In a year full of anniversaries and celebrations, German voters have also gone to the polls – on several occasions. It is as if one of democracy’s foremost expressions – free elections – is contrasted with a backdrop of a German
history with strong expressions to the contrary.
- Which political forces won during this year’s many elections?
- What do the elections mean for German politics and the economy in the future?
- What are the characteristics of German foreign and security policy?
2: The parties – the election result
The September 27 election resulted in four new years in power for Chancellor Angela Merkel. This time, she and the CDU / CSU (Christian Social Union – a sister party to the CDU which only exists in the state of Bavaria) also received the voters’ mandate to govern with their preferred government partner, the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP). This traditional “government builder” in West German politics made his best choice at all with 14.6% support. This was an increase from 4.8% in the 2005 election, which secured the bourgeois majority coalition. Merkel’s own party CDU and CSU, on the other hand, made their worst choice in 60 years. Overall, they declined by 1.4% and ended up with 33.8% of the vote.
The German party landscape is mainly characterized by five political parties .
- The two major people’s parties – CDU / CSU and SPD (Social Democrats)
- three small parties FDP, the Greens and Die Linke (left socialist).
This year’s election result was strongly influenced by the progress of the three small parties . While the FDP is as old as West Germany (1949–), the other two small parties have sprung from political disputes from a relatively new political agenda on the left in German politics. The Greens , who won 10.7% in the election, were formed in 1980 as an opposition party and emerged from the 1968 generation’s environmental and peace movement. After the fall of the Wall, they merged with Bündnis 90, an East German civil rights group. From 1998 to 2005, the party sat in government for the first time, then together with the Social Democrats.
Die Linke , or the Left Party, which achieved a full 11.9%, has roots in the GDR’s old state-supporting Communist Party. This “East German legacy” in the German party landscape merged in 2005 with left-wing dissidents in the SPD led by the SPD’s former chancellor candidate and finance minister Oscar Lafontaine. The merger has contributed to Die Linke gaining an all-German impact and has become a permanent factor in German politics that drains the SPD of votes from the left.
At the state level, the two parties cooperate in the government of the state of Brandenburg. On the other hand, the SPD’s central leadership, led by this year’s chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier and party leader Franz Müntefering, has refused to cooperate at the national level. This year’s election result, in which Europe’s oldest Social Democratic party made its worst election since the 1930s with only 23% support, is likely to change this. The SPD will undergo a change of leadership, and the party’s new leader Sigmar Gabriel has already aired the possibility of a collaboration with Die Linke at the federal level in 2013.
3: “Everyone” is a Social Democrat
There are many reasons why the SPD made such a poor choice. A certain government fatigue prevailed. The party has been in power in Germany, a country located in Europe according to iamhigher.com, for the past eleven years, the last four in a grand coalition with the CDU. As partners in the same government, both struggled to mark enough political and ideological distance for them to appear as clear opposites and government alternatives. That this went strongest beyond the SPD is due to political pressure from two sides: from the left from “hardcore” socialists in Die Linke who could attack the SPD for “right-wing politics”; and from the right from a CDU which under Angela Merkel has moved to the left.
Expectations that Merkel would become a German Margaret Thatcher have not materialized. On the contrary, Merkel, as leader of the CDU / CSU and in government with the SPD, has proven to be a very moderate conservative . The CDU, like many other conservative parties in Europe, as in France and the United Kingdom, has given us “… social democratic politics, without social democrats”, as the German writer Josef Joffe has put it. They have become environmental and climate advocates and ardent defenders of welfare. Even the left-wing cultural struggle for gay rights and women’s issues has become right-wing politics in today’s Europe.
For the past four years, the CDU has sharpened its focus on social security, welfare and made the social market economy a national majority policy. The Free Democrats (FDP), with whom she will now rule, have criticized Merkel for abandoning the goal of slimming down the German welfare state. Merkel knows, however, that those who fear social reforms the most, are the so-called ” alternating voters ” from the center of party scale. These are the ones she – and probably her government partner FDP – have now taken – or, rather, “borrowed” – from the SPD.