This is the question we will be asking tomorrow (Wednesday, September 29) after elections to the Bundestag on Sunday. Will there be genuine Erneuerung (renewal)? There is already an affirmative twofold response: a new Chancellor will be chosen after 16 years of Angela Merkel at the helm. And, barring a last-minute upset as in 2017, Germany will have its first three-party coalition in power.
The SPD (social democrats) can be seen as the clear winners, gaining 5.2 percentage points on 2017, while the CDU/CSU centre-right lost 8.8 points to register its worst score ever. For all the bluster of Armin Laschet, CDU chair and Chancellor candidate, about forming a new government, he has no real mandate – and local Christian Democrat parties are already demanding he step down while the Bavarian-based CSU wishes he had never stood and its leader, Markus Söder, had led the campaign.
This points almost certainly to Olaf Scholz as Merkel’s successor (and many think he won because he modelled his approach on hers). The proverbial safe pair of hands, shown by periods in office as Mayor of Hamburg and federal finance minister, he represents change in continuity. But how radical will that change be?
A traffic light government?
If you look at the second slide above (H/T ZDF), the second option – SPD, Greens and FDP Liberals – emerges as the most probable. Scholz has already pointed out several times these are the parties that gained votes on Sunday; as well as the CDU/CSU the far right AfD and far left Linke lost ground, the latter seeing their share of the vote halved.
But there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip. Forging a coalition and government programme out of this disparate trio will be a tough ask: the SPD, for instance, favours state-led investment to repair Germany’s crumbling infrastructure while the libertarian FDP prefers market-led solutions; Scholz might tweak the strict budget deficit policy while the FDP’s leader, Christian Lindner, would probably resign if he did. These differences are nothing compared with the divisions on fiscal policy and climate change between the FDP and the Greens. The latter party, which under-performed on Sunday, insists on a Klimaregierung that would be at loggerheads with both CDU and FDP, rendering the third coalition option (Jamaica) unviable. And certainly at least as potentially unstable, if not more so, as the traffic light variant.
On January 1 France takes over the EU presidency and three months later faces a crucial presidential election followed by fresh legislative elections. Will Emmanuel Macron be re-elected or Marine LePen win for the far right – or one of other of the Republicans’ contenders stage a comeback for their party? Will the new German chancellor and government be helpful/supportive to Macron, arguably the EU’s greatest protagonist?
Analysts are already suggesting that the EU, very much in the doldrums in recent months, will face even greater problems and both Germany and France will be too pre-occupied internally to provide pan-European leadership over issues as diverse as the rule of law (Hungary/Poland) via the stability & growth pact (eurobonds anybody? to Indo-Pacific strategy (China) – not forgetting Biden’s USA post-Kabul and the future of Nato, Russian gas, migration…
Plenty for our all-German panel – Dr Andreas Boetsch, Dr Rainer Ohler, Nina Locher and Nils Redeker – to discuss with you. So please join in!
Read also John Stevens of the Federal Trust here