3 min read
The German Elections-What Now?
Gerald F. Hetzel

On September 26th Germany elected a new parliament. The results confirmed what polls in the weeks before the election had predicted: The conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party, which has been leading the government for the last 16 years with Angela Merkel, received dramatic losses and lost its first place in the parliament. While Merkel is still popular in Germany, the long-standing party leader did not run for the chancellery again. In her place, the CDU ran with a less popular candidate, Armin Laschet, who made some mistakes during his campaign for the chancellorship. 

In contrast, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) improved their vote count by 5% (compared to the last election) and is the clear winner of this election. Even there is only 1% difference (in their share of the overall count) between the SPD and  CDU , the SPD has celebrated the results of the September elections,  which stands in contrast to its poor showing in recent years. The SPD´s victory is particularly sweet for its candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, since his previous attempt to become party chair failed due to his inability to gain the support of the progressive wing in the SPD, since he is considered a centrist, a political identity that allowed him to bring new voters out to support the SPD. 

Although the Greens, had been leading in the polls with 30 percent of the vote for about half a year, underperformed these polls by receiving under 15 percent of the vote like other small-medium sized parties. Their high expectations to lead the next government proved to be unrealistic given that many voters did not approve of their platform calling for banning things used in daily life in the name of enacting strong climate protections. 

Also, the Greens were shocked that first-time voters (age 18-21), which they believed to be their base, were evenly split between them and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). FDP is a center-right liberal party, labelled by their political opponents as a party of and for the affluent, runs on lowering taxes, social services, and reducing the state’s role to only what they see as its necessary functions. 

So why did so many young people also vote for the FDP? Because more and more students disagree with the radical climate thesis of the greens, with a left-wing model of society, and all the messages they receive from left-wing progressive teachers and university lecturers. 

Also, the FDP has a very modern appearance and have used social media effectively in their effort to recruit younger voters. 

The Left party, the former communist party in eastern Germany, declined by half of their strength and even finished a bit below the 5% threshold (but will remain in parliament because in the German election system a party gets its full strength represented in parliament even below the threshold if it wins three or more direct mandates ). Their campaign, aiming on a potential coalition with SPD and Greens for a clearly leftist government, did not succeed. 

In the light of those results, many Germans wonder: who will become the next chancellor? In Germany, the chancellor is elected by the parliament. Because no single party has a majority of votes, they have to build a coalition. Three possible coalitions are realistic: the SPD with the CDU, the SPD with the Greens and the FDP, or the CDU with the Greens and the FDP. 

The current government is a coalition of the CDU with the SPD, but both parties prefer not to continue their cooperation. After the first results got published on the night of the election, the FDP and the Greens announced that they would meet each other first and then decide whether to go together in a coalition with the SPD or the CDU. The FDP has positions closer to the CDU, the Greens have positions closer to the SPD.  These coalition talks started already a few days after the election: After the FDP and greens met to discuss potential cooperation, they each met separately with the senior parties, the CDU and SPD respectively. 

Meanwhile, in the CDU, a growing number of senior members have started to speak out publicly against party chairman Laschet and blame him for the poor result. In January, when Laschet became CDU leader, and later in May, when he became the chancellor-candidate of CDU and the Christian Social Union party (the CSU being the Bavarian sister party of the CDU), he promised a strictly non-populist campaign, in contrast to his rivals within the CDU (who wanted to focus more on the differences between the CDU and other parties) and focused on the issues of relevance to the CDU. As a result of running the campaign Laschet did, he did not communicate the positions of CDU clearly to the voters and in a live TV press meeting with victims of the flood, he was caught laughing which was seen as offensive and insensitive. This likely played a role in his poor approval ratings and the CDU’s disappointing finish in the recent elections. On the night of the election, as the first results came in , he shrugged off the huge losses of CDU and announced that he intended to build a coalition lead by himself and the CDU anyway. 

Additionally, the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU (as the CDU does not run in Bavaria), also jumped in to criticize Laschet. This comes after the head of the CSU, Soder, had already criticized Laschet’s poor performance during the campaign itself. 

Laschet´s only chance for a future in politics is by becoming chancellor of a coalition with the Greens and the FDP, otherwise he will have to step back from the party chair. Already a few people of the CDU leadership committees showed interest in becoming the party chairman, and Laschet declared two weeks after the election to moderate a process of finding a new leadership for the CDU (although it was not clear from his statement whether he steps back or not).

He still has high hopes in the coalition negotiations going on. The FDP and the Greens have a lot of differences, and the SPD has not found a way to overcome those differences, (do you mean they haven’t been able to achieve a compromise to move past these political differences) such as the FDP’s desire to lower taxes and promises not to raise tax rates, while the Greens and the SPD want to establish new taxes. 

During the first coalition negotiations between the FDP, SDP and Greens, details of the negotiations were kept from the press. However, in the two meetings involving the CDU, (one meeting with the Greens, another with the FDP), discussions were leaked, almost word by word to the press. Unsurprisingly, this led to the FDP and the Greens feeling disgruntled because the leaks had created an atmosphere of distrust and showed the CDU’s (and Laschet’s) inability to guarantee the privacy and confidentiality needed to negotiate and make a deal, away from the public eye. It’s likely that Laschet´s competitors from the CDU board are actively trying to undermine those negotiations. 

However, this does not mean a coalition of the CDU with the Greens and the FDP is totally impossible. Right now, a coalition lead by the SPD has by far the highest chances, but if these negotiations fail, the CDU is an alternative senior coalition partner. The precondition announced by the potential coalition partners is a settled leadership of the CDU, since these days the whole CDU party leadership will be reelected in the coming months and the CDU has no clear leader now. As of now, the person with the greatest chance to become the next German chancellor, is the man with the remarkable political comeback, Olaf Scholz.

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