During my trip to Flensburg in May 2010, I did a pair of bike tours along the Flensburg Fjord, a bay area that is part of the Baltic Sea and enclaves the border city. On one day I toured the south end, finishing up at the eastern most point of the peninsula at Holnis. On another day, I toured the northern end, going through Denmark and biking past many small Danish towns en-route to my final destination of Sonderburg. On the way to the university city of 30,000 I stopped at a particularly interesting fast food stand in Sonderhavn called Annie’s Kiosk. This small stand resembles the appearance of a Dairy Queen ice cream stand in the United States during the 1960s and 70s and may not seem to offer anything spectacular in terms of its outer appearance. Yet one should not judge the book by its cover, especially when thousands of tourists- consisting of bikers, boaters and passers-by- stop at this restaurant daily. Apart from offering a wide array of typical Danish goods, like ice cream, Annie’s Kiosk serves the finest hotdogs in all of Europe. It is unknown what the secret ingredient of the hotdogs is let alone all the dressings you can put on there. But if compared to any hotdog served at a soccer or baseball game, Annie’s tops them all.
But there is an underlying reason why I’m starting this column with Annie’s. While the restaurant does not have any franchises neither in Denmark nor in Germany, it is possible that an Annie’s may be coming soon to a city near you. But if that was the case, it would not be in Sonderburg, Flensburg or even Schleswig, but in Kiel- the capital of Schleswig Holstein. A historic moment occurred during the state elections on 6 May 2012. Apart from Peter Carstensen, the former minister stepping down after ruling the state for seven years and calling it quits as a politician for the CDU, a change in guard occurred as the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Danish Party (SSW) managed to garner enough votes to form the Danish coalition. Yesterday the coalition contract was signed and today, the new administration under minister Torsten Albig will take office, making Schleswig Holstein the only state in Germany that has a coalition that is not traditional of the coalitions that are common in German politics (like the Red Green coalition, the Grand Coalition, the Jamaica Coalition with the FDP, etc.).
What makes the SSW different from the other parties in Germany? Founded in 1948, the party, which is headed by Flemming Meyer, represents the Danish minority that is living in the state, as between 15% and 20% of the population have a Danish background. The majority of them live in the former Duchy of Schleswig, which was once part of Denmark before 1866. The region consisted of the western two thirds of Denmark and the northern half of Schleswig Holstein. Since the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the northern half belongs to Denmark while the southern half belongs to Germany with a border located at Flensburg dividing the two regions. An agreement in 1955 between Germany and Denmark recognized the former region and its minorities and provided exceptions to the norm. Border controls no longer exist. The two divided regions are part of the EuroRegion and take part in cooperative efforts to foster economic growth. The Danish minority is allowed to construct schools in the northern half of Schleswig Holstein, and lastly, in accordance to the state laws of Schleswig Holstein, the five percent hurdle does not apply to the SSW Party. This means even if the SSW receives 3% of the votes in the state elections, they are allowed to participate in the state parliament, which is not the case for any political parties originating from Germany.
So what does the SSW Party have to offer in comparison to the traditional parties and why did the coalition with the SPD and Greens work out? For instance, they favor equality, not only within the gender but among people with ethnic and regional backgrounds. Therefore allowing foreigners to work for longer periods of time, providing equal pay for men and women, and stressing the importance of multi-culture especially among their people, like with the North Frisans, the Danes and the Germans are very important to them. Integration through establishing a general schooling system but providing free education to all are especially important. Unlike this concept, which is based on a Scandinavian model, the school system in Germany consists of elementary school followed by the separation of students into the Gymnasium (high school for those attending college), Realschule (for vocational training) and Hauptschule (for those wanting to work after 10th grade) after the sixth grade year. The party has been pushing for reforms of the education system for many years, stressing the need for education (both in and beyond school) to be user-friendly. The job market must be more flexible and family friendlier, according to their policies. This includes not laying off people in the event of an economic crisis, like we saw in 2008-9 and are still feeling the effects from it, but also cooperating with the schools to allow families to spend time with their children. They do favor improving the infrastructure to make the delivery of goods easier and safer. One of the projects they support is the extension of the West Coast Autobahn A 23, which starts in Hamburg and currently terminates in Heide. Some improvements are being made near Itzehoe but the plan is to upgrade the main highway B5 north of Heide so that vehicles can access the freeway. And lastly, environmental policies is based on the concept of regeneration of nature. That means existing areas that contain flora and fauna should be left alone and areas that were occupied by industry in the past should be given back to the nature. This includes supporting reforestation and establishing wildlife refuge areas.
The three parties agreed to focus on three main aspects during the five-year administrative period they have in Kiel: Social Equality, Education and Energy Reforms. Unlike the previous regime, where cuts in spending for social and education programs were frowned upon by the public, more money will be invested in programs that will help the residents succeed. The traditional German school systems will slowly but surely be integrated into a general school system similar to the Danish model. Energy policies will consist of producing more renewable energy than using it, while at the same time, ween its way away from coal, fossil fuel and nuclear energy. Even the underground storage of carbon dioxide was rejected by the public and is not in the program of the coalition. The West Coast Autobahn will be improved and extended, while another motorway A20, which starts in Prenzlau in Brandenburg and currently terminates near Lübeck in eastern Schleswig Holstein, will be extended to terminate at motorway A7 north of Hamburg by 2017. And lastly, the goal of allowing 16-year olds to vote before the next state elections in 2017 is also on the table. A brief overview of the plan can be found here.
Should the plan work to the advantage of the newly created coalition, it will not be surprising if Schleswig Holstein becomes greener, more culturally integrated and worker friendlier than it is right now. It is clear that these policies will make the state become more attractive, not only to the Danes living in the north but also elsewhere in Germany. Unlike some regions in the northern and eastern parts of Germany, the state has a consistent population growth of 2% annually, but the unemployment is about the same as the national average of 8%. But with this new set of policies to be implemented, it will not only make the northern half of the state with its minorities happy, but also the rest of Schleswig Holstein. And it would not be surprising if one day, we will find an Annie’s Kiosk somewhere in the state, along with the rest of the Danish delicacies, which many of us look forward to when visiting and living in Schleswig Holstein.