1. The Elections Matter Not Just for Germany
- Germany’s Sept. 24 election will likely result in one of the most fragmented parliaments the country has seen in decades.
- The country’s two largest parties will try to avoid renewing their current coalition partnership, meaning smaller parties will play a big role in the formation of the next government.
- The ideological composition of the new administration will affect negotiations to reform the European Union, and when it comes to Southern Europe’s proposals for reform, a center-right coalition would be more skeptical than a center-left coalition.
Germany is heading into the final weeks of a fairly uneventful campaign season. There is little chance of a major nationalist or Euroskeptic victory, and opinion polls have remained steady. Although the runup to the Sept. 24 election has been relatively quiet, major repercussions, both domestic and international, could follow in its wake. The big question — both for Germans and fellow members of the European Union — is what form the final distribution of seats in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, will take. The answer will determine not only the possible combination of parties that will form a German government coalition, but also shape the direction that much-needed reforms to the European bloc will take.
For the past four years, Germany has been governed by a ruling coalition made up of the country’s two largest parties:
- the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the progressive Social Democratic Party (SPD), led by former EU Parliament President Martin Schulz.
- Though the two parties have been able to work together, their policies and outlook differ, and neither is eager to find itself in the same coalition after the dust of the national election settles.
- The CDU and SPD will both be looking to form agreements with the country’s smaller political parties — four of which are in close competition to be the third-most-powerful party in Germany: the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP); the environmentalist The Greens; the left-wing The Left; and the Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD). If the most recent opinion polls true and all four earn enough votes to enter the legislature, Germany would face its most fragmented parliament in decades.
Based on previous postelection negotiations, which lasted a month in 2009 and three months in 2013, German policymakers could again take months to settle on a new government. In the meantime, the country would operate under a caretaker government as the parties hammer out functional alliances. And though the CDU and SPD are angling to avoid a repeat of their current coalition paring, it remains a possibility. Another option, if the newly elected parliament struggles to coalesce, would be the formation of a minority government, in which one party governs alone, supported by other parties on a case-by-case basis. Given Germany’s consensus-driven political environment, this would be an unusual step, but it is not out the question.