Introducing the German Federal Election

Tom Savage : 21/09/2017
It is only a week until the most populous nation in Western Europe, the foundation of the European Economy and cornerstone of the European Union goes to the polls. Every German election is, of course, important, but this as the first election since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and the momentous Presidential Elections in France and the United States of America, maybe a moment to decide the future of the continent. Infamous Chancellor: Angela Merkel, will be looking to win a fourth term along with her centre-right party CDU and their Bavarian allies: CSU. The last government was made of a grand coalition between Merkel’s alliance and main opposition party: the centre-left SPD, though both have declared that they do not wish to continue this relationship. With the future of the European Union, economic and immigration policy in the balance, the eyes of the world will be looking carefully at the result and what happens after.
Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term in power – Die Welt, 2017.
Germany elects the 630 seats in the Bundestag; its parliament’s lower house with a Mixed Member Proportional voting system. Any party can make it into parliament. Any party that makes the 5% threshold that is, which both the main liberal centrist party: FDP and the populist nationalist party: AfD, failed to make in the last election. MMP works by electing half of the house as representatives for local constituencies, usually by a single member electoral system such as First past the post, Alternative Vote or Two Round. The other half of the house is then filled with party listed politicians until the parliament is as representative of the national vote as possible. As with all proportional systems, one party reaching an outright majority is very unlikely in Germany and coalitions between parties are a near certainty.
The largest party in the Bundestag is Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Centre-Right, generally progressive and pro-EU, the CDU is the archetype of all Europe’s Christian Democrat and People’s Parties. It is generally for the continuation of a welfare state, but one a little less government controlled, with more room for the free market than the parties on the left. As with many of these kinds of Parties, it began as a far more conservative force but was rebranded into centrists, in this case by Merkel herself. Merkel it has been found by polls is far more popular than her party, and though it was estimated that her terrible handling of the immigration crisis would end this if the polls are correct, it has not. The CDU is allied with the Bavarian: Christian Social Union. This is a Bavarian regional party, which holds half of the vote in its home region. It is far more socially conservative than its sister party and tensions have flared with the CDU about the immigration crisis. The CDU/CSU currently hold 309 seats and are polling at roughly 37%.
Aggregated Opinion polls of the parties over the last parliamentary period – Wikipedia, 2017.
Their main competitors are the left-wing parties. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is by far the largest with 193 seats in the last parliament. A classic European centre-left party, the SPD believes in a large welfare state and social democratic economics, while working within a capitalist economy. They are even more progressive and pro-EU than their right-of-centre rivals. The party’s issue though is that it is constantly backed into a corner and surrounded on all sides. Its center wing eroded by CDU and FDP, its more traditional working class by AfD and its left by Die Linke and the Greens; the party is a shadow of its former strength. It must either a coalition with the socialist left or as the junior partner in a coalition with the center-right as it did the last election. The party was recently bolstered by the return of the famous politician: Martin Schulz from the European Union Parliament as its new leader. A bolstering that quickly collapsed when many in the public realized how out of touch he was. The SDP is currently polling at 23%.
The Green Party or “Alliance 90” is a center-left party focused on sustainability and green politics. It made itself an alternative to SDP by being far more centrist than most green parties across the world and championing progressive policies such as Green energy, gay rights, and anti-nuclear sentiments. Die Linke (The Left) on the other hand is far further to the economic and social left. As well as being fundamentally opposed to Free Market Capitalism it also pits itself against American foreign policy and wishes to remove the country from NATO, it even refused to condemn Russia for annexing Crimea. It has two main bases of support: young disenfranchised students and those who lived in Eastern Germany, who have drifted left under the decades of communist rule. It is this party that poisons the well for all three of the left-wing parties because any coalition of the left will need to involve them. Die Linke had 64 seats and is now polling at 9.5%, The Greens had 63 seats and are now at 8%.

Frauke Petry, AfD chairman speaking in 2016 – Metro 2016.
The Free Democratic Party is a Classical Liberal Party, socially progressive, very liberal but quite economically right wing. The FDP calls for less state intervention in the economy, lower tax rate, and a truly free market, placing it far further right than most European liberal centrist parties such as the Liberal Democrats in the UK. They have been coalition partners of CDU/CSU multiple times, though were, in essence, kicked out of the Bundestag when they didn’t make the 5% threshold in the last election. The final party of major note is controversial: Alternative for Germany (AfD), the nation’s populist nationalist party. AfD began as a moderate force opposed to EU integration but have since turned in a more radical national direction. They have become stringently anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Islam, wanting to reclaim Germany’s pride and culture, reversing the national guilt the country feels for its past actions. The party is also opposed to environmentalism, being sceptical of climate change, and gay people being able to marry and adopt. They wish a return to conscription and Germany having a powerful military. They also did not make it into the last Bundestag chamber. FDP is currently polling at 9.5%, AfD at 11%.
The Federal Election will take place on the 24th September and we will see the direction Germany could take. It is almost a certainty that CDU/CSU will be the most powerful force in the new chamber and will form the government, but who with, is anyone’s guess. Will AfD become the third most powerful force in the Bundestag and force an atmosphere of Euroscepticism into the chamber for the first time? Will Die Linke start to really eat into the SPD seats? The future is unclear and the future of Europe’s beating heart is on the line.

Featured Image Credit: Tobias Kleinschmidt

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