Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Germany on indefinite pause

In the wake of inconclusive election results German politics have been in deadlock, creating the largest crisis in German politics since the country’s reunification, writes Salma Nosseir from Berlin


Germany on indefinite pause
Germany on indefinite pause

The results of the recent German federal elections indicated that a tough time was approaching for the otherwise stable German political scene. However, no one could have predicted that the process would come to a deadlock and create the biggest crisis in German politics since the country’s reunification in 1990.

Current German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative coalition of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) Parties came out as the winners, receiving 32.9 per cent of the votes. However, this was little reason to celebrate, as the CDU/CSU lost eight per cent of its votes compared to the previous elections, making this their worst election results since 1949.

Their current coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), received only 20 per cent of the votes, making this its worst election results since World War II.

For the first time in a long time, a new party managed to receive more than the required five per cent threshold of the votes to enter parliament. The extreme-right populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) managed to secure 12.6 per cent of the votes in the elections and with that entered the German federal parliament for the first time since its establishment.

According to the polls, German voters, specifically those who had voted for the AfD, had voted based on a protest against the current political situation in Germany and not because of any deeply held support for the AfD.

The AfD managed to mobilise previous non-voters, highlighting once again that frustration towards the way politics has been conducted in the past has an appeal for a large section of the population.

Partially because of this and his own Party’s losses, SPD leader Martin Schulz had already declared his party’s intention to go into opposition and refusal to form another grand coalition with the CDU/CSU.

 Many party members have been interpreting the SPD losses and the gains for the AfD as a reflection of how parties in Germany have turned into representing one ideological point of view. Instead of presenting themselves as social democrats in the previous legislative parliament, the SPD participated in conservative policies as part of the party’s coalition agreement with the CDU/CSU.

With the SPD now refusing to be part of a new governmental majority and the AfD being sidelined in the negotiations and political processes, the only viable coalition could be a “Jamaica coalition” that would consist of the CDU/CSU, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and named after these parties’ colours and those of the Jamaican flag.

However, preliminary talks between the four parties have failed due to irreconcilable differences, and the FDP later dropped out, with its leader Christian Lindner declaring it was better not to rule at all than to rule badly.

This leaves the CDU/CSU with only three options: ruling as a minority government, forming another grand coalition, or calling new elections. Merkel has already declared that she would rather call new elections than rule at the head of a minority government, citing legitimacy, cost and effectiveness as the reasons for her view.

This in turn leads to only two options, neither of which is ideal and highlighting once again the difficult phase the normally stable German political system is currently going through.

On the one hand, the biggest losers in the elections are being publicly asked to change their stance on forming a coalition. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is also in a position to play a key role, since now that Merkel is only acting chancellor it is up to the president to decide on how to proceed.

Steinmeier has already called upon the SPD to reconsider its stance about going into opposition and to think about the “bigger issues at stake.” Schulz has declared that he would be willing to rethink his stance, but worries of party members being dissatisfied are holding him back from making any promises.

So far he has only agreed to put the question up to a vote for party members to decide and has already said that internal debates are expected to happen only in early January.

Until the SPD makes its decision and negotiations end with a coalition deal, the country is on standby. The budget must be announced in December, and only an elected government is allowed to decide on it, meaning that it will be delayed even further than is already the case.

This has not been helping with the public’s perception of an establishment that it deems inefficient and incapable of representing voters’ demands. Even if the SPD agrees to a coalition, it would be naïve to assume that its support will come cheap. The party is in a position where it has a lot of leverage, and it is bound to use it.

If the coalition option fails, the president will have to call for new elections. This will not only be costly and potentially risky, but it could also signal to German citizens, and also to the rest of the world, that the German political system is too fragmented to reach consensus even in the face of extreme-right threats and the refugee crisis that is straining the country.

The elections and their run-up were tense and filled with uncertainty about how voters would react to developments in the country. Whereas the results led both to a sigh of relief and a reason to worry, perhaps the most worrying aspect of the whole fiasco has been the inability of German political leaders to reach a consensus and to put national priorities ahead of their own party agendas.

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