Ahead of the European elections, bad prospects for Berlin’s governing parties
May 20, 2019
By FTI Consulting
FTI Consulting’s Martin Kothé takes a look at the political landscape in Germany and finds: It’s all flat
With the European elections just days away in Germany, the governing parties in Berlin, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) brace themselves for another major setback at the ballots on Sunday
Both parties stand to expect significant losses even in comparison to the last elections held on national level, the general elections of September 2017. Back then, both parties ended up at historical lows, with the CDU/CSU reaching barely 33 per cent, and the SPD a crushing 20.5 per cent. Today, pollsters predict something around 30 per cent for the Christian Democrats, and around 18 per cent for the Social Democrats, meaning the parties forming what is by now somewhat misleadingly called a grand coalition would not even reach a majority of their own anymore.
No game-changer in sight
What’s frustrating to campaigners on both sides is the fact that their respective polling results have pretty much remained flat for months, and no-one has found the magic potion to stir up some dynamics. The only consolation might be that the same trend applies to the smaller parties as well, with one exception only: The Greens who came in last at the 2017 general election, with barely 9 per cent, stand to reach about double that result on Sunday.
It’s hard to predict what effect the revelations surrounding the populist FPÖ party in Austria may have on their German counterpart, the populist AfD, but even without any impact, the AfD’s polling results have flattened out over the past months just below their 2017 results at around 12 per cent. The migration issue, traditionally the AfD’s main booster, has ceased to be perceived as a major issue of concern to most Germans.
Merkel likely to reshuffle her cabinet
But not all is lost for those in need of some suspense and surprise in German politics. Because after the results are published on Sunday, Angela Merkel will almost certainly have to reshuffle her cabinet. Katarina Barley, SPD’s European front runner and presently Minister of Justice in the fourth Merkel cabinet, will move to Brussels, and there’s speculation that on the CDU side, Peter Altmaier, presently Minister of Economic Affairs, may be appointed EU commissioner in due course. This might present a welcome opportunity to bring another CDU heavyweight back to the cabinet table: Friedrich Merz, representing the conservative CDU base, who went for party leadership and lost to new party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, nicknamed AKK.
If CDU/CSU and SPD were to do as poorly as predicted on Sunday, all eyes of course will turn to their respective party leaders, and the blame game will start. SPD party leader Andrea Nahles will feel the heat from the party brass, but she is used to that by now, and no likely successor has come to light so far. For the CDU, these are going to be the first elections on national level under the helm of new leader AKK, and she will be held responsible for the results.
Make, rather than break, for the grand coalition
Paradoxically, a poor performance by the two governing parties will in fact bind them even more together in government, because no-one will be able to act from a position of strength, and the grand coalition, unpopular as it is even among its protagonists, will likely stumble on until the regular end of the term in 2021.
Merkel untouched by party quarrelling
There is only one leading politician in Germany who remains unscathed by all this, and that is Chancellor Angela Merkel herself: She has stayed well outside the campaign since giving up the CDU party leadership in December, obviously relieved that party duties are no longer part of her job. Instead, she has focussed on running the country in her own solid, reliable and unspectacular way. Survey after survey shows that at least two-thirds of Germans of all party affiliations continue to see in her their Chancellor of choice, and it’s hard to see her giving up any earlier than 2021: There’s the prospect of Germany taking up the EU presidency in the second half of 2020 for her to look forward to, plus she knows that all scenarios about bringing AKK to power earlier would involve a period of uncertainty, as the new chancellor would have to gain a majority in parliament before being appointed.
It’s hard to conceive that Merkel will allow for any such experiments: For a chancellor whose hallmark for 14 years has always been stability, why would she give in to disorder at the end?
Picture: European Parliament at flickr.com
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.