Thursday

20th Sep 2018

German election: More of the same for EU?

  • "Successful for Germany". The boring campaign belies the potential significance of the vote for the rest of Europe. (Photo: CDU/Facebook)

The German election campaign has been - without doubt - a dull, lacklustre affair. In fact, for months, it has felt like a long set-up for a foregone conclusion in Sunday's (24 September) vote: A fourth term for Angela Merkel.

The chancellor's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) along with their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are striding towards victory, polling at around 36 percent - a significant stretch ahead of their coalition partners and main rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who are currently on less than 23 percent.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • One of the election's main questions is whether the liberals, led by Christian Lindner, will go into a coalition with Merkel's christian-democrats. (Photo: INSM/Flickr)

Yet, the boring campaign belies the potential significance of the vote, not just for Germany, but also for the rest of Europe.

After all, the makeup of the new government of the EU's biggest country and economy could determine what stance Berlin takes on a number of forthcoming EU issues.

Most pressingly, it could determine to what extent it is receptive to the proposals of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for eurozone reform, which he is due to outline more concretely early next week.

"Merkel's choice for a junior coalition partner ... will definitely have an impact on the future of the eurozone," Carsten Brzeski, chief economist in Frankfurt for ING bank, wrote in a recent note.

More status quo?

One possibility is, of course, a return to the status quo, a so-called grand coalition with the SPD. If they did return to government, the party, led by the former European Parliament president, Martin Schulz, has already indicated that it was open to Macron's proposals for a eurozone finance minister and budget.

Most analysts predict, however, that if the SPD polls lower than its worst ever result in 2013, 23 percent, then the centre-left grassroots will balk at returning to another CDU-led government, instead preferring to regroup in opposition.

As such, the hotly contested race for third place is the one being watched most closely. The smaller parties - the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), the environmentalist Greens, the socialist Left Party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) - are all hovering around the 10 percent mark.

The FDP have long been regarded as the CDU's natural ally. At the same time, the smaller party had a bruising time in coalition with Merkel from 2009 to 2013, failing to push through their election pledges, and then crashing out of the parliament for the first time since their foundation after World War II.

As such, they have sought to raise the bar, with their charismatic 38-year old leader, Christian Lindner, making a number of tough demands before considering entering into government.

In particular, the party has set out a decidedly eurosceptic stall.

The FDP, which has suggested that Greece should leave the eurozone, wants to see the European Stability Mechanism diminished and then shut down, while establishing mechanisms for exiting the eurozone and managing sovereign restructuring.

"Everything that goes in the direction of financial transfer on the European level, be it a eurozone budget or a banking union, is a red line for us," Lindner said at the weekend.

The question is whether the FDP in government would "make it impossible for Merkel to follow through on whatever she has been saying regarding closer cooperation with France," said Carsten Nickel of the political risk firm Teneo Intelligence.

Brexit issue

On the issue of Brexit, however, the FDP is unlikely to differ from the other parties significantly, despite speculation in the British press that the party could push the German government to soften its stance.

"If you are pro-business in Germany, you are going to have to be for the preservation of the single market, and if Britain wants to cherry pick, then this is what you have to prevent from a pro-business perspective," Nickel told EUobserver.

Meanwhile, the other small party in the running for a government role, the Greens, are far more pro-European, pushing for the ESM to be turned into a European Monetary Fund, supervised by the European Parliament.

"They are much more integrationist than the FDP and the CDU right now, so I think if they are part of the government we could expect some meaningful steps towards reform and toward more integration," Joerg Haas, a fellow at the Jacques Delors Institut in Berlin, told EUobserver.

With the Greens currently polling at 8 percent, it is highly unlikely that they will muster enough seats to form a coalition with Merkel on their own.

That means the chancellor may need to forge an unprecedented three-party alliance with the FDP and the Greens.

There are problems with this model, due to the animosity between the two small parties, which have been trading barbs throughout the campaign.

But such a government could combine different approaches when it comes to the eurozone, said Haas.

Finance scuffle

He said that if Germany backed both a European monetary fund and a European insolvency mechanism, "it would actually give countries the opportunity to decide, if you are in economic trouble, do you want strong support from the European Monetary Fund, or do you want to manage things on your own and ultimately face some kind of debt restructuring?".

Of crucial importance will be the post of finance minister, currently occupied by the 75-year old Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Merkel has indicated she would like him to stay on, even though the FDP staked a claim for the ministry this week, if it were to become a coalition partner.

"I'm pretty sure that regardless of the coalition composition, Schaeuble will retain the finance ministry," Nickel, from Teneo, predicted.

Even if the FDP enters government, he doubted that they would "really seriously try to challenge Merkel and Schaeuble on the eurozone beyond noise and rhetoric."

The CDU, for its part ,will continue to resist anything that smacks of a "transfer union." In the run up to the election, it has explicitly stated that there will be "no mutualisation of debts."

"Merkel will, in effect, have been re-elected with a mandate to keep doing what she has been doing for the last seven years since the crisis began.

In other words, Europe can expect more of the same from Germany," Hans Kundnani of the German Marshall Fund wrote this week in an editorial for Spanish daily, El Pais.

The major difference after Sunday will be outside the government, with the arrival of the AfD. The anti-immigrant, eurosceptics will be the first far-right party in the federal parliament since World War 2 - giving them a much bigger platform.

As with right-wing populists in the Netherlands and France, it is dangerous to be too complacent just because they have not won elections this year, analysts warn.

"These people don't have to be in government to shape the political agenda, to constrain the room for manoeuvre of the centrist parties," said Nickel.

Just having them in the parliament "does something to the political conversation," he said.

Investigation

The rise of the German alt-right

Ahead of Sunday's German elections, a growing number of anti-establishment, anti-Islam websites have created an echo chamber for the radical right.

Schulz mauls Merkel as German vote nears

Merkel has “lost touch” with ordinary people, does not know how to handle Dieselgate, and is too soft on Turkey, her main election rival has said.

Analysis

Merkel-Macron: An EU motor in the making

Merkel's re-election is expected to revive the Franco-German EU motor, but the German leader and France's new ruler are still searching for a common vision.

Merkel survives election 'earthquake'

Christian-democrat leader set to rule Germany together with liberals and greens, but with a new troublemaker - the AfD party - on the scene.

News in Brief

  1. Austria ex-chancellor hints at running for Juncker's job
  2. Greece to move asylum-seekers from overcrowded Lesbos camp
  3. Transatlantic soya trade soars due to trade wars
  4. EU tables strategy for connecting Europe and Asia
  5. Bulgaria backs Hungary in dispute with EU
  6. Trump urged Spain to build Sahara wall to stop migrants
  7. EU-Arab League summit proposed for February in Egypt
  8. Stop 'migration blame-game', Tusk tells EU leaders

Opinion

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

EUobserved

How radical is Italy's Savona really?

Italy is in a political crisis because president Sergio Mattarella has rejected Paolo Savona as a cabinet member, for his views on the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner
  2. EU mulls action to prevent cattle suffering at Turkish border
  3. Safeguarding Schengen at Salzburg
  4. Denmark's image 'damaged' by bank scandal
  5. Real Brexit progress needed by October, Barnier says
  6. Poland to face EU top court on rule of law
  7. Austria's EU presidency: a bridge over troubled water?
  8. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us