Saturday

21st Sep 2019

Analysis

German elections: Little change for EU

  • A safe pair of hands: Merkel's signature gesture as giant campaign poster in Berlin (Photo: Valentina Pop)

An Italian cartoon published in Espresso magazine earlier this summer depicts a little girl on a beach telling her father that she needs to pee. The father replies: "Hold it until the German elections."

The joke refers to how EU institutions and other member states have put almost everything on hold while waiting for the result of the 22 September general elections in Germany.

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

Be it progress on the banking union, a third bailout for Greece or an exit strategy for Ireland when it leaves the bailout programme, the standard line in Brussels is: "after the German elections."

And yet hopes for a dramatic shift in Germany's stance in Europe after these elections are likely to be disappointed.

On Europe, there are no major differences between Chancellor Angela Merkel - who is seeking reelection for a third mandate - and her Social-Democratic rival, Peer Steinbrueck.

Steinbrueck criticises her piecemeal approach and says he would have been more honest with the German public about the real cost of the euro-rescue.

But, as a former finance minister, he also insists on countries sticking to strict fiscal rules and opposes the idea of Germany handing out blank cheques or mutualising debt across the eurozone.

After a series of gaffes culminating with a picture on the cover of Sueddeutsche Zeitung where he shows the middle finger, Steinbrueck has failed to boost his or the party's popularity ahead of Merkel and her Christian Democrats.

But even though she remains the preferred chancellor for over half the population of Germany and her party is tipped to get the most votes in the elections (39% in the last polls), Merkel will have to seek a coalition partner - a quest which may last a few weeks.

After a bruising defeat in the Bavarian elections last week, where they failed to make the 5 percent threshold to enter the regional legislative, Merkel's current coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats, are now desperately campaigning for all possible vote.

In the most recent opinion poll, the Liberals were down to five percent, which suggests that if their campaign fails, they may not make it in the Bundestag.

This would leave Merkel with two options - the most likely being a grand coalition with the Social Democrats as she did in 2005, when Steinbrueck became her finance minister.

But the SPD may resent teaming up with Merkel again, as their last experiment cost them more votes than ever in the last elections, in 2009. Steinbrueck has already rejected the idea of a grand coalition under his watch, but other leaders in the SPD may agree to it.

If the SPD stands firm and prefers to remain in opposition, Merkel may try and woo the Greens into a coalition government. This is scenario is deemed as unlikely because even though her Christian Democrats have embraced the number one topic of the Greens - closing down all nuclear plants in Germany - they diverge on taxes and social policies.

Other unlikely scenarios are a minority government between the Social-Democrats and the Greens with parliamentary support of the leftist Linke party. A proper coalition with the Linke is being ruled out by both the Social-Democrats and the Greens because of the party's Communist past in former East Germany.

If the Liberals do make it in the Parliament, they also may try and bargain a better deal out of Merkel by threatening to switch sides in a coalition with the Social Democrats and Greens.

"I think the dreams of southern Europeans will remain unfulfilled. Whatever the outcome of coalition talks, there will certainly be no eurobonds tomorrow," Ulrike Guerot, an expert with the Berlin branch of the UK-based think tank European Council on Foreign Relations, told this website.

She pointed out that even Steinbrueck has suggested that no further debt mutualisation is possible without changing the EU treaties - a long process with an uncertain outcome.

Guerot also noted that Merkel may in fact be the better choice for those who hope Germany will shift away from austerity to more social policies.

"The woman who can push for more leftist policies is her. She is the one who can get everyone around a table - trade unions, the Bundesbank, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. A red-red-green coalition (Social democrats, Greens and Linke) would not make it because it would be very unstable," Guerot said.

Anti-euro wildcard

Meanwhile the newly-founded Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD), calling for a breakup of the eurozone, is trending at around three percent in the polls, not enough to make it in the Bundestag, but perhaps enough to deprive Merkel and her Liberal allies of the percentage points needed to remake their alliance.

Speaking to foreign journalists in Berlin last week, the head of the Forsa polling company, Manfred Guellner, said that as a pure anti-euro party AfD had no chance of entering the Bundestag.

"But meanwhile AfD has broadened its discourse to latent right-wing extremist messages playing on the fears of elderly people and on conspiracy theories," Guellner said.

According to Forsa surveys, AfD supporters are up to 70 percent male, most of whom are over 60 years old, well off and not belonging to a specific religion.

Guellner also pointed out that polled people may be reluctant to admit they would vote for AfD. "So the numbers here are obscure. AfD polls at around three percent but it could be more," the pollster said.

Germans head to the polls in close election

Latest polls suggest a tight race in Germany between Merkel's coalition and the leftist-Green opposition led by Steinbrueck as voters come out on Sunday.

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us