Chancellor Angela Merkel wins her wager and will govern Germany with the Liberals.


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


27 September 2009

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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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) won her wager by achieving victory in the general elections in Germany on 27th September. The CDU with the Christian Social Union (CSU) won 33.5% of the vote, the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), 14.6%. Together they won 48% of the vote. This lays the way for a so called "yellow-black" coalition between the CDU/CSU and the FDP. Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has been re-elected to her post.

The general elections in Germany beat all records this time round. The low score of the two main parties – CDU and SPD –means that the "small" parties are the major victors. Indeed the FDP achieved the highest score since its record in 1961 with 14.6% of the vote. As for the opposition the SPD collapsed and achieved its weakest score since the end of the Second World War with 23% of the vote (its previous record dates back to 1953 when it won 28.8% of the vote).

The Left Party (Die Linke) led by Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi, improved its result by 3.2 points over its 2005 achievements and won 11.9% of the vote. Finally the Greens beat their 2002 record and rose above the 10% threshold with 10.7% of the vote.

These elections gave rise to major abstention. Turnout was 70.8% ie the lowest rate ever recorded in Germany (-6.9 points in comparison with the previous election on 18th September 2005).

Angela Merkel's successful wager

Angela Merkel is the major victor in the election. Re-elected to office the Chancellor can savour her victory and be pleased in having made the right choice by focusing the campaign on herself ("We're voting for Angela Merkel" could be read on the most recent posters), unusual in Germany where voters usually vote for a party rather than for a candidate. Angela Merkel who is the most popular figure in Germany chose to position herself above the political parties, a strategy which was denounced by certain CDU members but which proved to be the right one.

The electorate which sought stability (notably at a time when the country is experiencing the most serious economic recession since the Second World War) chose to re-elect a Chancellor who has succeeded in asserting herself as a solid figure, notably with regard to her management of the international economic crisis and as a woman of consensus, a value which her fellow countrymen particularly appreciate.

"This evening you are satisified and happy. I am also. Our success is formidable. We have succeeded in achieving our electoral goal of a stable majority in Germany for a new government with the CDU and the FDP," declared Angela Merkel on the announcement of the first results adding that she wanted to come to a coalition agreement rapidly – she indicated "this evening we can really celebrate victory but I would say that afterwards work awaits us. We do not want to forget that there are many problems to be solved in our country."

Although it came out ahead the CDU in power in 13 of the 16 Länder – a first since 1949 – is however under threat. Firstly its result is 1.7 points below the 35.2% achieved in the 2005 election – a result which at the time was already deemed weak. Both of the two main German parties continue their decline in the ballot box now rallying less than 6 voters in 10 in comparison with nearly ¾ 30 years ago (and with a turnout higher by 10 points).

"We are satisfied with this exceptional result but we know that it makes us responsible. We are prepared to assume that responsibility. We want to help govern Germany because we have to ensure that there is a fair tax system, better opportunities in terms of education, and that citizens' rights are respected again," declared FDP leader, Guido Westerwelle, who should become the next Foreign Minister a post reserved for the coalition partner.

An historic defeat for the SPD

SPD candidate for the Chancellery, Frank-Walter Steinmeier acknowledged the defeat of his party, the major loser in this election. "There is no way we can present this favourably, it is a bitter defeat," he stressed saying that the SPD will be firm on the opposition benches in the face of the future government coalition. "On this evening of bitterness I do not intend to shy away from my responsibities," said the party's chairman, Franz Müntefering.

The SPD, which has been on a slippery slope since the implementation of the Agenda 2010 adopted between 2003 and 2005 under Gerhard Schröder's government in an effort to reform the labour market and the social protection system, has not managed to stem the haemorrhage which is bleeding it of its members (it has lost over 1/3 of its members over the last ten years) and its electorate. Facing division between its leftwing and a more centrist trend, devoid of a real leader, and deprived of a programme and a strategy the SPD is suffering a serious identity crisis. The duality rule (agreement possible in the Länder, no agreement federally) is undermining the credibility of a party which increasingly faces direct competition from Die Linke. According to the first post-electoral polls by Infratest the SPD lost many voters to Oskar Lafontaine's party in these elections, notably those from the poorest socio-professional categories. "We are the party who will put pressure on so that the Social State is rebuilt" said Die Linke's leader.

Unable to draw up a new model of government in an era of globalization the Social Democrats have had their ideas stolen (State control, demands for regulation) by a Chancellor who, although defending a liberal policy, has succeeded in convincing the population that she is extremely attached to social balance. The rightwing, which adapted more rapidly to world developments in an era of globalisation are deemed more credible by the electorate who also believe they are more capable of providing protection and acting when events occur. "We are not a party of the past," declared Franz Müntefering. Although it wants to return to power the SPD may falter in redefining its policy and the model of society it wants to see in the future. Many political analysts forecast radicalization and a swing to the left.

Victorious Angela Merkel

55 year old Angela Merkel studied at the Karl-Marx University in Leipzig in the former GDR (German Democratic Republic) and is a trained physician. Recently she explained that she chose to study this subject "because in this area the truth is not easily deformed". She worked at the Central Institute for Chemistry and Physics in East Berlin until 1990 when she became the deputy spokesperson for the last GDR government led by Lothar de Maizière. In the same year she became a member of the CDU after the merger of Democratic Dawn (DA), a movement she joined in December 1989, with this party. She became an MP in December 1990 and the following year she was appointed Minister for the Family, the Elderly, Women and Youth in the government led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU), who nicknamed her Das Mädchen (the girl). Elected chair of the CDU in the Land of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in 1993, a post she occupied until 2000, she then became Minister of the Environment, the Protection of Nature and Nuclear Security the following year.

Appointed Secretary General of the CDU in 1998 Angela Merkel became Chair two years later taking over from Wolfgang Schäuble. Since then she has been re-elected successively to this post. She had to relinquish her bid to become Chancellor to Edmund Stoiber in the general election on 22nd September 2002 which was won by Gerhard Schröder. After the election Angela Merkel took over as opposition leader by becoming the Chair of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group in the Bundestag, the lower Chamber in Parliament. Candidate for her own party in the early general elections on 18th September 2005 she became the first woman and the first citizen of the former GDR to rise to the post of Chancellor. She was however forced to lead a grand coalition bringing together the CDU and the SPD.

An atypical figure within the CDU the woman the Germans name Mutti (Mum), daughter of a Protestant pastor, divorced without children, has helped to modernise her party. Under her leadership the CDU has modernized and liberalized with regard to issues of society by granting status to homosexual couples and by adopting a more positive approach to immigration now described as a source of wealth for Germany. A woman of great simplicity and a way of life that is marked by sobriety and discretion – the woman Forbes magazine appointed four times running as the most powerful in the world - is still an enigmatic figure in the eyes of most of her countrymen who appreciate her competence, her sensible attitude and her reserve. "She doesn't like showing the cards she holds" says her biographer Gerd Langguth. "She embodies Germany, calm, unemotional, we are not Hollywood," stresses Inga Griese, a columnist in the daily Die Welt. On 27th September Angela Merkel, who was re-elected as head of the CDU last December with the highest result in 8 years, has therefore been re-elected as Head of Germany which she is due to govern for the next four years with the FDP.

Germany will now have a strong government and a real opposition. The economic crisis demands that the two parties in the government coalition act quickly if recovery is to be achieved. The CDU/CSU and the FDP are both in favour of reducing taxes even though the outgoing Chancellor refused to commit to a timetable in terms of taxation during the entire campaign.

The FDP wants to make it easier to dismiss people and is against a minimum salary which the Chancellor's CDU would like to establish sector by sector. However both parties agree to delay the closure of German nuclear power plants programmed for 2020. Likewise they are both against Turkey's entry into the EU. Finally the CDU/CSU and the FDP committed to developing a deliberate family policy to encourage the birth rate which is one of the weakest in Europe and thereby face the ageing population. The demographic issue is believed by many analysts as Germany's N°1 problem long term.

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