The votes have been counted. The posters have come down. People here in Germany are breathing a sigh of relief that the elections are finally over and done. After weeks of intense campaigning, TV debates and streets littered with posters, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that it’s over and done. This year’s elections marked the end of an era. Sixteen years was Angela Merkel in power as Madame Chancellor, guiding Germany through the toughest of waters with the Financial Crisis of 2008-09, Fukushima 2011, the Refugee Crisis in 2015, and the most recent one involving Covid-19. Sixteen years she held the country together through thick and thin, and like a big family full of sons, daughters, grandkids, cousins and all. After 16 years, as we saw in Sunday’s elections, all things had to come to an end. And the results showed clearly it’s time for a change. But the question is who will lead this change?
For that, the Flensburg Files takes a look from an author’s perspective.
End of the Line for CDU and Armin Laschet:
After winning the Super Bowl, a champion falls from grace and misses the playoffs the next season. Most of the time, rebuilding is needed to make the team stronger, though they may not be able to repeat the glory days. It’s even truer if you have a 44-year young quarterback, like Tom Brady, who ditched New England after 20 seasons and several Super Bowl titles for Tampa Bay and sent the Patriots into a tailspin this past football season (20/21). The Christian Democrats are the New England Patriots of politics. After trying to shore up its reputation by having the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet run for chancellorship, one could see that the CDU was cracking at the foundations. Laschet came out as too vague on his statements, talking too much and taking too little action. Plans and ideas- false start. His compensation: stacking other candidates for their weaknesses, as shown in the TV debates. His colleagues from the Merkel regime: Altmeier, Glöckner, Schäubel, just to name a few, have been in parliament for too long. Most of the German population were tired of seeing them on TV, even when they announced the new policies for Corona. That over 400,000 of the CDU voters went over to the Social Democrats was a clear signal for change that was needed in Berlin. More so are the 120,000 voters in the eastern part of Germany who voted for the far-right Alternatives (AfD). While there is a chance that Laschet could become Chancellor if there is a coalition with the Greens and the Liberals (FDP), the CDU losing to the SPD has marked the beginning of the end for the Christian Democrats and one could see them in the opposition for the first time in 16 years. Already calls have come from two thirds of the German population and 60% of members of the CDU to have Laschet step down regardless of what coalition possibilities are available. The question is, will he, despite the debacle?
The Left in a Cliffhanger:
Apart from the CDU being the biggest loser in the polls, another political party that almost fell out of the federal government altogether were the Socialists. While they failed to reach the 5% hurdle needed to stay in federal parliament, because three politicians won mandates for their districts in Berlin and Leipzig, they will remain in parliament but with the lowest number of representatives at 39. Had they not won, it would have marked the first time ever that they would not have been represented in parliament and a first since the FDP’s exile in 2011. Most of the policies presented in the campaign platform were for improving the domestic scene, including wage increases, cheaper apartments, and improving the environment with their policies. There were two problems: 1. They were mentioned by the other political parties, and 2. The idea of Germany exiting from NATO, especially after the debacle in Afghanistan fell on deaf ears of most Germans and Americans living in Germany, for it would require the American military and that of the allies to close down the bases in the southern and western parts of the country. As America is still a long-standing ally of Germany, pulling a stunt like that is one that neither side could afford. NATO needs to be reinvented and focus on the issues that matter, like climate change and the effects on the populations worldwide. But dismantling the organization is not going to happen. With the Left in the opposition, it’s time to rethink the policies and reinvent the party to address the needs not addressed by the other parties. And this will be something that will be tough to do but the Left has four years to process.
The AFD in the East:
The far-right political party may have lost in the polls on the national level by a slight margin, its successes in politics may end up shifting to the eastern part of the country. Most of the party’s successes in the elections were found in Saxony and Thuringia. In Saxony, 10 out of 16 districts were won by the AfD and the end result was 25% of the votes going to the party. The SPD had 19% and the CDU with 17%. In Thuringia, the AFD won with 24%, followed by the CDU with 21% and the Socialists, with Bodo Ramelow governing the state, with 12%. The state elections in both will come in 2024 to determine who will run the state, but there are fears of a potential domino effect should Saxony and Thuringia fall to the AfD, especially as the far right has established its presence in the rest of the area that had once been under rule of Communism during the Cold War. The platform calls for a German exit out of every single international treaty and a nationalization of the industry. It runs parallel to the campaign successfully run by Donald Trump in 2016 but among the rural communities in the US, including traditional businesses and farms. After watching how Trump attempted to dismantle the fabrics of American life and bring it to the brink of a civil war (while picking fights with other Allies), Germany is fearing a deja Vu ala Americana, should the AfD succeed, win the federal elections in the future, and put Tino Chrupella or Alice Weidel at the helm of Chancellorship. That none of the parties want to coalate with the AfD, according to its governing structure, is a clear signal that Germany has seen how a dictatorship works and it’s something that nobody wants to risk again.
Germany to Get Greener:
It’s no secret that climate change is at our doorstep. We saw that with a four-year drought followed by a year of record-setting rainfall and the resulting floods in the western part of Germany plus neighboring countries. The UN Report on Climate Change has our global temperature expecting to override the 1.5°C mark in ten years and not 30.
Getting greener has become a priority one in the elections and in terms of campaign platforms of each party, one could not see a gap as huge and mile-wide as that of this past elections. Minus the AfD, which wanted to exit all international treaties including the Paris Accords and embrace in traditional diesel engines made in Germany, each party had its own way of tackling climate change. The Greens wanted to eliminate in-land flying and use all tools necessary to usher in renewable energies and eliminate the use of coal, the Socialists wanted to tie in greening with better living conditions, the Liberals wanted to tie in a Green Germany with green business with no taxes. Just to name a few. And that was not all. Each proposal has been balked by large populations but it appears that no one has understood the gravity of a very grave situation that will only become worse if it is not addressed.
The only consolidation: the Greens are the third strongest party in Germany. With a 15% voting for the Greens, it shows that the interest in climate change is here. The question is how can we handle this and can we address this to the public without a fight? The Greens will surely be part of the coalition to rule Germany. The question is whether the other parties are willing to work together on a greener tomorrow?
Competence is Very Sexy, Don’t You Think?
The most likely man to lead Germany for the next four years is from the Social Democrats. Olaf Scholz is 63 years old and served as Finance Minister under Merkel during her last term in office. Like Merkel, Scholz had a steady hand and has lent one to businesses affected gravely by the Coronavirus lockdown. He’s a man with a lot of expertise in the area of governance, having served as mayor of Hamburg, held several positions in the SPD and had been Vice-Chancellor to Merkel prior to the elections. His professionalism in politics is as high-class as him as a person, having brushed off attacks by Laschet and Greens candidate Annalena Baerbock during the TV debates, and established himself as the new face of the SPD and a post-Merkel Germany that faces an uncertain future across the board. Scholz has been groomed for the successor job and personal character has won much of the population over, no matter where in Germany.
What happens next? Author’s Prediction
With the elections done and over, the next question will be: what coalition will run the country. Germany will have a three-party coalition for the first time in history due to the less number of votes among the CDU and the increase in votes among the other parties, sans the Socialists (Left) and the AfD. Clear is that neither the far left (Socialists) nor the far right (AfD) will be part of the coalition and will be more insignificant in the opposition than in the previous administration. There are three possibilities to run the country: Germany Coalition (SPD, CDU and Liberals FDP), Traffic Coalition (SPD, Greens and FDP) and the Jamaica Coalition (CDU, Greens and FDP). Already the Greens and FDP are coming together and agreeing on some items on their agenda. It is a lock that they will be together during the new administration. The question is with the CDU or SPD? Laschet wants a Jamaica Coalition, but with a growth in pressure for him to step down, chances are likely that we will have the first SPD politician as Chancellor of Germany in Olaf Scholz for the first time since 2005.
- Scholz presents years of experience and has a steady hand which he could guide the country through difficult times. He has learned a lot through his years with the SPD but also working with Merkel
- The Greens have had a storied history with the SPD, including the Christmas Coalition under Gerhard Schröder when he ruled Germany 1998-2005.
- The issues facing Germany, especially with climate change, can be represented by the Traffic Coalition as they have a more concrete plan on how to handle them. Laschet’s weakness has been the inability to present concrete plans and to waffle, wiggle and waiver- something that has annoyed much of the party members and contributed to the exodus from the CDU.
And how will the Traffic Light Coalition have an impact on German-American relations? Difficult to tell at this point. Key is that the American military bases will remain, Democrats have had a good working relation with both CDU and SPD and Americans have their own issues to handle at home, so there will not be much action between Washington and Berlin until the Presidential Elections in 2024. After that, people will be nervous because of the question of whether Biden is fit for another term, and if not, who will run the country. But for now, Germany will have their issues to handle that will impact the country and its standing in the EU before we talk about this special, Trans-Atlantic relations.
Read the highlights and results of Germany’s federal elections here.