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Elections: Germany in crisis

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At the point of writing, Germany’s reputation as a country of centrist stability hangs in the balance. Angela Merkel, chancellor of the CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union) since 2005 is widely regarded an icon of efficiency amidst a period of social instability in Europe with right-wing populist movements gaining ground. Despite receiving strong criticism for her handling of the refugee crisis, surveys suggest 58% of Germans want Merkel to remain chancellor. In the recent German elections, the CDU/CSU lost 65 seats, achieving 33% of the vote, leaving the CDU/CSU still the most popular party within Germany despite a diminished vote share.

Initially Merkel sought a coalition with the pro-business FDP (Free Democratic Party) and Greens. However, the FDP soon pulled out of coalition talks with the CDU/CSU and Greens. Together the three parties would have a combined 53% of the vote, the Greens at 9% and the FDP at 11%, thus a majority around Merkel could have been formed.

In the wake of the election, leader of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) Martin Schulz, initially ruled out a grand coalition between the SPD and CDU/CSU. Schulz and many SDP members hope to bring the party back to its roots of social democracy. Despite his initial opposition to a grand coalition, many centrists in the SPD oppose his decision, including Andrea Nahles who is the new SPD leader in the Bundestag. Furthermore, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s president and former SPD foreign minister is pushing for a grand coalition for the “good of the country”. Coalition talks have been rumoured, thus the likelihood of a grand coalition is increasingly more likely, though still uncertain. Friction between the two parties arise because the CDU/CSU and the SPD hold very different views on European integration and social welfare.

Matters have been made more complex because Merkel initially ruled out working as a minority government on ARD television, in favour of a new election. Her sentiment is not a lonely one, with polls suggesting that only 30% of the population desire a minority government. Meanwhile, some polls suggest that 61% of Germans want coalition talks, so it seems Merkel is under pressure to create a coalition.

So, what are the implications? The economic situation in Germany remains strong with a drop of uncertainty. Socially, Germany has a rising nationalistic presence with anti-EU sentiment gaining ground, hence the looming prospect of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) gaining more than 13% of the vote if another election is called. Macron is feeling uneasy as a central part of his agenda is further European integration and close co-operation with Germany. For example, Macron has proposed finance ministers and a European defence force, in addition, he has also proposed syncing corporate tax rates with Germany. Without Merkel, it won’t be possible for Macron to further his pro-EU agenda. For Britain, the implications are also a negative one as having a pro-business Germany, led by a CDU-FDP coalition could push forward Brexit trade negotiations in a less formal environment. Instead, Britain may have to comply more with EU demands regarding a financial settlement.

The recent election in Germany has fractured the image of political stability attributed to Germany. The solution in Germany is a tough one with successful coalition talks seemingly impossible to predict and the threat of anti-EU populism further infecting German politics. More than ever, Germany needs to remain a bastion of democracy and stability in a period of political chaos that has spread across the globe. From Brexit to Trump, reason and stability must prevail the anti-internationalist global haze.

 

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Kayleigh Lavornia

Politics Editor 2017-19

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