What the German Federal Elections Mean For Europe

Germany has had today its general election, with the following results (as to 22.30 h – with possible, but not very probable changes, as all figures are approximative depending of the different Extrapolation calculations):
1. The ruling parties, the Christian Democrats from CDU and CSU in Bavaria, managed to accrue more than 8% growth, coming to approx. 42% and having almost the majority of the seats but not more than 50% of them. This has really been a predictable victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel who had followed a cautious policymaking in the past, leaning towards the centre.
2. The Social Democrats got 26%, around 3% more than at the last elections. This is not enough for any coalition either with the Greens alone, or with the Greens and Die Linke, although such a coalition has been clearly excluded. However, a Grand Coalition together with the CDU/CSU (which was wanted by a very large percentage of the voters) is not excluded and remains probably, as there were successful Grand Coalitions in the past.
4. The Liberals of the FDP achieved only 4,7% and therefore around 10% less than at the elections in 2009. They dropped out of the Bundestag (where 5% are the minimum to be represented there), and this for the first time since the Federal Republic exists. They will have to undergo a strong revirement. Their potential will be sufficient in future elections to be part of the Federal Parliament, provided they do change their presentation. They were just not voted by sufficient voters in this general election – but this might be repeated if they don’t follow the fais-gaffe principle.
5. The Greens dropped back to 8,3%, from almost 12 in 2009. The Greens are today an „old party“, as they have many people who ran it already in the 1980s (!) and have adapted a more or less adapted political style compared with all the others. They did not advocate one single issue alone, and at the same time they had competitors from The Pirates and were not any more a single-purpose movement on ecology and peace issues. So they will have also to adapt to the permanently changing party landscape.
6. Die Linke (The Left) has obtained 8,6% and therefore around 3,5 less than in 2009. Die Linke is a conglomerate between East German regional nostalgo-voters mostly of a certain age, to abstract it somehow, and West German combined forces of decided trade unionists, deceived social democratic voters, and former (?) chaotic cacophonists from the orthodox left.
7. The AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), a single-purpose movement who wants to destroy the euro got not enough for a parliamentary representation with 4,8%. But for the first participation in an election it is relatively successful, however it was evident that this strange protest movement could attract some voters with their „no“ to the euro alone, in view of the voter-intransparent measures for bailout of some EU Partners. For instance very, very few people in Germany know that the amount spent for these economies is very low, and that Germany made high profits by ist own state bonds right now. There was no decided move against the AfD call for leaving the euro – by nobody. At the European election there will be no way to ignore these issues.
The AfD – see my former blog on them – is after all a right-wing protest movement which had obtained today 440.000 votes from the Liberals (FDP) who partly were openly against the euro and the bailouts (namely with their libertarian wing), 360.000 from Die Linke (which shows that former protest voters got another landing Strip now), and 300.000 voters from the Christian Democrats (most of them very conservative and normally not too well informed voters tending to the right), and 290.000 from previous non-voters. Here we may have a relatively well prepared movement to run in the European elections in May 2014, with an orientation comparable to the British UKIP, some of the British Tories, the Austrian right-wing parties like FPÖ etc., or the Flemish, Dutch or Scandinavian protest and anti-integration parties, or the French Front National. It will be a task for in particular the CDU/CSU once to argue with real arguments and not only placative theses. The AfD will see a certain danger in being identified with well-known right extremists, fervent anti-Europeans and some arguments which will isolate this party from the mainstream – all this may be able to keep them also in the EU elections at a low percentage, but they would get seats over a threshold of only 3% and not 5% like at national elections. So this may turn pout to be a conglomerate of anti-European voices, with Little to no effect in the European Parliament, but anyway with a possible representation there. And the more general anti-political party feelings are underway, the more AfD will profit of them – amd vice-versa.
8. The Pirate Party had only 1,2% and may disappear – in particular if some other parties will take up their arguments (may be the Greens?). They have not been anti-European at all, but restricted their support only to „their“ clientele issues.

The voter as such is the winner – after several times of turnout decrease the turnout increased today and approximately 74% have been achieved.

What does this mean for the European Union?

1. There was a clear case of stability and calculability in the German elections, also as the EU as such is not any major issue between the parties.
2. There will be a certain temptation for the (assumed) governing parties, in particular the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats, to withdraw sometimes to some German-national sounds. However, these are not popular within (and beyond) Germany. The public argument with the new AfD in the European elections may lead some politicians of the big parties to follow a Populist and a not anti- but more non-European direction. This will be and has to be corrected immediately by the parties concerned. In this context it has to be followed where dedicated Europeans within the CDU remain: present Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble, and present Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen.
3. In the Liberal Party FDP there will be a totally new determination of all policies. It has to be kept in mind that after WWII the FDP was a fief for transformed nazis (all parties suffered of this, but in particular the Liberals who in the early 1950s saw a „putsch“ attempt by these backward forces which however was defeated), later also for some German-nationally thinking people, and now also for libertarians (Frank Scheffler). It will be interesting if and how the two latter mentioned wings can de facto find together and what consequences this has for the EP elections. Until now, the German Liberals are represented there by convinced Europeans, and they should concentrate onthe issue of civil liberties – where they have a great tradition.
4. No matter which coalition will govern Germany in the future, the future German government now will have a closer look on how the economy revs up again, how other EU Member States will include structural reforms in their policies (this will include also Italy, and there are only very few Geman politicians who can „deal“ with Italians!), and will have a certain look on a policy mix between investment and austerity. Austerity will be cutting of state consumption expenses – and this is right and also followed in the EU partner states, except with those whose well is to be dried out.
5. While there will be no major changes in German European policy in the near future, it may be expected that Germany may go more under the wings of a European Foreign Policy than ever, however in a relatively modest way, if one can develop foreign policy in a linear way. But issues like the Eastern Partnership, Russia, Syria and the consequences of the Arab Spring indicate this, as well as the transatlantic free trade area negotiations.

After all, the most innovative in German European policy may be that this will not change very much, maybe with a certain drive towards a cautious „more Europe rathen than less Europe“. As the European Union with all its acquis is clearly in the interest of the German people who drove well with this since 1953, one can be optimistic that Europe will remain out of all party disputes. However, only few initiatives can be expected to bring Europe ahead in greater steps; in this context the necessary and immanent revival of Franco-German cooperation, hopefully together with Poland as an additonal partner, will bring some progress. With the probably very stable German coalition government, which in Europe issues will be supported by a part of the opposition (not Die Linke probably, except in some cases), the eletions from 22.9.2013 thus confirmed a stable Germany, which now can better than ever manage to contain the debt crisis in the EU. The first figures – also from Greece, cyprus, Spain, Portugal and Ireland – are a cause for optimism.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka
Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal

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