longer  ad- from  far-right  populists  can
         In  other  words,  Scholz  is sentiment.  As  the  pandemic  Perception also plays a role  dress  social  inequality,"  Su- change voting behavior."
      signaling  to  his  governing showed, money and resources     in how much unrest can shake  sanne  Pickel,  a  comparative    Edited  by:  Rina  Golden-
      partners, political opposition, are only half the battle; clear  a  country.  Querdenker  and  politics professor at the Uni- berg
      business leaders, and civil so- and  consistent  communica-   others who have taken to the
      ciety  that  they  bicker  over tion is the other half.       streets  to  challenge  state  au-
      policy responses at the coun-     "Perceptions are decisive,"  thority  during  the  pandemic
      try's peril.                   Evelyn Bytzek, a professor of  are loud, but they have never
         This  is  a  "lesson  learned" political  communication  at  represented more than a small
      from  the  pandemic,  Kaufer the  University  of  Koblenz-    minority  of  public  opinion.
      said,  when  lawmakers  often Landau, told DW. "Ultimate-     Still,  they  have  received  an
      seemed unprepared to contain ly, we all act based more on     outsized  share  of  media  and
      it,  despite  scientific  predic- what  we  perceive  to  be  true  political attention.
      tions  on  how  and  when  the than what is true."              Political  sociologists  like
      virus  would  spread.  Their      Symbolism  is  a  powerful  Greifswald       University's
      communication was more of- tool  in  maintaining  public      Kaufer  say  protest  move-
      ten reactive than proactive.   support,  Bytzek  said.  She   ments  stand  out  more  in  a
      Measures and messaging         pointed to Gerhard Schröder's  country like Germany, where
         The  Bundestag,  the  Ger-  visit to flood-stricken parts of  consensus-based political cul-
      man  parliament,  has  already  eastern  Germany  in  2002,   ture  and  federal  power-shar-
      passed  legislation  that  hopes  which gave him a boost in his  ing  dissuade  the  instrument-
      to insulate society's most vul-  reelection campaign for chan-  alization  of  social  discontent
      nerable from price shocks. At  cellor. He went on to  win a   than  elsewhere  in  Europe.    Send us your Steuben News…
      the same time, German utili-   few weeks later.               France,  for  example,  has  a
      ties  will  be  allowed  to  pass  Scholz  won  last  year's  reputation for confrontation.
      some of their increased costs  election  in  part  due  to  his  Instability in Germany of-
      onto consumers.                Merkel-like  passive  leader-  ten  has  a  negative  connota-
         In crafting policy, officials  ship style. Now that could be-  tion, he said, linked to events
      are walking a fine line. They  come a liability — and stoke   like bloody street battles amid
      want to help secure household  unrest  —  if  the  public  feels  hyperinflation in Weimar-era
      finances,  especially  for  low-  their ship of state is without a  Germany, which gave rise to
      wage earners, but not so much  captain  at  the  helm  with  an  the Nazis.
      that they undermine the incen-  iceberg ahead.                  "There  has  been  a  failure   Steuben News, c/o Buffalo Standard Printing,
      tive to save energy.              "Crisis is not just a danger,  of  discourse  among  progres-
         More relief may follow the  but  also  an  opportunity  to  sive forces to recognize posi-             3620 Harlem Road, Suite 4,
      summer     recess,   however   generate more trust when cri-  tive  examples  in  German                     Cheektowaga, NY 14215
      agreement on what that looks   sis  management  is  well  per-  history,"   Kaufer   added.
      like,  how  much  it  will  cost,  ceived," Bytzek said.      "There is a fear of protest, that            Or email:
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