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.
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.
It all comes down to this for Angela Merkel. This week brings about what will likely be her final attempt to form a coalition government and end the political stalemate in Germany. Discussions are underway between Merkel and the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, with the German chancellor attempting to bring the SDP back into the fold of a new coalition. In the past, SDP had been part of a coalition led by Merkel, but when the party’s voter support for it diminished, SDP withdrew. This time around, even if Merkel receives the support of SDP leader Martin Schulz, he will need to gain the support of party membership before a formal agreement is reached. Given the proclivities of SDP voters concerning domestic issues, as well as Merkel’s polarizing effect, there is no guarantee the party will support joining a coalition that will reverse her political fortunes.
If Merkel fails to forge a coalition, her options are limited. She can continue ahead with a minority government. Without a stable majority in the Bundestag, it is unlikely that Merkel’s government will be able to pass any major legislation, or tackle significant issues. The support simply will not be there for such ventures.
Another alternative is to hold new elections. Returning to the electorate would be a risky proposition which could see the government lose even more seats and muddle the situation in the Bundestag even more. Simply reaching the point where snap elections can be held is almost impossible for Merkel. To call for the elections, she must first request that German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier dissolve the Bundestag. Since Merkel is the head of a caretaker government, she cannot do this. A third, less realistic option is for Steinmeier to nominate her for an election by parliament however, the road there is also complex and fraught with potential pitfalls.
With its own agenda tied to Merkel’s political fortunes, the European Union is keeping close tabs on events in Berlin this week. The EU realizes it cannot make any major strides with Germany remaining on the sidelines and preoccupied with its own political drama. Brussels is eager to move forward, though its hands are tied until the mess in Berlin is resolved.