A further victory for Angela Merkel and a breakthrough by the populists in the German federal elections

Elections in Europe

Corinne Deloy


26 September 2017

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Deloy Corinne

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).

A further victory for Angela Merkel and a breakthrough by the populists in the G...

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Unsurprisingly the German federal elections have led to the election of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union, CDU), who will therefore be starting her fourth term in office as head of government. They also led to Germany's "normalisation" which, like many other European countries, has witnessed the exhaustion of its traditional parties (and the collapse of social democracy) and the entrance by a right-wing populist party into the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, for the first time since 1949.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, in office since 2005, came out ahead in the elections on 24th September. With its ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which only runs in Bavaria, the CDU-CSU Union collated 33% of the vote and won 238 seats (-84 in comparison with the previous elections on 22nd September 2013). "The general election result is a bitter disappointment. We neglected our right flank and it is up to us to now fill the vacuum with divided positions," indicated CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, whose party achieved its lowest score ever with under 40% in Bavaria (45 seats, -11).

"I am happy to have won but we should not avoid the obvious, we hoped for a better result," declared Angela Merkel, who won her fourth consecutive term in office. "We should not forget that we are emerging from an exceptionally difficult legislature, so I am pleased that we achieved the strategic goals of our electoral campaign. We are the first party, we have a mandate to form the next government and there can be no government coalition against us," added the outgoing Chancellor. "We are facing a major new challenge and that is the breakthrough by the Alternative for Germany (AfD)". Support for Angela Merkel, who has been in office for the last 12 years, has certainly also been worn down due to this long period in office.

On the decline, the German right did however easily draw ahead of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) led by Martin Schulz, support for which continues to drop election after election. The SPD won 20.50% of the vote and 148 seats (-45), i.e. its weakest result ever. The party's leader, Martin Schulz, rapidly drew the conclusions from this and announced that "this evening marks the end of our work with the CDU." "The social democratic ministers have communicated on old social democratic demands, such as the minimum wage, but ultimately, it is the Chancellor who won the credit for it," indicated Siegfried Heimann, historian and political expert, adding "after electoral failure at the beginning of the year[1], Martin Schulz did not change his discourse nor his campaign methods. His team proved unable to analyse the situation or to change strategy."

The breakthrough by Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the second event in these elections. The party achieved its goal and won a double-figured score, 13% of the vote (21 % of which in the Länder of the former East Germany) and 95 seats (+ 95). "We are going to change this country," declared one of its two lead candidates, Alexander Gauland, promising to "fight and pursue Angela Merkel"! Founded in the spring of 2013 by a group of economists in protest against the plans to save the euro the AfD "converted" two years later to a fight to counter Islam and immigration, and is now represented in 13 of the 16 regional parliaments. The party has therefore become the country's third political force. It is extremely divided, between a conservative trend, focused on issues like immigration, the upkeep of order and the place of Islam in society, and a more realistic trend, represented by Frauke Petry, who was pushed to the side-lines by the party's leaders during the Cologne congress on 22nd and 23rd April last. On this occasion, Alexander Gauland, a former CDU member and Alice Weidel, were appointed by 67.7% of the 600 party delegates to lead the electoral campaign.

According to the exit polls the AfD is said to have snatched one million votes from the CDU, around 400,000 from the SPD and to have convinced a million abstentionists.

The AfD is the first far right party[2] to enter the Bundestag since 1949. In the past Franz-Josef Strauss, the CSU's historic leader (1961-1988) and former Minister-President of Bavaria (1988-1998) said, "there cannot be a democratically legitimate party to the right of the CSU.""The party can only play a political role in Germany if it focuses strongly on the left. A party on the right that does not limit itself on its far right has no chance in Germany because of our past," analyses Oskar Niedermayer, professor of political science at the Free University of Berlin

The Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), led by 38 year-old Christian Lindner, has returned to the benches of the Bundestag, from which it was ejected in the last elections of 2013. The FDP won 10.7% of the vote and 78 seats (+ 78).

The Greens/Alliance 90 (Grünen), led by Katrin Göring-Eckhardt and Cem Özdemir, made very slight progress, without rising above the 10% mark (which they have done only once since the elections in 2009), and benefited from the collapse of the SPD. "The Green candidates are campaigning in the centre. But this area is already occupied by the CDU and the SPD," stressed Andreas Stifel, professor of political science at the University of Freiburg. The Greens won 8.9% of the vote and 65 seats (+ 2).

Finally the Left Party (Die Linke), a populist left wing party led by Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, won 9.20% of the vote and 66 seats (+ 2).

6 political parties will be represented in the Bundestag, which has 709 members, i.e. the highest number in its history (the previous record was 673 MPs after the elections in 1994).

Turnout was 5.1 points higher than in the previous elections of 2013: 76.2%

Aged 63, Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg but her family left the town to settle in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). A graduate of physics and chemistry from the Karl-Marx University of Leipzig she worked at the Physics/Chemistry Institute in East Berlin until 1990, the year in which she became the deputy spokesperson of the last government in the GDR led by Lothar de Maizière (CDU). In the same year she joined the CDU after the merger of Democratic Dawn (DA), a movement that she had joined in December 1989, with the latter party. She was elected MP in December 1990 and appointed Minister for the Family, the Elderly, Women and Youth in the government led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) the following year - Kohl then nicknamed the "girl" (Das Mädchen).

Elected Chair of the CDU of the Land of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in 1993, a post that she kept until 2000, Angela Merkel was appointed Minister for the Environment, the Protection of Nature and Nuclear Safety. In 2000, she took over as head of the party, a post to which she has constantly been re-elected.

After the federal elections of 18th September 2005 Angela Merkel became the first women, the first protestant and the first person from the former GDR to take up the post of Chancellor. She was obliged however to lead a "grand coalition" rallying the CDU-CSU and the SPD. She took her party to victory in the elections on 22nd September 2009 and stayed as head of the government that she led this time in an alliance with the FDP. After her third victory on 22nd September 2013, another "grand coalition" with the SPD was established. On 24th September the woman the Germans call "Mutti" (Mam) also succeeded in winning for a fourth time as Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl did before her.

Angela Merkel will now have to find the partners with whom to form the next government coalition. Since the SPD has said that it wants to sit in the opposition so that it can reivew its political line and to analyse why it has lost support in particular, Ms Merkel cannot just rely on the Liberal Democrats because the two parties would not hold a majority on their own. Therefore a new coalition has to be sought with the Liberals and the Greens to form what we might call the "Jamaican coalition" due to its three colours (black, yellow and green) which make up the flag of the Caribbean island and which are also those of the CDU, the FDP and the Greens respectively. A three party coalition would be a first for Germany. The Greens and the FDP have different opinions about many themes, notably regarding taxation, energy and the environment, security and Europe.

In all likelihood, several weeks of intense negotiation will be required on the part of Angela Merkel to form her future government since talks are only due to start after the elections in Lower Saxony planned for 15th October. Since they usually last about 2 months we are not likely to see the result of this until just before Christmas or afterwards. In the meantime the Bundestag will have met and its bureau and committees will have been put together, including that of the budget, which will go to the first opposition party, i.e. the SPD, given its decision not to remain in the government.

As the Chancellor indicated she has been given a mandate to form the government and therefore she will do everything she can to build the only coalition possible, taking on board the German vote and she will devote the time necessary to do this.

[1] The Christian Democratic Union won the three regional elections that were held in 2017 in Germany: on 26th March in Saarland, 7th May in Schleswig-Holstein, and a week later in North Rhine Westphalia, an industrial region which is the homeland of many Social Democratic leaders including Martin Schulz. [2] Alternative for Germany is increasingly qualified as a far right party. On 8th May last the AfD organised a joint meeting with the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida), in Dresden, an association that is trying to counter radical Islam and "the Islamisation of Germany." More recently on 15th September Alexander Gauland did not hesitate to boast the " results " of the soldiers who took part in Hitler's army.

A further victory for Angela Merkel and a breakthrough by the populists in the G...

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