By Julia Huentemann, 2nd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today.
Last Sunday 24th September, the German citizens elected a new parliament – the Bundestag – and decided to let Angela Merkel serve another four years as German Chancellor. Starting her fourth consecutive term, she now equals the record of her predecessor Helmut Kohl. Even though nobody actually doubted that Merkel respectively the CDU would make it, the result is far behind optimistic expectations and means a weakened position for Merkel.
Having run in office as German Chancellor for twelve years and being the leader of Europe’s largest economy since 2005, experienced “Mutti” Merkel tends to be seen as the ultimate safe option for stability in Germany and Europe in turbulent times on the political stages at home and abroad. But Merkel’s popularity plummeted significantly in 2015 as a result to her controversial immigration policies and the result reveals that her public support is less broad than assumed.
Even though the CDU gathered most votes with about 33%, this result means a loss of almost 9% compared to the elections in 2013. It would be ignorant to talk about a victory and it forces Merkel to find new partners for the required majorities to build a government, since the present coalition partner SPD is not willing to function as such any longer. Facing extreme losses of votes itself the SPD understands its role in the opposition working on a profile that significantly differs from that of the CDU. Moreover, there is to notice a growing resistance towards Merkel from members of the CSU (CDU´s sister party) who have been claiming a maximum limit of migrants and blame Merkel for the bad outcome.
With the main centre parties CDU and SPD both enjoying considerably less popularity, the actual winner of the 2017 General Elections is clearly the hard right “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), the first nationalist party to win seats in the Bundestag after 1949. This development is alarming and reveals that nationalist and thus anti-European tendencies are also very popular in Germany, especially in Eastern Germany, which makes further European integration – as recently claimed by the French Premier Emmanuel Macron – more difficult.
The political landscape in Germany
Led by Angela Merkel, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is Germany’s main centre-right party and has been advertising its election campaign with the slogan “For a Germany where life is enjoyable”. It is said to rather represent employers´ interests and its dealing with the recent Diesel affaire can be taken as an example for this claim. The Conservative Party is most likely the equivalent in GB. Despite having lost ca. 9 % compared to 2013, the CDU remains the strongest party with about 33 %. It needs to be considered that this result is the sum of CDU´s and CSU´s (her sister party) votes.
Its main competitor on the political landscape is the SPD (Social Democratic Party), Germany’s main centre-left party. According to its slogan “It is time for more justice: securing the future and strengthening Europe” the SPD is focusing on justice and equality in a strong Europe. It is said to rather represent the employees´ interests and can be seen as the pendant to the Labour Party in GB. Led by the former president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, whose candidature had sparked an initial rise in support that subsided shortly after, the party has experienced a severe defeat with only 20,5 % of the votes compared to about 25,5 % in 2013.
The third popular party with almost 13 % nationwide became the right, nationalist, Euro-sceptic AfD (Alternative for Germany). Having welcomed Brexit and Trump, the anti-immigration, anti-Islam party is now represented in 13 out of 16 state parliaments and in the Bundestag as the National Parliament. Ever since 2015 with the constant influx of migrants, resentment and fear towards Merkel’s welcoming migration policies had been rising, feeding into the AfD’s plan of attracting support. Having increased ca. 8 % in votes since 2013, AfD leading candidate Alexander Gauland claimes that the AfD is “going to reconquer our land and our people”
There are three more parties represented in the new Bundestag having exceeded the threshold of 5 percent: The FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) enjoying a support of 10,7 % (+ 5,9 %) of the votes, The Green Party focusing on environmental issues with 8,9 % (+ 0,5 %) and the Left Party standing for anti-Capitalism and women´s rights with 9,2 % (+ 0,5 %).
In this new parliament the two main centre parties unite just about half of the votes while the other half is shared in almost equal parts by four smaller parties. This distribution of seats is unprecedented in the German Bundestag and means a challenge to find a governing majority.
Of course, this is mere speculation, but taking into account the findings of political research AfD´s performance can be understood as a kind of protest against the establishment and especially against the “GroKo” (Great Coalition) which obviously has been experienced as a political standstill. Only a minority of those who vote for AfD are actually convinced of its program, but rather wanted to demonstrate resistance against current political practice. The fact that there hardly seems to be a significant difference between the program of the established parties also might have fostered the seduction to vote for the AfD. 
It is most likely that this result also reveals dissatisfaction with Merkel´s immigration policy. Obviously, politicians in office have failed to recognize public fears and worries and to take them seriously enough. I strongly believe that most of my German fellow citizens are willing to help refugees and welcome them as valuable members in our society, provided that they are willing to live according to our western democratic values and do not violate our laws. Unfortunately, some of them did and to the annoyance of the victims they mostly went unpunished. This is a policy hard to understand and a clampdown might have helped to avoid this development. I am confident that 13 % for the AfD is not an expression for anti-refugee or anti-European attitude but rather an expression for dissatisfaction about how politicians deal with the challenges coming across with refugee influx and European integration.
The Consequences – for Germany and for Europe
Merkel needs to form a coalition and without the SPD the only realistic option is CDU/CSU with FDP and the Green Party. The CDU/CSU is also referred to as ‘black’, the FDP as ‘yellow’ and the Green apparently as ‘green’, which is why this combination is called the ‘Jamaica-Coalition’ relating to the Jamaican flag.
Even though there seems to be a general willingness to cooperate, content-related overlaps need to be identified and especially in terms of the European process this could become a matter of dispute. While the Green openly professes a strong Europe, the FDP is more reserved, especially when it comes to a shared fiscal policy. Inspired by the idea of negotiating the impossible (‘Fluch’ = ‘curse’), DIE ZEIT (a serious German weekly paper) titled as follows:
It will be interesting to see, if, respectively how, the three of them will negotiate a compromise, because this will not only determine Germany´s but also Europe´s future.
Emmanuel Macron already expressed his worries that a coalition with the Liberal Party might cause problems for his plans concerning the European development. It is just smart and fair that he brings forward his claims before the coalition negotiations start, because they should be part of the negotiations.
And finally I don´t want to miss mentioning that the SPD as the leader of the opposition in Parliament inevitably stands for a pro-European course and will hopefully provide some positive impulses whatever the government brings forward. This could be one of the issues where the SPD could differentiate from the CDU/CSU in its next campaign. And as we have learnt from Macron: it is actually possible to win an election with pro-European claims against all odds.