As was widely expected, and as I predicted in my previous post on the election, Merkel’s Union has emerged as the strongest party from Sunday’s Federal Election in Germany, and there is no realistic way of forming a coalition that does not include the Union. This means that Angela Merkel is almost certain to remain Chancellor. While she won the election in this sense, her party also lost a great deal of votes compared to last election’s strong performance. As a result, a black-yellow coalition between the (allegedly) conservative Union and the classically liberal FDP is not possible. The only realistic options for forming a government are a continuation of the grand coalition between the Union and the social democratic SPD, or a so-called Jamaica coalition between Union, FDP, and the Greens (black, yellow, and green, as in the colours of the Jamaican flag). Since SPD leader Martin Schulz has taken an emphatic stance against continuing the grand coalition, the latter option now seems most likely. Here are the detailed results for the election, including the change compared to 2013’s election:
Union: 32.9% -8.6%
SPD: 20.5% -5.2%
Left: 9.2% +0.6%
Greens: 8.9% +0.5%
FDP: 10.7% +5.9%
AfD: 12.6% +7.9%
As you can see, the two major parties suffered harsh losses, while the classical liberal FDP and the national-conservative AfD were the biggest winners. The losses for Union and SPD are widely interpreted as being a symptom of people’s dissatisfaction with the ruling grand coalition, and this idea is cited by Martin Schulz as the reason for rejecting its continuation and taking his party into the opposition. However, given that he has been at the helm of the campaign that yielded the SPD its worst result in the history of the Federal Republic, it is quite likely that he will be replaced as party leader. Under a new party leader, it’s entirely possible that the SPD will agree to another grand coalition after all.
As things currently stand, however, a Jamaica coalition is the expected outcome, despite tremendous differences in these parties’ respective ideologies and policy preferences. While the Union and the FDP have proven to be compatible and the CDU and the Greens could certainly work out their differences, the Greens are sure to clash with the FDP and the CSU (CDU and CSU are the two sister parties that make up the Union). If no agreement can be reached and the SPD remains standfast in its refusal to enter a coalition with the Union, things will get interesting. In that scenario, we would most likely either get a minority government consisting of Union and FDP and tolerated by either the Greens or the SPD, or we would get a re-election.
Aside from the difficulty of forming a new coalition, the big story is the success of the AfD, which went from narrowly missing the five per cent threshold in 2013 to becoming the third largest party in the Bundestag. This has caused widespread concern and outrage as the party is perceived by many to be filled with neo-Nazis and comparisons to the early history of Hitler’s NSDAP abound. Personally, I think such concerns are vastly overstated and I do not think that the AfD poses a particularly great threat. However, there are certainly a number of individuals within the party who have made very questionable statements that seem to be designed to appeal to neo-Nazis. Take for example Alexander Gauland’s statement that “we have the right to be proud of the accomplishments of our soldiers in two World Wars.”
When the AfD was founded in 2013, it was a conservative, classical liberal, and Eurosceptic party. It was a party of economists who took a stand against the madness and the illegality of the Euro-bailouts. I strongly considered voting for them in the 2013 election, although I eventually decided against it. Since then, however, the party has jettisoned its liberal elements and has marched ever further in a nationalistic direction, bordering on outright xenophobia. Its founder and original leader, Bernd Lucke, was given the boot because he was too much of a liberal. He was replaced by the much more conservative and much less liberal Frauke Petry. When she proved to be insufficiently nationalistic to appease the increasingly rabid base, she was relegated to the sidelines and has now announced that she, too, is leaving the party. There are still some sound policies and some reasonable people left in the AfD, but if the party has changed so much over the last four years – and changed very much for worse in my opinion – where will it be in another four years? Although the current hysteria is overblown, this trend is worrying and the AfD is definitely a party that we should keep an eye on.