German politics is generally seen as honest and transparent. Germany is the world’s 9th cleanest country,
according to Transparency International.
Here, pale blue shows countries Transparency
ranks as clean – and the darker the blue, the more corrupt on the ranking. But Germany’s parliament has recently seen
a series of scandals – prompting outrage.
Several MPs from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc have stepped down as a result.
Allegations include MPs taking payments from Azerbaijan’s government in exchange for support.
Others profited from deals to make or supply facemasks in the pandemic. Now many say
Germany needs tougher laws to control its MPs.
“What happened in the last weeks in Germany is
a huge threat for in general the trust of citizens towards their politicians. It’s something that
will turn so many people away from politics. And that’s a huge problem. We cannot let it happen.
And it’s a big danger, I think, for democracy.” So, what can and can’t Germany’s politicians do?
German MPs receive a pre-tax salary of around 10,000 euros per month
They are allowed to earn money on the side – as long as their work as an MP is their main focus
About a third of MPs say they do have other sources of income.
They must declare how much they earn on top of their government salary – once
the extra is more than 1,000 Euros a month or 10,000 Euros a year.
But they don’t have to declare the exact amount – and there’s no upper limit.
MPs also have to make a declaration if they own more than 25% of a company.
But they don’t have to reveal what their companies do, which other firms they do business with, or how much all of that is worth.
Critics say that leaves too much room for conflicts of interest.
“If there are rules in Germany, people generally follow the rules. But if you don’t have a rule,
of course, people take the liberty not to necessarily follow any moral guidelines,
but to take it to their advantage. At the moment there are, unfortunately, a lot of loopholes
in the codes of conduct for members of parliament. As long as there are loopholes,
there will be people trying to take advantage of it. ”
The government has recognized it needs to change things. The key parties have
drafted suggestions to tighten the laws Critics say the plans are still too weak. And the overall situation has attracted international attention.
Last year, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) called on the German government to set up stricter rules around transparency. Its report
said parliament needed stronger safeguards against conflicts of interest – and also highlighted another area of concern – lobbying.
Lobbyists work the corridors of power – using various tactics to influence political decisions. They can represent huge companies
or whole industries, but also single-issue campaigns and smaller interest groups.
“Lobbyism in itself is not something bad in a representative democracy, interest groups should have direct contact with politics. If we don’t know as a public how and who influenced a law when a law is passed, in the end,
we cannot check if all the interests were heard.”Germany has no official record of who is working to influence which decisions – or how much time and money they spend doing it.
“Compared to many other Western nations, such as the UK, such as France, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria even – and Austria is famously corrupt – Germany doesn’t really have a lot of rules.”Germany’s governing coalition
recently agreed to set up a lobby register.It will force lobbyists to say who they work for – Making a false or incomplete statement could cost up to 50,000 euros in fines.
But the register would not require them to say who they meet or how much they spend. Experts say the proposal is a step in the right
direction – but that it should go much further.
“So in the end what we would get with the current lobby register would be names lists of who is lobbying. But we lack actually the rest of the information.
If you want transparency and you don’t get it completely covered, then you won’t have half of transparency, you won’t have any at all.”
With Chancellor Merkel set to leave politics
after September’s election, Germany is entering a period of upheaval. Democracy depends on voters trusting the system – and soon they’ll show
politicians just how deep that trust runs.