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With an eye to future, German youth head to polls

MESCHEDE, Calle, Germany – Many young Germans are voting for the first time today.
For the third time this year, following the European Union elections and local races, people are heading to the polls to choose the German parliament – Bundestag – to be elected for the next four year-term.
Though polls show that every year fewer and fewer people actually make use of the constitutional right to cast a ballot, some teenagers and young adults are very much interested in what’s going on in their country.
“Of course I’ll vote,” said Stefanie Hoffmann, 20, a trainee nurse from Düsseldorf. “I don’t understand people who complain about politics but don’t go to the polls.”

Anne Stolpe, 19, a student at the Technical University of Dortmund, gave another reason why voting is so important: “Not casting my ballot would only strengthen extremist parties.”
In Germany, only parties that reach more than five percent of the votes can actually send members to parliament.
Jan Schultealbert, 19, a senior at the Gymnasium der Benediktiner in Meschede, said that he believes it is “every citizen’s duty” to vote every four years.
“Especially in critical times like these, we need experience and competence,” Schultealbert said.
The five big German parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the Greens (die Grünen) and the Left Party (die Linke) – are hoping to make gains.

Anne Stolpe, 19, a student at the Technical University of Dortmund. (Katie Grosser/YJI)

Since 2005, a coalition between the CDU and SPD has formed the government, but all that could change today.
So which issues are important to young Germans?
Surprisingly, none of those interviewed mentioned the war in Afghanistan, which has just become more controversial following the recent deadly air strike near Kunduz.
Instead, their concerns mainly focus on other issues.
“Education,” said Simon Schröer, 21, also a student at TU Dortmund.
Stolpe also cited education as a key issue.
“Educational policies are very chaotic. Politicians make their decisions way too frivolously. After all, children’s lives and futures are at stake,” Stolpe said.
But young people have other interests, too.
Although reforms to the German health system were just put through last year, many Germans demand even more changes.
“The health system needs to be reworked,” Hoffmann said.
Schultealbert and his classmate Till Körner, 19, are both concerned about Germany’s energy and environmental policies.
“Nuclear power plants that are safe and stable sources of energy should not be shut down. And Germany should definitely not close its power plants and then just get energy from French power plants, which tend to be less safe and less stable,” Schultealbert said.
“I think there needs to be more education in terms of the environment,” Körner added. “We need to focus on what can be realistically done for our climate and then do it.”
One thing all the teens and young adults agree on is the crisis – “die Krise.” as it’s called in Germany.
“We need to get control of the crisis,” Hoffmann said. “The unemployment rate can’t rise any further.”
“Jobs need to be secured,” Schröer said, “and Germany needs a proper minimum wage so that the poor don’t just become poorer.”
Stolpe said that what is important to her is that “more jobs are created, so that we get a feeling of security and normality again.”
As to why so few people their own age go to the polls, the teens have various theories.
“I think a lot of teenagers don’t vote because they don’t even feel addressed. There just aren’t enough parties that focus on teenagers and young adults,” said Körner.
“Many just don’t go because they aren’t informed enough,” Schultealbert said.
“But another problem is that politicians don’t always clarify their own goals and stances enough. They just bash the other parties,” he added.
Hoffmann also said that not everyone is informed enough, but she added that some perhaps “just aren’t interested.”
Stolpe said many young voters don’t trust the politicians.
And Schröer said that in his opinion “many, especially in the East, don’t vote because they are disappointed in politics.”
The outcome of today’s elections will shape Germany’s future for at least the next four years.
Many predict another grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD under Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Others hope for the past coalitions of CDU/FDP vs. SPD/die Grüne.
But one way or another, the politicians of today and of the future should maybe consider doing more to create enthusiasm among young Germans about politics.

Katie Grosser is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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