The Greens decided on their campaign program last weekend, including unpredendented tax hikes over the strenuous objection of their "realist" wing centered around their only state minister president, Winfried Kretschmann of Baden-Württemberg who warned of the impact on the economy. The proposals include raising the rate in the top income bracket - which apparently starts at 60,000 Euro per year for the Greens - plus eventually doing away with the split for married couples, doubling the inheritence tax, raising the rate on capital gains, an additional wealth tax for millionaires and including income from capital and rents in calculation of health insurance fees.
It was met with a disastrous echo in media, though demoscopists maintain the Greens could actually win some votes with this against the background of a long-lasting public debate on just taxes and tax evasion that recently culminated in the case of Uli Hoeneß, former national soccer player and now president of Bayern München, who indicted himself for money stashed away in Switzerland. Getting at untaxed German money in Swiss banks (as well as other tax havens) has long been a bone of contention between both countries as well as between political camps in Germany, SPD candidate Steinbrück having notoriously compared the Swiss with indians who ought to be scared of "the Seventh Cavalry at Yuma" in his time as the finance minister of the Grand Coalition.
German states governed by SPD and Greens have repeatedly bought illegally leaked data about German customers of Swiss banks, which CDU/CSU and Liberals rejected as buying stolen goods with public money. The federal government negotiated an agreement with Switzerland instead which would allow German money to be taxed at a generic rate. The opposition declared that insufficient and blocked it in the chamber of states, so the issue remains unresolved and available to campaign with. Some on the left dream of instating a global tax obligation for German citizens on the US model, and point out that the American government put a lot more pressure on Switzerland to get a more favorable agreement to report on its citizens' Swiss money. Funnily they seem to be the same who else like to decry how the US throws its weight around with smaller nations.
Anyway, the problem of tax evasion is hardly solved by raising taxes even more. The Greens are confident their plans will be applauded by their own clientele which is mostly upper-income academics and public servants with a healthy dose of social guilt, but I doubt they will win more voters for the opposition camp overall; even the positive-minded pollsters cautioned that any gains they make might be at the expense of the SPD, which has a similiar but less radical program when it comes to taxes. The first poll taken after the Green convention surely points that way, with CDU/CSU at 40, SPD 26, Greens 15, FDP 4, Left 7 and the Euro-sceptic AFD at 3 percent.
Tax policy is surely emerging as the one topic which might be sufficiently controversial to exploit in the national election campaigns. We are trying to drive home the fact that the "rich" according to the Red-Green definition would actually include a lot of the higher middle class, employees in middle management, smaller entrepreneurs and self-employed, that it would be poison to the German economy which currently carries the EU, that internal revenue is already at an all-time high of 600 billion and we don't have an intake, but a spending problem - "with or without Uli Hoeneß", as I wrote into my boss' May Day speech.
The SPD surely tried to capitalize on Hoeneß' closeness to the Bavarian Conservatives, to the point where they wondered aloud what Bavarian tax authorities knew about his Swiss money when. It's not quite unkown for various CSU state governments to have been helpful to friendly VIPs about tax saving models in the particular Bavarian high society environment which made "amigo" a fixed term in German politics after former minister president Max Streibl had to resign over a corruption scandal in 1993. Conservatives however were quick to point out Hoeneß was one of the unofficial VIP "advisors" for SPD candidate Steinbrück in his time as finance minister, and supported the SPD candidate running as the next mayor of Munich.
The same Bavarian ambiente has thrown their state parliament into a current controversy about MPs hiring relatives for high-paid staff jobs; this was apparently completely legal until some years ago, with existing contracts grandfathered in when rules were tightened. CSU parliamentary whip Georg Schmid resigned last week over paying his wife up to 5,500 Euro net income per month over 23 years for not too-clearly-defined work, but again what started out as targeted on the Conservatives has by now spread to cases of SPD and Green MPs. The affair reached the Bundestag when somebody inquired about CSU member Dorothee Bär who married a former staffer; she says the contract was dissolved prior to the act, but regulations forbid employment of fiancés, too, and now people want to know when they got engaged ... sure enough, this week all Bundestag members got a request by national weekly magazine "Focus" from Munich to state whether they are employing any relatives.
The CSU doesn't really have much use for this affair ahead of the state elections in September, a week ahead of national polls; but as mentioned it seems to evolve in a nicely non-partisan way, and for now they can hope to regain an absolute majority after the current conservative-liberal coalition, with last numbers being CSU 47-49, SPD 18-20, Greens 13-16, FDP 2-3 and the vaguely conservative Free Voters 8-9 percent. Things look much more problematic for the state government of Hesse which has called elections on the same day as the Bundestag's; the last numbers of CDU 36, SPD 33, Greens 16, FDP 5, Left 4 would lead to a new Red-Green government, further turning the majority in the chamber of states against the current federal government and making another Grand Coalition between CDU/CSU and SPD an even more likely choice for Merkel in the next Bundestag.