FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Challenges loom after Angela Merckel's election win
, October 12, 2013
The overwhelming victory for Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Germany was a reflection of the people’s desire for strong, responsible and stable leadership in the wake of the euro crisis.
Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany has emerged almost unscathed from the financial crisis which brought Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal to their knees, and deeply affected other countries in the eurozone.
Angela Merkel has led the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000, and is now arguably the most powerful politician in Western Europe.
The Christian Democrats and their allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, together won 41.5 per cent of the popular vote, which translates into 311 of the 630 seats in Parliament, just short of a majority. In 2009, the two parties together won less than 34 per cent of the vote.
Chancellor Merkel is the only major European leader to be re-elected twice since the financial crisis of 2008, winning a strong popular endorsement for her mix of austerity and solidarity in managing the troubled eurozone.
There are a multiplicity of political parties in Germany, but in order to have parliamentary representation, a party must win 5 per cent of the popular vote. Only five parties reached that threshold, the CDU, the CSU, the Social Democrats (SPD), the Left (ex-communists) and the Greens.
Although opinion polls had suggested that the election could be a cliffhanger, the CDU/CSU alliance overwhelmingly defeated the Social Democrats, who received 29.4 per cent of the vote, up 1.5 per cent.
The parties of the left suffered major losses. The Greens’ vote declined by two per cent down to 7 per cent, and the Left’s vote fell from 10 per cent to 8 per cent.
Significantly, the vote for the pro-business liberal Free Democrats (FDP), who were the junior party in the last coalition government, also declined. They did not secure 5 per cent, and so are not represented in the Bundestag, the German Parliament.
Although it would be mathematically possible for the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left to form a coalition government, both the Social Democrats and the Greens have announced that they will not form a coalition with the ex-communist Left, whose political base is in eastern Germany.
The likelihood, therefore, is that Angela Merkel will form a grand coalition with the Social Democrats.
The decline in support for the minor parties, the Free Democrats, the Greens and the Left, has already caused ructions in their respective ranks.
The German media organisation, Deutsche Welle, published an opinion piece which said that the election result was a “political tsunami” in German politics.
The chairman of the Free Democrats, Phillip Rösler, has resigned, as has the parliamentary leader of the Greens, Jürgen Trittin, and the entire Greens leadership.
Additionally, if the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats go into coalition, Gregor Gysi, the Left’s parliamentary leader who is being investigated over his links to East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, in the 1980s, will become opposition leader.
Some have speculated that the Free Democrats, now out of Parliament, could merge with the recently-formed Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a party which opposes the bail-out of countries like Greece and Spain, and believes that such countries should be able to leave the eurozone. Part of the Free Democrats’ support base defected to the AfD.
The two parties between them have over 9 per cent of the popular vote, reflecting widespread concern over Chancellor Merkel’s policy of bankrolling Greece and similar countries.
If, as expected, the cost to Germany of bailing out bankrupt eurozone countries continues to rise, support for these minor parties will also increase.
The German newspaper Die Welt described the AfD as the “elephant in the room” and said it was a “nightmare” for the German Chancellor because, as well as killing off the FDP, its support is drawn from across all Germany’s political parties, including her own, making it a fixture on the political landscape.
“A new crisis in Greece, a debt write-off without political preparation, a tumbling Portugal, or even France, could bring a large increase in votes for the AfD in the European elections,” the newspaper warned.
Another major issue facing the next government is the soaring price of renewable energy, despite the opening of new coal-fired power stations over the past two years.
Since the 1990s, successive German governments have promoted alternative energy from wind and solar power, which are subsidised by fossil fuels, and have foreshadowed the eventual closure of the nuclear power industry.
The result is that electricity costs in Germany are now twice as high as in the United States, endangering the future of German export industries.
Germany’s industry federation, the BDI, called for a change in direction, saying it could not remain silent as green romanticism dictates the country’s energy policy.