Written by IDU Head of Campaigning, Prof. Dr. Mario Voigt, CDU Germany.
The German federal election may be over, but four-term chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor is far from clear. The Social Democratic SPD, Merkel’s junior partner for 12 years and three of her four terms, won the election with 25.7% (+5.2%) of the vote. By contrast. Merkel’s party family, the CDU/CSU, sustained significant losses, landing at just 24.1% (-8.8%). However, in the German parliamentary system, the strongest party does not always get to lead a government. A coalition needs to be forged, this time between at least three partners.
In third place at 14.8% (+5.9%), the Green party and the market-oriented liberal party FDP, at 10.3% (+0.8%), have started talks for forming potential coalitions. On the other hand, the more extreme parties stalled. The far-right AfD lost 2.3%, but remains in the double-digit zone with 10.3%. The neo-communist Linke dropped by 4.3%, now at 4.9%, and thus below the threshold of 5% normally required. However, it will remain in parliament due to a secondary threshold accorded to parties winning at least three directly elected members of parliament. But the likely longer-term impact of this election is to be found in the reduction of the formerly dominant blocs – the CDU/CSU and the SPD – to well below 30% of the vote each.
Scholz now has the chance to form a coalition and lead it as Chancellor. At the beginning of the year, he and his party had been mired in third place. At the time, few political observers conceded that he had a shot at the post of Chancellor. However, the poor performances of frontrunners Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) and Annalena Baerbock (Greens) on the campaign trail opened the door for Scholz. Despite lacking charisma, he is perceived as competent, and he profited from his high name recognition as Vice-Chancellor in Merkel’s government.
Scholz is aiming to forge a coalition with the liberal FDP and the Green party – the “Traffic Light” coalition (from the parties’ respective red, yellow, and green colours). Scholz will need to charm two fundamentally different parties and will have to make significant concessions. There is no certainty these will be embraced by his party base, which must ratify any coalition agreement. That same party base has previously denied Scholz the post of party Chairman.
The CDU/CSU still has a small chance of wresting the chancellorship away from Scholz and the SPD, should the traffic-light coalition fail. CDU chair Laschet is under significant pressure and has already announced his eventual resignation from office as party Chairman. The CDU/CSU’s campaign was complicated, and a brutal social media campaign against Laschet took shape. It was only towards the end of the campaign that Laschet got a good grip on the campaign, with pointed attacks on the SPD and Scholz, and with support from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reversed her earlier decision to remain impartial.
A Traffic Light coalition will be extremely difficult in terms of negotiations. All three parties are closely aligned on civil liberty issues. These include data protection, abortion rights and cannabis legalization, on which the three are likely to quickly agree. Climate policy will be a more difficult aspect of the bargaining. But the most challenging parts will be related to social and fiscal policy. The SPD and Greens are close on issues such as minimum wage and wealth tax, while the FDP has fundamentally different views.
Some expect negotiations to be protracted and do not anticipate a decision regarding a new coalition this year. Angela Merkel will likely govern as a caretaker into early 2022.