The Bundestag Elections And How They Could Change German Foreign Policy

Image“It is hard to think of any election in recent times in Europe which has mattered more to more people than the one that takes place in Germany on Sunday”

– The Guardian

Tomorrow, citizens of the Bundesrepublik will go to the voting booths to decide the fate of what is arguably the most influential elected office in European politics- the German Chancellorship. Due to this role’s remarkable positioning within both domestic and international politics, the results shall be anticipated keenly by politicians across the globe. But whilst the overall consensus by commentators is that current chancellor, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union, will maintain her office, the results of the election within this multi-party system could prove to be far more complex.

Owing to the range of political parties operating within the Germany, as well as the proportional representation electoral system, coalition governments are a common result of general elections. The current government is a coalition of Angela Merkel’s party, CDU/CSU, and the FDP (Free Democratic Party), and its predecessors were a coalition of the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) and the Green Party. But the nature of the current coalition could see a significant shift towards the other end of the political spectrum once the votes are cast tomorrow.

According to recent polls, the coalition is holding on to a rather flimsy majority, which may or may not ensure their continued tenure. This is largely due to the sharp decline in support for the FDP; it has 5.5% according to some data, compared to the 14% it won at the last election in 2009. These statistics reflect the frustration of many faithful FDP voters, who feel that the party compromised their centre-left principles when they formed a government with the centre-right CDU/CSU. But the quickly declining popularity of the FDP doesn’t necessarily mean that the office of the German Chancellor will make a sharp turn to the right after tomorrow. Indeed, analysts have speculated that an unlikely coalition of the CDU/CSU and the SPD will form; roughly the equivalent in British politics of the Conservative Party forming a coalition with Labour- eyebrows can be raised.

The coalitions formed in German politics require that important cabinet posts be filled by both (or all) parties making up the government, hence why the current Foreign Secretary, Guido Westerwelle, is a member of the FDP. A coalition of what should technically be ideological adversaries could cause a dramatic shake-up not only of domestic German politics, but of European politics as well. Whilst Angela Merkel has proven to show leniency towards other EU members regarding fiscal integration, her SPD counterpart, Peer Steinbrueck, has indicated that he does not. Merkel has put up with what some see as the “a la carte” relationship that the United Kingdom has with the EU. Steinbrueck, on the other hand, has advocated a model for Europe with more fiscal integration. One party insider has claimed that the Social Democrats would “actively try to block attempts to return EU powers to national governments”, as Cameron has proposed. A source at the foreign ministry said: “Any attempt to cherry-pick EU policies to keep or discard would cause friction with the traditional SPD line.” Converging views on the role of the EU is likely to cause serious friction should a coalition be formed.

What will also be interesting to examine about tomorrow’s result will be the vote share of smaller and more extreme fringe parties advocating quite a different vision for the future of the nation. One party of particular concern for mainstream politics has been the NPD (National Socialist Party of Germany) and its rise in the former East, which is particularly alarming for Germany’s considerable foreign population. The far-right nationalist group holds seats in some regional governments, and recently has told candidates for German parliament with a migration background to return ‘home’ by sending hate mail. Aside from this, it has also been alleged that the party has links with the National Socialist Underground, an often violent neo-Nazi group which was responsible for the killings of several Turkish-Germans. Merkel has made attempts to prevent the party from gaining more power through constitutional reform proposals which have as of yet born no fruit. Depending on the NPD’s vote share, the results will either cause alarm or a sense of ease amongst Germany’s foreign population.

Aside from the restlessness of extremist groups, another strong indicator of German public opinion tomorrow could be the vote share of fringe party Alternative for Germay (AfD). This party, formed just this year by an alliance of economists, advocates a vision radically different to that currently pursued by Germany; withdrawal from the Euro and an easing of Germany’s foreign policy commitments. AfD is hovering just above the threshold required to gain parliamentary seats for the first time, with many commentators suggesting the party may get more voters on the day. Could this indicate that Germans are becoming wary of the heavy responsibilities thrust upon their government in the wake of the Eurozone debt crisis?

With a number of fringe parties gaining the potential to shake up the balance within the Bundestag, and others losing their core support, tomorrow’s election will yield critical results; ones which will be very telling of public opinion towards Germany’s foreign policy commitments. But how far will the ideological shift within the government extend? This, and the results’ impact on the Eurozone, remains to be seen. Because what changes within the Bundestag could potentially change the whole of Europe.

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