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.
France- The results of last weekend’s EU Parliamentary elections revealed France’s political divisions. Voter turnout in France was the highest for an EU election in nearly a quarter-century. European political analysts point to this fact as proof that citizens are beginning to truly grasp the importance of the EU Parliament in their daily lives. This theory is nonsensical though, given the shifting political landscape in France. The motivation had to do more with many French citizens being determined to lash out at their government and project their disaffection with the present French government, the EU, and centrist political parties in general.
The Take Power party, a nationalist political party aligned closely with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) came out on top with 23.3% of the vote. The mainstream political parties in France, as in much of Europe, did not fare well. The feeling across France is that the mainstream left and right parties are not representing the average citizen very well. The average citizens in France came together and rejected the policies, and politics of not only the EU, but those of their president as well.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party gained 22.4% of the vote, however. The narrow margin limits the damage to Macron, at least in the short run.
Germany- The EU election results in Germany are placing added pressure on Angela Merkel’s grand coalition. The nation’s two major parties suffered substantial losses last weekend, weakening a coalition that’s already fragile enough, and also bringing the possibility of Merkel not finishing her term as chancellor one step closer to becoming a reality. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) are not at all pleased with the weekend’s results, and where it leaves them. Sunday marked the continuation of a trend of steady decline, internal unrest, and worsening election results. The party took only 15.6% of the vote, down 11 points from 2014, and placing it in third place. Merkel’s own Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian Christian Social Union allies garnered a total of 28.7% of the vote. Yet this was a drop of 7% from 2014 for them.
The internal unrest in SPD has ignited a power struggle. If the left wing of the party comes out on top, SPD could leave the coalition, bringing about new elections and all but serving as the final nail in Angela Merkel’s political coffin. Politicians in Berlin have been downplaying talk of the coalition possibly crumbling, however, the possibility will need to be addressed, and planned for if SPD does walk out.
Today’s announcement by Angela Merkel concerning her political future was something of a foregone conclusion. The embattled German leader will step down when her current term as chancellor ends in 2021. Nor will she be seeking reelection as the leader of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) in December. The big question in Berlin at the moment is whether or not Merkel will be able to survive politically until 2021. Merkel’s announcement today will eventually strip her of her influential powers in Europe and internationally, as well as on the domestic front.
For years she has been the unofficial Godfather of the European Union. For years her support was essential to the creation, and expansion of many EU economic and political policies. If Merkel supported a certain policy or decision, it would blossom. If she opposed it for whatever reason, it would never see the light of day. Even as the effects of Merkel’s decisions on the migrant crisis negatively impacted the continent, the EU and Brussels continued to follow her lead. The same held true through the rise of right wing populist political parties around Europe, and the growing anti-EU sentiment in many nations. As long as Germany, and Merkel appeared politically stable, the EU refused to panic.
All of that began to change last September when the major political parties in Germany all suffered heavy losses in the federal elections. Merkel’s re-election as chancellor did little to prevent the government from entering a six-month coma as efforts to build a grand coalition got underway. Finally, in March, 2018 a grand coalition was formed. The domino effect was already underway though. The major parties of the grand coalition sustained heavy losses in last month’s Bavarian state elections, bringing on concern about the future of the coalition, and of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship.
Sunday’s election results in Hesse proved to be the last straw. CDU saw its share of the vote drop by 11 percentage points. Merkel’s declining popularity undoubtedly proved to be the major reason for CDU’s slide. The fact that she is standing down as the party leader will bring about a temporary reprieve, but it will not change the fact that her grand coalition is now perilously vulnerable. Its survival is now dependent upon the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD). SPD’s losses in Hesse were significant. Its share of the vote was down by 30.7 percent, the worst results there since 1946.
In the coming months, if SPD cannot show its members that its place in the coalition is benefitting the party, it will likely leave. SPD’s departure will likely sink Merkel’s grand coalition, and turn out to be the final nail in her political coffin.