German Election: Angela Merkel and New Coalition?

22 september 2017

Theo Sommer - Leading German newspaper editor and intellectual, former Editor-at-large, Die Zeit, Germany.

Resume: The outcome of Germany’s elections seems to be a foregone conclusion. Chancellor Merkel is sure to be reelected for her fourth term.

The election campaign was boring, even soporific for two reasons. First: Mrs. Merkel has moved her party so far to the left that a difference with the Social Democrats was hardly discernible; and the SPD-candidate Mr. Martin Schulz found it next to impossible to upend this perception. Second: There was no pervasive feeling that it was time for a change. The German economy is booming; unemployment is lower than ever; inflation is negligible; the refugee problem does not weigh as much on people’s minds as it did two years ago, when close to a million migrants flooded the country. To be sure, there are problems and concerns: over old age pensions, health service, kindergartens, domestic security, the challenges of globalization and digitalization. A majority of the voters would rather entrust the handling of these issues to Angela Merkel than to Martin Schulz. The chancellor also enjoys a bonus for her astute performance on the world stage.

The latest polls give her 37 percent. Her Social Democratic challenger is trailing far behind her, garnering barely 24 percent. So the question is not who is going to be the next Chancellor – it will be the incumbent again. The real question is whom she is going to govern with.

It could be another grand coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, but it could also be a so-called Jamaica coalition: black, green and yellow like the colors of the Caribbean island state – black for the CDU, green for the Greens and yellow for the Liberals.

A majority for a left-wing coalition (Social Democrats and the Left) is not on the screen, and the rambunctious, racist and rabble-rousing Alternative for Germany (AfD) will not be taken aboard by any of the other parties. Greens, Liberals and the Left all hover at around 8 to 10 percent of the vote. If the Liberals manage to get 10 percent, a coalition between CDU/CSU und FDP will be the most likely outcome.

Historically, German elections have never basically changed the course of the country. Continuity has been the watchword for almost seven decades, both in foreign policy and in domestic policy. If the Liberals join the next Merkel government, a more active policy vis-à-vis Russia might be expected. Their chairman Christian Lindner recently called the annexation of Crimea a “durable provisory”. Likewise, Alexander Count Lambsdorff, the most likely Foreign Minister in such a coalition, stands in the tradition of Hans-Dietrich Genscher and his own uncle, the late Otto Count Lambsdorff. I have an inkling that even a Jamaica coalition – hard but not impossible to put together – would press with some vigor for an intensification of the dialogue with Moscow.

We have seen in Britain and in the USA that electoral predictions can be perfidiously misleading. I hope that mine aren’t.

Valdai International Discussion Club

} Page 1 of 5