New elections could bring political insecurity to Germany

New elections could bring political insecurity to Germany

The German elections in September 2017 have not yet led to a new government, as the political elite is struggling to agree on a governing coalition. New elections are within the realm of possibilities, but run the risk of an increase in votes for the right-wing populist party. Germany is likely to turn towards domestic stability rather than prioritizing European issues.

In the last ten years, Germany has been perceived as the most stable and reliable larger European member state. From the so-called Euro crisis – a combination of a banking crisis, an economic crisis and a debt crisis within the EU – to decreasing perceived legitimacy of Brussels, Germany has been a stabilizing factor for the Union. However, the shift towards right-wing populism evident in many Western countries, which accelerated after the refugee influx, has not spared Germany. 

Effects of the general elections

For the first time ever, the general elections in September 2017 brought six different parties to the national parliament, the Bundestag. Since the end of World War Two, it had been five parties at most and usually a large part of the seats went to members of the two so-called ‘Volksparteien’ (people’s parties), the Christian democrats (CDU) and the social democrats (SPD). This election still brought 32% and 20% of the votes to CDU and SPD respectively, but in comparison to the 2013 election where CDU gained 41.5% of the seats and SPD 25.7%, the current election must be interpreted as a strong decrease in voter trust. This is underlined by the fact that the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), founded only in 2013, was elected into the national parliament for the first time and promptly secured more than 12% of the seats, making it the third largest party.

Since the general elections, the German political elite has struggled to build a lasting governing coalition. After a failed attempt from CDU, Green Party and the Liberals, now a so-called ‘grand coalition’ between CDU and SPD is the goal. While the high party officials have reached agreement on a coalition contract, all members of the SPD can decide until March 4 whether they allow their leadership to enter the coalition or not. It remains unclear whether the voting will lead to a positive result and therefore a new government in Germany. The leader of the young social democrats, for example, is campaigning against his leadership and rejects a coalition with the CDU. The general population seems to be divided on this issue, with 52% viewing a new grand coalition as negative, while the other 48% see it as positive.

New elections: looking ahead

If the results of the SPD vote will reveal that a majority rejects the coalition, Germany will likely face new elections. These are likely to increase instability within the political system. Last week, the AfD surpassed the SPD in predicted votes for the first time ever. If the forecast is correct, new elections could bring the AfD up to 16% or more and the SPD down to 15%, which would make the AfD the second strongest party in the German parliament after the CDU. The German political system is based on coalition-building, and even if the AfD is unlikely to be invited to take part in a coalition, an even larger presence of its members in the parliament after new elections would feed the domestic political tensions in Germany.

A right-wing populist and eurosceptic party like the AfD with a large influence on German politics, even if not part of a governing coalition, would worsen the already tense situation between European Union member states. Germany has sought to counter nationalist tendencies in other members of the Union, but would then be faced with an even larger internal problem of the same kind. It is to assume that Germany would turn inward even more so than it has done in the past months and prioritize domestic over European stability. Given the abundance of risks faced by the Union, including Brexit, the refugee crisis, the rise of right-wing populist movements, the crisis of democratic legitimacy and the growing fear of war, Germany’s stabilizing capacities would continue to be damaged by a further rise of the AfD.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Linda Schlegel

Linda Schlegel holds a BA in Liberal Arts (cum laude) from the University College Maastricht and an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society (distinction) from King's College London. Her special interests include counter-terrorism, radicalization, societal resilience and social deviance.