By Rhodri Sheldrake Davies
The 24th of September 2017 is a date of which very few are aware, yet will be influential in setting the tone of European politics for the next four years. On this day German voters will elect the members of the 19th Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament and, subsequently, the next Chancellor and Government of Germany.
Though current polling suggests that it is unlikely that there will be change in the chancellorship, with Angela Merkel’s position all but secure, the election is still set to reshape German politics, with an unprecedented change in the face and outlook of the Bundestag predicted.
Who are the key parties?
Germany has historically been dominated by two major parties, CDU/CSU and the SPD.
The CDU/CSU, known colloquially as the ‘Unionsparteien’, have been in power since 2000. Led by current Chancellor Angela Merkel, they are a coalition of economically centre-right conservatives and liberals, characterised by their pragmatic approach to politics and their reputation as a “safe pair of hands in difficult times”. As the party is currently only polling 37% of the vote (which will be proportionally represented in the Bundestag, due to Germany’s AMS voting system), it will need to partner with another smaller party in order to form government.
Germany’s other major party, the ‘Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands’ (SPD), is led by Martin Schulz, a vocal EU statesman and previous President of the EU Parliament. Schulz’s party has traditionally led opposition against the CDU/CSU. However, following the 2013 Federal Election, it chose to join with them in a so-called ‘grand coalition’. Currently polling 23%, having seen its popularity crumble after peaking at 33% in March 2016, the party is unlikely to be able to lead a government. Hence, an internal debate is presently raging within the party as to whether it should look to re-join the CDU/CSU or return the opposition benches.
As neither major party is polling anywhere near the 50% of the vote needed to form a government, this is an election where the minor parties are set to play a major role in guiding the balance of power. For the first time since its creation in 1949, the Bundestag is predicted to host six different party delegations, meaning that focus in this election will be placed on consensus building. Four smaller parties are billed to be taking up places in the Bundestag: the FDP, Alliance90/Greens, Die Linke and AfD.
Currently polling 9% of the vote, the ‘Freie Demokratische Partei’ (FDP) are looking to return to the Bundestag, having lost their seats in the 2013 election. Historically, the party has relied on its ability to hold the balance of power (often acting as ‘kingmaker’ to both the SPD and CDU) and is expected to continue this trend, negotiating its support in return for: the promotion of its platform based around tax cuts, investment in digital infrastructure and European reform.
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen’ (Alliance 90/The Greens) are a typical European Green Party, standing on a programme centred on sustainable development and hence advancing policies relating to the development of renewable energies and aiming for zero-emissions by 2050. Currently polling around 8%, and having all-but ruled out a ‘three-way coalition’ with the CDU/CSU and the FDP, it is expected to look to back a SPD-led left-wing bloc coalition or join them in opposition.
Die Linke (The Left) is a left-wing populist party, linked to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. In the past, it has been involved in Anti-Militarism and Anti-Capitalist protests, receiving extensive condemnation from the CDU/CSU. The party is currently polling 10%, and having acted as a junior partner in coalition with the SPD and the Greens in state governments, some commentators are now suggesting that it may be able to barter a confidence agreement with the SPD, rather than being forced into opposition as it has in the past.
The final contender, ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ (AfD) is a controversial new right-wing populist party. Founded in 2013, and having been regarded as the most rebellious party in the otherwise ‘uniform’ German political system, it has been compared to Britain’s UKIP (having been addressed by key figures such as ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage) and, controversially, even the Nazi party. Currently polling 10%, down from 15% this time last year, they are likely to rally around their core concerns regarding immigration and the EU. Nevertheless, due to their rejection by all other Bundestag parties, they are expected to be blocked from any form of government.
What are the key issues?
Multiple concerns have already been pinpointed in this election by commentators.
International Diplomatic relations with Turkey and the US has been a raised multiple times, after German dealings with the two previously close allies deteriorated following the election of President Trump and controversial Governmental reforms by President Erdogan.
As well as this, Immigration, bolstered following increasing criticism of the government’s handling of the refugee crisis, the growing popularity of AfD has occupied the forefront of debate. Following from this, Domestic Security has also been raised, having played on the minds of voters following the intensifying attacks across Europe and within Germany by Da’esh since last year.
Economic stagnation is also likely to be raised by the SPD and Left, after reports that German workers are paid significantly less compared to other European countries. These parties (and AfD) are also predicted to raise issues around Welfare spending and family security (with AfD looking to push its line on returning to ‘the traditional family’).
Finally, the dominant issue will continue to be the EU, and Germany’s relationship with it, with the FDP pushing for reform and the SPD looking for further integration, whilst AfD pushes its Eurosceptic agenda and the CDU/CSU promotes a plan for slowing the tide of increasing cynicism across other European nations following the UK’s Brexit vote.
With this raft of controversial and uncomfortable policies now reaching the forefront of debate and the increased focus on coalition building as more parties enter the Bundestag, it becomes evident that this election may well be Merkel’s last if she does not manage it well.
Photograph: Times via Wikimedia Commons