Chancellor set to form new government with new partners after both government parties suffered major defeat
Angela Merkel has won a bitter victory in Germany’s general election. On the one hand, her Christian Democrats, expectedly, gained the biggest share of votes by far. On the other hand, the Christian Democrats, unexpectedly, only won 33 per cent of the vote, which is their worst result since 1949, and stands at more than 8 points below the last elections in 2013. In other words: The Chancellor has won the election, but she has lost trust as well. It’s something she will have to take into account as she heads into her fourth term in office.
Looking at the numbers, only two options remain for her to form a new majority: One, a repeat of the grand coalition with the Social Democrats of the SPD, and two, a rather experimental alliance between the Christian Democrats, the re-born Liberals of the FDP, and the Green Party.
Politically speaking, option One falls through, unfortunately for Merkel: The Social Democrats, finding themselves confronted with their own worst result ever, at 20.5 per cent, immediately made clear they wouldn’t be ready to partner with Merkel again, as voters, in their understanding, had voted the grand coalition out of office. They will now seek renewal as leaders of the opposition in Germany’s new 6-party Bundestag.
This means Merkel will have to bring together new partners who will not be easy to manage. Outside her Christian Democrats, that’ll be the Liberals of the FDP, back in parliament with a triumphant result of 10.7 per cent, and the Green Party, who performed better than expected and landed at 8.9 per cent, marginally better than in 2013. Downsides of this prospect are: Both parties lack government experience in recent years, both have been at odds with each other for decades, and both will have to learn to overcome their differences in order to form part of a successful government. But the upside is that both Liberals and Greens can pride themselves as winners of this election, which creates a sense of togetherness and willingness to cooperate which wouldn’t be possible had the Greens fallen significantly below their 2013 result, as the pollsters had predicted.
But there’s more trouble for Merkel closer to home: Inside her own Christian Democratic family, the world is in turmoil, with the Bavarian sister party CSU bringing in even bigger losses than the CDU itself had to endure. This is an unusual situation creating serious tensions within Merkel’s party at the start of the new term, and the job of bringing this under control will not be an easy one indeed.
Add to that the fact that from now on, the xenophobic populist AfD party will be given presence and voice in the German parliament, with a share of 12.6 per cent of the vote. It’s mostly disillusioned former Christian Democratic voters and abstainers who brought about this result, and it’s already clear that the AfD appearance will bring a new tone of rude aggressiveness to the German parliament.
The AfD success is obviously a direct consequence of Merkel´s decision to open up the German borders to refugees in 2015. The debate on this will continue, and Merkel’s challenge will be two-fold: The Chancellor will have to improve on explaining her immigration policy in order to roll-back the AfD, and she will have to do a lot of fine-balancing to form a new government. If she succeeds on both counts, Germany will continue to be a haven of stability in the next four years.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
With over 25 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, and consulting, Mr. Kothé advises companies seeking relevant impact with politics and politicians. He founded FTI Consulting’s public affairs practice in Berlin in 2010. Previously, he served as spokesperson for German Federal President Horst Köhler. He also headed the communications and media team of the German liberal party, FDP. Starting his career in journalism at the BBC’s World Service in London, Mr. Kothé has also worked as a senior parliamentary correspondent for Germany’s news channel n-tv.