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Germany - General Elections

The greens provide Gerhard Schroder with the majority necessary to remain chancellor

The greens provide Gerhard Schroder with the majority necessary to remain chancellor

22/09/2002 - Results

On 14th September, Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer made a joint public appearance at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This was a first in German history since never before had two allied ruling parties held a joint meeting during an electoral campaign. The results of this general election appear to be the precursor of how German politics are to develop in the future. By achieving their best ever result (8,6% of the vote), the Greens, who are clearly the victors in this election, have provided the Chancellor with the votes necessary for him to continue governing the country with the SPD-Green coalition. Joschka Fischer has been revealed as Gerhard Schröder's saviour. The Social Democrat Party (SPD) witnessed the biggest drop in the number of votes in their favour, 38,5%, ie 2.4% less than in 1998, but they are, by a small margin, still the main political group in the Bundestag.

The Union (CDU-CSU) has moved forwards winning 38.5% of the vote ie 3.4% more than four years ago and has three additional seats in the lower House. The real loser in these elections was the Liberal Democrat Party (FDP) that is now the country's fourth political movement, lagging behind the Greens who won 7.4% of the vote, which is slightly better than in 1998 when the Liberal Party won 6.2%, but far behind their planned objective of 18%. Finally the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) failed to reach the 5% mark and managed to win three seats, therefore losing its parliamentary group at the Bundestag.

The Bundestag now has 603 members, that is five more than before, since two parties won more direct mandates in the Land than they won seats by way of proportional election. In this way the SPD has recovered four seats and the CDU/CSU, one.

«Vote Joschka» announced the Ecologist group's posters. The population took notice of the Greens message. The Party's campaign that was entirely focused on its leader, Joschka Fischer, the most popular political man in Germany, and this enabled the Greens to achieve the best score in their history. We should point out that there were significant differences in popularity that are not revealed in the election results. The Greens also won their first direct mandate with the election of Christian Ströbler in Berlin. However over the last few years the party has suffered a number of internal crises with the "fundamentalists" opposed to the "realists" on the new policies presented by Joschka Fischer. Five thousand Green members have left the movement since 1998. Voters however seem to have appreciated the changes undertaken by the Greens who emerge strengthened after four years in government. They are the main victors in this election and the ecologists were received to a standing ovation at the SPD's HQ last Sunday night in Berlin.

8,864 votes separated the two main movements. Germany witnessed the closest run election in its history. Although the Social Democrats remain in power they emerge from this election in a much weaker position. Their score has declined and the SPD-Green coalition now only enjoys a narrow majority in the Bundestag (eleven seats). In addition to this the Christian Democrats, who have been encouraged by their score, are bound to be extremely active in the Opposition seat. "The Schröder government will only be able to stay in power a short time" said Edmund Stoiber. The Chancellor will also have to face the upper House, the Bundesrat, that is in the hands of the opposition and yet indispensable in the launch of any major reform, such as those involved in the fight against unemployment or the health insurance scheme that are on Gerhard Schröder's agenda today.

The Chancellor will also have to win back the USA's confidence, who were unhappy after his categorical declarations against a possible war with Iraq and especially by the clumsy declarations made by his former Justice Minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin in a local newspaper. "Bush wants to turn attention from the problems he has with domestic politics. This method is one we have seen before. Hitler already employed it," she said last week. This enraged President Bush. In addition to this the American Department of State has already noted the German Chancellor's re-election in a cold, laconic manner; spokesman Richard Boucher even avoided mentioning his name.

Edmund Stoiber will not therefore be the first Bavarian to become Chancellor. The Christian Democrat candidate failed by a narrow margin, achieving an honourable score but which was nevertheless inadequate to win through. «Here we are again," declared the CDU-CSU leader after the announcement of the results. But although the conservative party has indeed witnessed a clear improvement, Edmund Stoiber did not manage to convince the Germans that he represented a real alternative to the politics undertaken by the Social Democrats. Within the CDU/CSU Union, the Bavarian Minister President might find himself replaced in the near future by Angela Merkel, who was thrown out of the race for Chancellorship in January this year but who succeeded in asserting herself as an inevitable personality during the campaign. She has just won the presidency of the CDU-CSU parliamentary group in replacement of Friedrich Merz. The Christian Democrat Union achieved its best score in its candidate's native Land, with 58.6% of the vote; this is however lower than that of Franz Josef Strauss's in 1993 (59,5%). The SPD achieved a high score in Hannover (Lower-Saxony) in the Chancellor's stamping ground, winning 50.9% in the first constituency and 49.9% in the second. In addition to this the Social Democrats improved their score by 4.2% in Grimma, a town devastated by the waters of the Mulde in August where the Chancellor made a personal appearance and first announced compensation measures.

Although Schröder owes his victory to his Green allies, likewise Stoiber owes his failure to the poor performance of his potential ally, the FDP. « Jürgen Möllemann damaged the party's campagne to a major extent," confirmed the FDP's President Guido Westerwelle. The FDP's Vice President was accused of seeking favour with the extreme right electorate. Jürgen Möllemann was boycotted during the final days of the campaign by his party leader and he finally resigned on Monday 23rd September from his position as Vice President of the FDP. However the blunders and polemics are not the only reasons for the Liberals' poor results. They were driven from power in 1998 after 22 years of participation in government coalitions on both the left and the right. For the very first time the Liberal Party had decided to present its own candidate for the Chancellorship and had refused to choose the political movement with whom it was prepared to make an alliance. This opportunist strategy destabilised the electorate who did not appear to appreciate the populist undercurrents in the leaders' discourse since the FDP seemed ready to do anything to achieve the impossible objective of their planned 18%. In addition to this the FDP did not enter into the last two debates during the electoral campaign, ie the floods and possible war against Iraq.

For the first time since Germany's re-unification, the Party for Democratic Socialism (former communists) will not have a parliamentary group since they did not achieve the 5% mark and won three direct mandates. Of the four direct mandates won by the PDS four years ago in the Eastern part of Berlin only two were re-conquered on Sunday. It was also in the Eastern part of the country that the PDS witnessed the greatest setback with a total of 16% of the vote whilst the communists won 21.6% during the 1998 elections. In the West the PDS won a total of 1.1%. "We cannot argue with this terrible defeat, neither the programmes nor the people were convincing enough" declared the party's national secretary Dietmar Bartsch. Gregor Gysi, the PDS leader, who resigned in July after being accused of misuse of company property, did not participate in the campaign and this explains the party's downfall to a great extent. He in fact admits "his share of responsibility" in the defeat. The movement has difficulty in finding consolation in the SPD-PDS coalition that is to continue in Mecklenburg-Pomerania (this regional election was held in parallel to the national vote). Indeed the communists lost 8% of their vote, winning 16.4% whilst their Social Democrat partners recorded an increase achieving 40.6% of the vote.

Finally the Party for the Offensive for a State of Law, collapsed during this general election achieving only 0.8% of the vote (4.2% in Hamburg) and the extreme right (Republicans, Neonazi Party, Union of German People) lost two thirds of its vote winning 1% in comparison with 3.3% four years ago.

The Greens have started talks with their Social Democrat partners in a strong position. During the previous government the ecologists had three portfolios; Foreign Affairs, Environment and Agriculture. They are now interested in the ministry of Justice where Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, who lost her constituency, will not be re-elected. According to the German Constitution the Chancellor's mandate ends on the opening of the first parliamentary session that has to take place within the thirty days following the general elections. The Greens are putting pressure on for the government to be created before 18th October, the day their annual congress begins.

Unemployment, public finances, growth, education, health insurance, European Union: all of this and more has to be worked upon by the future SPD-Green government. Germany is in need of urgent reform. "There are hard times ahead," warned Gerhard Schröder, who made a point of ‘taking personal responsibility' for the electoral setback suffered by his party as soon as the final results were announced. The Chancellor is now obliged to act quickly, the narrowness of his majority is there to remind him that the Germans are far from willing to let him do exactly what he will.

Results of General Elections on 22nd September:

Participation: 79,1%

Source Embassy of Germany Paris
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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