What’s at Stake in the German Election

German parliament Berlin
Facade of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany (Unsplash/Fionn Große)

Germans elect a new Bundestag on September 26. Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection after serving four terms. Her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is polling in first place, but the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens are not far behind.

Three more parties (counting the union of Merkel’s CDU and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union as one) are expected to win seats: the center-right Free Democrats (FDP), the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the far-left Die Linke.

The outgoing “grand coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats is unlikely to defend its majority, and the former rivals are wary anyway of forming another two-party government after sharing power for twelve of the last sixteen years.

All other parties rule out pacts with the AfD. The Greens, who are projected to be the biggest winners of the election, would be needed in all possible coalitions:

  • Union + Greens + FDP: Failed in 2017, when the liberals balked. Could be a modernizing, pro-EU government that seeks technological solutions to the climate crisis.
  • Union + SPD + Greens: Less attractive to the Christian Democrats on labor and tax policy, but the Union and SPD see eye to eye on protecting industries and jobs.
  • SPD + Greens + FDP: Makes less sense for the FDP, who would face opposition from the center- and far right.
  • SPD + Greens + Linke: Politically risky for SPD and Greens, who want to appear moderate, and difficult policy-wise on defense, EU and relations with the United States.

Here’s where the four mainstream parties stand on ten of the issues at stake in this election. Read more “What’s at Stake in the German Election”

Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise

Angela Merkel Annalena Baerbock
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with Green party leader Annalena Baerbock in parliament in Berlin, January 16, 2020 (DPA)

Germany’s Greens have for the first time in two years overtaken the ruling Christian Democrats in the polls. Two surveys in the last week gave them 28 percent support for the election in September against 21 to 27 percent for the center-right.

Those polls are still outliers, but the gap between the parties has been narrowing across surveys for months.

I suspect two factors are at play: leadership and a desire for change. I’ll take those in turn before laying out the different ways in which the Greens could take power. Read more “Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise”

Hessen State Election Confirms National Political Trends

Frankfurt Germany
Frankfurt, Germany at night (Unsplash/Jonas Tebbe)

Germany’s two largest political parties lost support in elections in Hessen on Sunday, a lightly populated state in the center of the country that contains the commercial capital of Frankfurt.

The Christian Democrats went down from 38 to 28 percent support, according to exit polls. The Greens, who have shared power with the right in Hessen since 2013, went up from 11 to 20 percent — a major victory, which will probably make it possible for the two parties to continue their coalition.

The Social Democrats, who govern with the Christian Democrats nationally, suffered yet another historic defeat. Their support fell from 31 to 20 percent, their worst result in Hessen ever. Read more “Hessen State Election Confirms National Political Trends”

German Free Democrats, Greens Drop Red Lines

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Valletta, Malta, November 11, 2015
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Valletta, Malta, November 11, 2015 (European Council)

Germany’s Free Democrats and Greens have each dropped demands in order to make progress in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Merkel has set a ten-day deadline to finish preliminary discussions and start negotiations to form a government.

European Fears of “Jamaica” Coalition Are Overblown

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a news conference in Brussels, March 15, 2016 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

A three-party “Jamaica” coalition in Germany may not be so bad for Europe as observers fear, writes Guntram Wolff of the Bruegel think tank in the Financial Times.

He recognizes that the liberal Free Democrats are more Euroskeptic than Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens. They have opposed Greek debt relief, are wary of a common eurozone budget and argue for strict enforcement the bloc’s fiscal rules.

But that also applies to Wolfgang Schäuble, the outgoing finance minister. His likely Free Democratic successor could hardly be more hawkish.

A Jamaica coalition (named for the colors of the three parties, which match the Caribbean nation’s flag) would be open to some of the other EU reform proposals French president Emmanuel Macron made this week, from enhancing defense cooperation to creating a single European asylum policy. Read more “European Fears of “Jamaica” Coalition Are Overblown”

“Jamaica” Coalition Looks Like Only Option in Germany

German chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2012
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

A three-party coalition of Christian Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens looks like the only possibility short of minority government in Germany.

Such a combination, unprecedented at the federal level, is nicknamed “Jamaica” because the parties’ colors are black, yellow and green. Read more ““Jamaica” Coalition Looks Like Only Option in Germany”

Center-Right Voters Eager to Govern in Germany, Center-Left Unsure

German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel enter a cabinet meeting in Berlin, January 14, 2015
German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel enter a cabinet meeting in Berlin, January 14, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

Center-right voters in Germany hope Angela Merkel’s next coalition government will unite her Christian Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats. But if the Greens are needed for a majority, they could live with that, the latest Deutschlandtrend poll shows.

Green party voters are less interested in a three-party coalition but surprisingly supportive of a deal with the right: 68 percent would join a Merkel-led administration.

The Christian Democrats are almost certain to remain the largest party, but it’s unclear from the polls if the Free Democrats will win enough seats to form a two-party government.

The Social Democrats, the second largest party, aren’t desperate for another “grand coalition”. Half their voters would prefer to go into opposition rather than share power with Merkel for another four years. Read more “Center-Right Voters Eager to Govern in Germany, Center-Left Unsure”

Comparing German Party Platforms Reveals Two Divides

German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel deliver a news conference at Schloss Meseberg, north of Berlin, May 24, 2016
German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel deliver a news conference at Schloss Meseberg, north of Berlin, May 24, 2016 (Bundesregierung)

Comparing the platforms of the six parties competing in the German election reveals two divides:

  1. The first is between the traditional left and right on spending and taxes. The Social Democrats, Greens and far-left Die Linke want higher taxes on the wealthy to fund public investment. The Christian Democrats, liberal Free Democrats and nativist Alternative argue for tax cuts.
  2. The second divide is between the four mainstream parties and the extremes on defense and foreign policy. The Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats all support closer European integration and NATO. The Alternative wants out of the euro. Die Linke would swap NATO for a security pact with Russia.

Here is a closer look at where the parties stand on defense, Europe, immigration, spending and taxes. Read more “Comparing German Party Platforms Reveals Two Divides”

Greens Leave Coalition Talks, Leaving Merkel With No Alternative

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a meeting with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Germany’s Green party walked out on exploratory coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats on Tuesday, leaving her with little alternative to forming a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats.

Merkel won 41.5 percent of the votes in an election last month that left her party just five seats short of a majority in the lower chamber of parliament. The Greens lost support and finished fourth after Die Linke. Both the Christian and Social Democrats have ruled out forming a government with the latter which is the successor to former East Germany’s ruling communist party. Read more “Greens Leave Coalition Talks, Leaving Merkel With No Alternative”

Seeking to Broaden Coalition, German Greens Lurch Left

Winfried Kretschmann, the state prime minister of Baden-Württemberg, speaks at a news conference in Stuttgart, Germany, May 4, 2011
Winfried Kretschmann, the state prime minister of Baden-Württemberg, speaks at a news conference in Stuttgart, Germany, May 4, 2011 (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Baden-Württemberg)

German Green party members on Sunday defied warnings from their more pragmatic leaders in backing two sharp tax increase proposals, a move that could alienate centrist voters but raise the prospect that a left-wing government can be formed after September’s federal election.

Some eight hundred party delegates gathered in Berlin defied their most successful leader, Baden-Württemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann, to support a top income tax raise from 42 to 49 percent as well as the introduction of a 1.5 percent wealth tax on assets over €1 million.

Kretschmann had argued in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung that was published on Friday that the combination of the proposed tax hikes would impose an “unreasonable burden” on especially middle income families. He also cautioned his party against ruling out a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives whom, he agued, “aren’t that far removed” from the Greens.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, once a far-left pacifist movement, has reinvented itself as a more cosmopolitan, socially liberal party in recent years, entering a coalition with the conservatives in Hamburg in 2008 and in Saarland the following year.

In May 2011, the party won its first state prime ministership in the traditional conservative stronghold of Baden-Württemberg where Kretschmann, who has also served as the German parliament’s upper chamber’s president since late last year, leads a coalition government with the Social Democrats, still the senior partner on the left nationwide.

Kretschmann, a former chemist, benefited from Germany’s rising anti-nuclear sentiment in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima power plant disaster. Merkel’s conservatives adopted the Greens’ position to shut all of Germany’s nuclear power plants and subsidize renewable electricity generation instead.

Many Green party members remain unconvinced. Former environment minister Jürgen Trittin said that in spite of her government’s environmental policies, “the failure of Merkel on climate change is reason enough to opt out of her coalition.” Referring to tax evasion and corruption scandals that have battered Merkel’s Bavarian sister party in recent weeks, he added, “We’re not going to form a coalition with a band of corrupt amigos like that.”

Opinion polls have consistently put the Greens at between 14 and 16 percent support since the start of this year, replacing Merkel’s liberal coalition party as the third largest in the country. The Social Democrats, however, are struggling to get more than a quarters of the votes while Merkel polls at over 40 percent, making a “grand coalition” between the two the likeliest outcome of September’s election.

The Greens may calculate that there is little for them to gain in the center whereas a more aggressively leftist program could lure voters away from Die Linke, a socialist party that is increasingly confined to former communist East Germany and polls at around 7 percent nationwide. For the strategy to be successful, moderate leftwingers should vote for the Social Democrats instead and give them a plurality big enough to form a majority government with the Greens.