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Angela Merkel+: the 2013 German Federal Election and the Future of the European Union

By Dr James Sloam (co-director of the Centre for European Politics, Royal Holloway)


With the German federal election a little more than a week away, it seems that – barring a seismic shift in the opinion polls – Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) are destined for another four years in power. Whilst the name of the next Chancellor is already known, the big question is who Merkel’s coalition partner will be. And, in this respect the race is too close to call.

Will we have a continuation of the Christian Democrats’ (polling at 40%) alliance with the liberals of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) (polling at 6%)? It is likely that the two government parties will come close to a majority in the Bundestag, but the presence of the Party of the Left (die Linke) (polling at 8%) is likely to put the winning line at 47-48%. Will we see another Grand Coalition (as from 2005 to 2009) with the Christian Democrats’ main rivals, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) (polling at 25%)? The two parties would have a clear majority (and this is the favoured coalition for most Germans), but many Social Democrats would be loath to join Merkel in Government given their loss of support under the last Grand Coalition. Or will we see a new Christian Democrat-Green government (Greens polling at 13%)? Although the latter has been dismissed by leaders from both parties, the Government’s u-turn on nuclear power (after Fukushima) has turned this into a real possibility.

What we can say is that 2013 will not go down as one of the more exciting campaigns in recent German political history. Merkel is not a great campaigner, and has struggled to fill halls and stadia for her rallies, but she enjoys the trust and respect of the German electorate. They strongly approve of her handling of the financial crisis and the Eurozone crisis, and see her as a safe pair of hands amid stormy waters. The gaffe-prone SPD candidate, Peer Steinbrück, has not presented himself as a viable alternative, and his efforts to create clear red water between himself and Merkel have not been credible (Merkel and Steinbrück worked well together as Chancellor and Finance Minister during the darkest days of the financial crisis).

A more interesting question is to what extent the federal elections might have an impact on Germany European policy. Whilst Merkel’s stewardship of the EU during the Eurozone crisis has played well at home, it is highly questionable whether her government’s strict adherence to fiscal austerity for debtor countries (i.e. Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain) has benefitted Europe. The fiscal straightjacket of the bailout agreements has stunted growth in these countries for years to come. And Germany, the leading exporter in Europe by a country mile, will also suffer – as a consequence – from reduced trade.

With regard to the European Union, the choice of coalition partner might prove telling. If we see another Grand Coalition, Merkel might have the courage (put differently, the SPD could share the blame!) and the majority to offer more generous terms to debtor countries and push forward with initiatives such as the stalled Banking Union. The less likely possibility of a Christian Democrat-Green coalition would push even further in this direction (the Greens are widely regarded at the most pro-European of Germany’s mainstream parties). On a slightly darker note, the main parties will closely watch the performance of the new Eurosceptic party, Alternative für Deutschland. Although it is unlikely to pass the 5% threshold necessary to enter the Bundestag (polling at 3.5%), a strong performance could set back German plans for deeper European integration. For David Cameron’s UK Conservative Party, this dark could have a silver lining. A good result for the German Eurosceptics could make the rolling back or renegotiation of some EU powers more appealing to a new German government.

Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:33PM by Registered CommenterDr James Sloam | CommentsPost a Comment

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