If you’ve seen the results of the German election, you’ll be thinking one of two things.
The first: Angela Merkel’s won a fourth consecutive term as Chancellor (the German equivalent of our Prime Minister). What’s the fuss?
The second: Merkel’s come nowhere near to securing a majority in the German Bundestag. Isn’t this a May-like disaster?
I’ll answer each of these questions shortly, but first of all it’s worth taking a look at the results.
– CDU/CSU (led by Merkel; the German Conservative party) – 34.7% of the seats
– SPD (Merkel’s former coalition partners; centre-left) – 21.6% of seats
– Die Linke (the radical left) – 9.7% of seats
– Greens – 9.4% of seats
– FDP (centrist; pro-business) – 11.3% of seats
– AfD (far-right) – 13.3% of seats
The main stories here are that Merkel’s vote share decreased by 8.6% (this is thought to be mostly due to her decision to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country), while the AfD won its first seats, making it the first far-right party that has been in the Bundestag since the Nazi party.
Also worth noting is that Merkel’s previous coalition partners, the SPD, saw their vote share fall 5%, while the FDP return to the Bundestag, having won no seats last election.
To answer the first question, the fuss is not just that Merkel has won this election by her smallest ever margin, although that’s reasonably significant but not surprising (given not just her refugee decision but the fact that she has been in charge for over a decade). The fuss is that Merkel’s previous coalition partners, the SPD, have said that they will be the official opposition instead of joining forces with Merkel again. They had two main reasons for doing this: it gives them time to regroup after a poor election performance, but more significantly it means that the AfD won’t be the official opposition. If the SPD entered into coalition with Merkel, the AfD, as 3rd largest party, would be the opposition party. For Martin Schulz and his SPD party, that just isn’t acceptable.
The answer to the second question is that, no it isn’t that much of a disaster. In Germany there is very rarely a majority government due to their voting system. As a result, it is normal to have a coalition government in power. The significant thing with this election is that Merkel will have to enter into a coalition with two other parties who seem reasonably far apart.
The only realistic way of her getting back into power will be with the support of the Greens, and the FDP. However, this may not be as difficult as it seems. Although the Greens are left-wing, while Merkel’s CDU/CSU are centre-right, Merkel is very keen on safeguarding the environment and investing in renewable energy sources. In the past, she’s also looked at banning nuclear power plants. Similarly, the FDP is a centre-right/centrist party, so should have a reasonable amount in common with the Chancellor’s own party. Despite this, it will still take several weeks (if not longer) to finalise a deal, and the resulting government could be unstable.
Something that is important to note is that this is not what the EU needs right now. Merkel is a strong Europhile, and possibly Europe’s most powerful and influential leader. The EU thought that it could bank on her regardless of the challenges of Brexit, the rise of the far-right and the Greek debt crisis. Perhaps now it can’t be as certain of her support and backing.
The final thing to note here is the rise of the AfD. The far-right is on the serge, and added with Brexit and Trump this result is yet more evidence of this. It is especially symbolic in Germany given their history.
As one CDU member put it on election night, ‘We can try and pretend they’re not there.’ I’m not sure if that will be so easy…