By Alex Beard
After its election on November 24th, Germany will retain Angela Merkel – the pragmatic conservative who has already been in office for 12 years as its Chancellor, in spite of historic losses for her party in part thanks to the rose of the far-right ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ (AfD), who will enter the Bundestag (the German parliament); for the first time since their founding in 2013.
Sunday night saw catastrophic losses for the two main parties- Merkel’s centre-right ‘Christian Democratic Union’ (CDU) and their Bavarian counterpart the CSU, who together form the conservative so-called Union in the Bundestag, and the centre-left social democratic SPD, led into this election by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who recorded their worst result since 1945.
The radical left ‘Die Linke’ and ecologist ‘Bündnis 90/Die Grünen’ (the Greens) both retained their vote shares from the 2013 election at just under 10% each and both the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) – who had governed with Merkel from 2009 to 2013 before losing all of their seats in the previous election – and the populist AfD scored over 10% having spent the previous parliamentary term unrepresented.
The German political system is vastly different from that in the UK and favours long-term planning, compromise and consensus building whilst our politicians are increasingly divisive and reactionary
Thanks to Germany’s more proportional electoral system, where the percentage of the vote a party wins is always roughly equivalent to the proportion of Bundestag seats they will gain, all of these smaller parties will hold over 50 of the approximately 700 seats each and will therefore play an important role in coalition building as neither of the two largest parties, the SPD and CDU/CSU, ever win enough seats to form a majority and govern alone.
Smaller parties agree to support the largest party and vote with it in exchange for direct influence on government policy and the ability to nominate certain cabinet ministers; this was the agreement in place between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives when the former agreed to prop the latter up after an uncharacteristically European UK election result in 2010.
After the 2013 election, the departure of the fiscally liberal FDP, left the Union the largest party, with the SPD miles behind, but without a natural coalition partner – the two other parties besides the SPD were the Greens and Die Linke, both far better placed in a left-of-centre partnership.
This led to a so-called Grand Coalition between the two largest parties, something that would be almost impossible to imagine in Britain, which despite having an overwhelming majority in parliament was fraught with ideological differences, with many SPD members feeling deeply uncomfortable supporting a centre-right government.
Due to the array of concessions they were forced to make in government, significantly weakening their influence, the SPD lost the opportunity to position itself as the opposition or alternative in this election which, along with a campaign led by Schulz which many believe failed to capture the imagination of the German public, led the party from initially promising poll results after Schulz took over to electoral misery and has prompted it to rule itself out of any Grand Coalition, choosing instead to become the main opposition and reinforce its position as a centre-left, social democratic party and distinguish itself from Merkel’s CDU.
Merkel, meanwhile, whose almost frighteningly dull campaign slogan, “For a Germany in which we live well and enjoy it (für ein Deutschland, in dem wir gut und gerne leben)”, is seen to have been punished by the sizeable chunk of the electorate for her response to the refugee crisis, which is said to have driven many towards the AfD.
The AfD itself is deeply split between the populistfar-right and those simply too right-wing for the Union; despite having next to no economic policy, it amassed almost 13% of the popular vote, although unlike with other parties, mostly from those who voted for it out of a dislike for the other options rather than agreement with the policies it put forward. It does , however – as with seemingly all populist forces in western politics at the moment – represent a class of people who feel unrepresented and ‚left behind and as such has had prompt calls from certain Union MPs for the party to move further to the right, or ‚”Close its right flank”, as CSU leader Horst Seehofer put it.
The AfD, as ever, has been ruled out of a coalition and since the SPD has repeatedly refused another Grand Coalition and the prospects of Die Linke governing with the likes of Merkel and Seehofer are next to none, the only remainong possible outcome is a creatively named Jamaika-Koalition of the Union, FDP and Greens, whose party colours match those of the Jamaican flag.
This is an untested combination and thanks to differing stances on the environment and refugee policy, among other things, which the Greens in particular will take a hard stance on, being the only left of centre party in the hypothetical arrangement, mean that it could be intensely difficult to negotiate and that a new government is unlikely soon before Christmas but German politics has shown itself to be incredibly pragmatic and despite their differences, all parties have agreed to start discussions.
If one thing is clear, it’s that whilst the extreme right has made an impact in this election, with a liberal coalition likely and the social democrats the main opposition force, Germany maintains its place as a tolerant, open and liberal democracy with Angela Merkel – its Mutti – at the helm.