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German elections: Success for Merkel - but only just

25th September 2017

On 24 September the EU's largest Member State by population went to the polls to elect its new Chancellor and Parliamentarians.

The election pitted the incumbent Chancellor from the Centre Right CDU/CSU Angela Merkel against the centre left Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats (SDP). Other smaller parties, such as the liberal FDP, the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and Die Grünen (Green Party) were also hoping for a strong showing which might enable them to be part of the governing coalition.

The results
Although the two largest parties remain the CDU/CSU and the SDP, these traditional parties have taken a considerable hit in the election, with all minority parties increasing their vote share.

  • CDU/CSU (centre-right) returned the highest percentage of the vote (33%), and their leader Angela Merkel will serve as Federal Chancellor of Germany for a fourth time. They will need to form a coalition, most likely with the FDP and Die Grünen. Compared to the last election, in which Merkel led her party to their highest victory since 1990, the party has seen a considerable drop in support (from 41.5% in 2013), and a lower percentage than foreseen in the last poll before the election (36%, Forsa).
  • The SPD returned their worst result since the first Bundestag elections in 1949. Although a low result was expected, the 20.5% is even lower than the 22% forecast in the last poll before the election. Their leader Martin Schulz will not seek to govern with Merkel, as before, choosing instead to form an official opposition. Four years of Grand Coalition has led many voters to consider that both parties were drifting to the middle, without any perceptible differences between them.
  • The far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) gained enough votes (12.6%) to make it into the Bundestag for the first time, exceeding even the expectations in the latest polling data.
  • The FDP missed out on Bundestag seats in the 2013 elections by falling short of the required 5% threshold, but returned to Parliament this year, with 10.7% of the vote.
  • Die Grünen and the Left Party (Die Linke) returned a similar result to 2013, marginally increasing their vote share (around 9% each).

This means that unlike the 2013 Bundestag, where there were 4 parties (CDU/CSU, SPD, Greens, Left), there are now 6 parties (return of FDP, arrival of AfD). As seen by the polling data before the election, such a result was to be expected.
Coalition talks: Coalition building will likely take a few months. Should there be no coalition by the end of the year, new elections could be possible, however this is seen as highly unlikely at this stage.

The last German government (2013-2017) was a Grand Coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD. The Socialists have ruled out a coalition this time, and as talks begin on which parties will sit in government with Chancellor Merkel, the likely outcome is a so-called ‘Jamaica’ coalition, based on the colours of the parties involved (CDU/CSU (black), FDP (yellow) and Greens). Commentators have called upon these three parties (representing the ‘middle’) to form a successful coalition and stand as a united force against the radical influence of the AfD. A first on the federal level, it remains unclear how successful such a coalition would be, especially given the divergences between conservative factions of the CDU/CSU, and the Greens and Liberals. Tax policy, social policy and approach to immigration are points of contention.

While perceived as a historical backward step and a threat to German democracy, it remains to be seen how much of a united faction the AfD will be in Parliament, plagued as it is by internal troubles. The day after the election, the AfD leader Frauke Petry announced that she would not sit in Parliament as an official AfD Member. Indeed, even with their 94 seats in the Bundestag (out of 709), the other parties will likely unite against them wherever possible, which could reduce their impact on German politics.
The way forward – changes? Policies? Europe? The political future of Germany, and of Europe, will depend largely on the composition and success of the future coalition. Merkel is perceived as a manager, particularly when it comes to crises (Eurozone, migration). However, Germany’s reticence to invest in critical infrastructure for the future, despite its flourishing economy, has been a main criticism of Merkel’s leadership style.

With political divergences on major issues within the coalition, the government may end up lacking a long-term vision, and instead could just focus on the day-to-day governing of Germany. Another major question is the future of the Eurozone: if there is a Liberal Finance Minister, this could reduce the potential for further economic integration, as desired by other European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron.
Next steps

Regional elections in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) on 15 October 2017

In Lower Saxony, the current parliament (Landtag) is made up of majority factions of the CDU (55 seats) and the SPD (49 seats). In yesterday’s federal election, Lower Saxony remained a CDU stronghold, with some constituencies strongly supporting the SPD . The make-up of the regional parliament will most likely stay the same as before.

Like in most of North-West Germany, the AfD received here its lowest support. It is therefore unlikely that the AfD will make considerable gains in the regional parliament. However, it did remain a third party in many constituencies of Lower Saxony, so the regional election could see the far-right party gain some seats.

Martin Schulz and the SPD

Although he led his party to a historic low-point, Martin Schulz has indicated that he will run again to be leader of his party in December. Having declared that he will not continue a coalition with Merkel’s party, he will lead the official opposition in the Bundestag which seems to have so far been able to gather support from the party leadership and

Grayling Team

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