Sunday’s regional election results in the eastern German states of Brandenburg and Saxony might not spell the end of Angela Merkel’s fragile coalition government, but it is cause for concern. Alternative for Germany (AfD) had its strongest election results since 2013, finishing second in both elections. The incumbent parties did manage to hold onto first place in both states, however, it is apparent their influence in the east is waning. The Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered significant losses, and AfD’s surge demonstrates the difficulties that establishment parties have had in challenging the rise of populism in Germany.
The election results are will not bring about the collapse of Germany’s governing coalition. Unfortunately, it does not provide any concrete answers about its future. With a strong showing in May’s European Union Parliament elections, and yesterday’s showing, AfD is on the verge of obtaining a sizeable chunk of political power. All of the parties currently seated in Germany’s federal parliament have refused to govern together with AfD. But with the far-right party continuing to post impressive electoral results, that pledge could be obsolete very soon.
Now that we are coming off the holiday weekend, it will be possible to take a closer look at Germany’s fractured political landscape. The decline of the establishment parties, and the rise of AfD does not necessarily mean there will be a return to authoritarianism in the future. But Germany’s political system is becoming less unified, and more unpredictable. In this manner German politics is starting to appear more like politics in the rest of Europe. Yet for Germany, where the phrase ‘in ordnung’ is more of a way of life then a phrase, political chaos is not the norm.
Germany is no longer a refuge from the storm of voter dissatisfaction sweeping across Europe. Sunday’s regional elections in Bavaria have proven that beyond the shadow of a doubt. Yesterday, the Christian Social Union (CSU) received 36.8% of the vote, and lost its absolute majority in the Bavarian state parliament. In the last elections, held in 2013, the CSU received roughly 46% of the vote. Yesterday’s results mark the worst performance for the party since 1950. CSU’s decades-long domination of Bavarian politics is apparently over. Bavarian voters rejected the party and moved their support to the left and right. The Green Party captured 17% giving them second place. The right wing anti-immigration party AfD won 10.3% of the vote, giving them a visible presence in Bavaria, an area hard hit by the migrant crisis. AfD’s position is particularly remarkable given that the party did not even participate in Bavaria’s last regional election.
Sunday’s election results will have an adverse effect for Angela Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ and German national politics as well. The civil, but tense relations, and policy disagreements between the member parties are already coming to light less than a day after the election. The German Social Democrats (SPD) is viewing the results as a wake-up call amid fresh concerns about the survivability of the coalition’s alliance at the national level. SPD’s head has all but called for the resignation of Horst Seehofer, CSU’s leader. The party wants the way the coalition works to be improved and believes the best way to achieve that goal is through personnel changes. SPD also suffered major losses on Sunday with its support in Bavaria cut in half.
Looking at the big picture, Merkel’s coalition has been dealt a massive blow. Her allies have been greatly humbled and their power sapped. SPD’s role in the coalition is up in the air right now, and if the coming regional elections in Hesse go badly for the party, as well as for CSU, it could bring the coalition crashing down. With it will come Angela Merkel’s chancellorship, and her long-running position as the leader of Europe’s most powerful nation-state.
Since 2015, Angela Merkel’s political fortunes have been incontrovertibly tied to Europe’s migrant crisis and the immigration issue. Germany’s open border migration laws have seen 1.4 million refugees from the Middle East and Africa accepted in the last three years. This mass influx has led to a decline in Merkel’s political clout at home and abroad. As more refugees crossed into Germany with very little oversight or restriction, crime rates rose dramatically. Terror attacks sprouted up across the Federal Republic. Populist parties emerged from the political wilderness and began gaining acceptance in the mainstream with their anti-immigration positions. Germany’s federal elections in September, 2017 saw German voters turning away from Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition and gravitating towards parties such as Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other Euroskeptic populist parties. The gains made by these upstart parties in the Bundestag forced Merkel to form a larger, more inclusive coalition government.
At the moment, the conservative partners in Germany’s current coalition government are threatening Angela Merkel’s political future.
On Monday, the conservatives gave Merkel a two-week ultimatum to either reform immigration and asylum laws, or turn migrants away at the border. Germany’s Minister of Interior Horst Seehofer, is leading the charge. Seehofer stated that if no solution is reached by the end of the month, he will personally order German border police to turn back migrants. If no resolution is found, Germany could see itself in the midst of yet another political crisis, and Merkel will be fighting for her political life.
Holding true to her modus operandi, Merkel is turning to the European Union for help. EU heads of state will meet in Brussels at the end of June and immigration will be a hot topic. Merkel is already pressing for a ‘European solution,’ either in the form of a continent-wide immigration policy, or convincing other EU member-states to take in more migrants. With more populist governments taking power in Europe recently, few nations will probably be receptive to the idea of accepting more migrants, and refugees. The new third-rail in European politics seems to be immigration. Continental leaders who agree to raise the number of immigrants their respective nations will accept are running a dangerous risk. Contrary to what many media outlets, or the European Union would say, the mood in Europe right now is decidedly anti-immigration.
Merkel has learned this the hard way.
Angela Merkel has her coalition. The Social Democrats voted in favor of forming a new government along with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union conservatives. Merkel will stay in the chancellery in Berlin, and political stability is set to return to Germany, at least for the moment. Forming a coalition after months of deadlock is assuredly a victory for her, though the scope and magnitude of it is up for debate. During the next few months, Merkel needs to tread carefully. One errant slip can turn it into a Pyrrhic victory and then the coalition becomes an albatross around her neck.
Make no mistake about it, Merkel has her work cut out for her. In spite of the grandiose proclamations of a ‘Grand Coalition,’ the government that has been put together more accurately resembles a diminished coalition at best. Germany was rattled by the political paralysis that followed the September elections, leaving many to wonder if the nation will ever be the same again. Support for the coalition is dropping, according to polls. At the same time, the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is building momentum. AfD is also setting itself up to be the main opposition party in parliament, raising the prospect of a clash with the new government somewhere down the line.
Merkel has promised to place more focus on domestic issues, though this might be a matter of too little, too late. Immigration is what brought Merkel and Germany to this point. The clumsy way she went about opening of Germany’s borders to the migrants is what caused German voters to turn on their chancellor. Merkel finds herself having to make amends, and possibly even give some of the new government’s positions and policies a slight tilt to the right. Last week she openly admitted that there are no-go zones in Germany after vehemently denying their existence for years. There are reports that Germany could even be seeking a reset in its relations with the United States. It’s a well-known truth that Merkel’s relationship with President Trump has been cool to say the very least.
The fact that she is making these moves now, and that Germany finds itself in this position shows the clout that right wing political parties, and populist movements now hold in Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reelected to her fourth term in office yesterday as federal elections were held across Germany. Her victory appears to be pyrrhic, however. Her Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) garnered only 33% of the vote and will be allotted 246 seats in the Bundestag. Even though these numbers represent the largest share of the vote it will not be enough to form a majority government. To complicate matters even more, the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s share of the vote was 13% and it will hold 94 seats in the Bundestag. This is especially staggering since before yesterday AfD held no seats. Now it is the third largest political party in Germany.
Merkel’s victory speech was muted. She stated that she’d expected and hoped for a ‘better result’ indicating she understands completely how murky the election results are for her and her party. The Bild, a German tabloid, labeled it a ‘nightmare victory’ and financial markets have responded negatively to the election results. The euro is currently down against the dollar and investors could be getting antsy at the prospect of a convoluted political future for Germany. The German Chancellor now has to form a coalition government with smaller parties, or attempt to run a minority government. A minority government is the least likely scenario seeing how German politics are driven by consensus and always have been since the end of World War II.
Merkel’s power will be severely eroded by yesterday’s results. She’ll be left walking a fine line between the quicksand traps of policy uncertainty and an unstable government. If she loses her balance and either one become a reality, early elections will likely be called, signaling the end of the Merkel era.
To the surprise of many political observers, the populist wave that was rolling across Europe in 2016 and early 2017 and appeared to dissipate when Emanuel Macron claimed victory in the French elections earlier this year, came to life yesterday. Anti-immigration sentiment in Germany is high, and many voters are tired of Merkel lecturing them that it is Germany’s ‘duty’ to take in hundreds of thousands of Syrian immigrants. Crime has spiked in the Federal Republic over the past twelve months, and across Europe terrorist attacks are on the rise. These actions have convinced many German voters that a change is necessary.
Germany’s ‘Trump Moment’ came yesterday. It arrived not in the form of a Brexit-like tsunami, but instead, like a thief in the night. And it could very well be the beginning of the end for Angela Merkel’s rule.