No experiments? The German Federal Elections 2013
12:00 am, 23 September 2013
Dr Daniel Siemens
Everyone in Germany expected Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU/CSU) to win a solid majority in this year's national elections. However, the results from Sunday came as a surprise for many, in several ways.
1. Regardless of Merkel's landslide victory that brought the conservative CDU/CSU nearly an absolute majority in the Bundestag, she needs a new coalition partner. Mostly likely is a coalition with the runner-up Social Democrats, but a government with the Green party is also possible. (Another government is also possible, at least theoretically: a coalition of Social democrats with the Green party and the former East German Communists.)
2. That Germany will have a new coalition government for the next legislative term is due to a historic defeat of the German liberal party, the FDP, the junior partner of the last government. For the first time since national elections in the Federal Republic of Germany are held, since 1949, the liberal party failed to win at least five per cent of the decisive second votes, the threshold in order to be represented in the German parliament. For a party who took comfort and self-esteem in recent decades not least because of its frequent role as king maker, this comes as a severe shock - and will probably cause deep convulsions and programmatic battles between those in favour of a radical 'capitalist' orientation and those who want to revitalise the party's roots: political liberalism and civil rights.
3. The 'Alternative for Germany' (AfD), a eurosceptic party founded just a couple of months before the elections, won 4.7 per cent of the votes. Although this is likewise not enough to be represented in parliament, this is a remarkable debut in the comparatively very stable party system in Germany. It is the first time that there is a new 'conservative' party next to the CDU/CSU with a considerable following and, what is even more important, it is the first German party to be outspoken euro-sceptic. The relative success of the AfD should be interpreted as a clear sign that dissatisfaction with traditional euro-friendly German (foreign) policy is growing, although it remains to be seen whether this result is more than a snapshot.
Against the widespread fears among German taxpayers to have to further contribute to European bailout packages, Merkel's clear victory is even more remarkable. The CDU's heavily personalised election campaign, a campaign that avoided genuine political statements to the utmost, was successful in times where 'more of the same' seemed to many not an ideal, but at least a solid prospect. The Germans are rather at ease with their country, including its rather unimpressive foreign politics. Critics argue that complacency and indifference prevails.
What do these election results mean for Europe? A considerable change in German European politics is in no way to be expected. Whether this is good or bad news for Europe depends on everyone's political perspective. Merkel certainly is an experienced crisis manager, but one who has avoided so far any passionate vision of how Europe should look like in the not to distant future.
In 1957, West Germany's first chancellor, the likewise conservative, if in terms of character and personality very different Konrad Adenauer won the national elections at the height of the Cold War era with the campaign slogan 'No experiments'. Back then he was re-elected for the second time, after already eight years in office - an exact parallel to Merkel's victory now. Adenauer then remained in office another six years. Merkel, who is now more than ever the undisputed leading politician in Germany, seems to walk in his footsteps.
Dr Daniel Siemens, UCL SSEES