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20 September 2013

The final push - German election outcome wide open

Uncertainty reigns right up until the 11th hour. The current coalition only has a very narrow majority in the latest polls. The AfD remains the great unknown and could facilitate a grand coalition. Europe's high hopes for big change resulting from the outcome are probably misplaced.

Partially translated from the German and French

A 'last minute' ZDF poll ahead of Sunday’s German elections gives Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right/liberal coalition a narrow majority with the CDU/CSU on 40 per cent, the SPD on 27 per cent, the Greens on 9 per cent, Die Linke on 8.5 per cent, the FDP 5.5 per cent and AfD 4 per cent.

The Spectator writes: "When Germany goes to the polls this weekend the question is not 'Who will win?' but 'With whom will Chancellor Merkel govern?'".

Despite Merkel's popularity, angst creeps in, writes the Wall Street Journal, as voices mainly from the business community, which she has counted among her most loyal supporters, call for her to move more quickly to confront simmering domestic problems that they worry will eventually endanger German prosperity. 

In the last week of the campaign, politicians are focusing on tactics, says the Economist. Because of this, comments the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the discord between the current coalition partners CDU/CSU and FDP is growing more pronounced. CSU chief Horst Seehofer advised the coalition's junior partner to stop appealing to conservative voters to give their second voice to the FDP. "With the right tone and the right topics, the FDP can mobilise its own electorate", he is quoted to have said. 

AfD is the surprise element in this election

Forbes comments that the world hopes a won election will allow a freshly mandated Chancellor Angela Merkel finally to come to grips with Greece’s impending insolvency. But the main party campaigns have avoided much discussion of international affairs. The new eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, however, appears to have gotten a boost in the polls from Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s admission last month that Greece will need more aid. A recent Allensbach poll showed 8 per cent of Germans were "considering" voting for the AfD. If the AfD enters the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU and FDP may not control enough seats to form a coalition, comments the New York Times in the same vein.

...and after?

Bloomberg reports on the hurdle the SPD faces in the prospect of joining Merkel's CDU in a grand coalition. The SPD has scheduled a meeting of 200 party members on 27 September to decide how to proceed with coalition talks with its traditional rivals that would ensue if Merkel and her current allies, the Free Democrats, fail to win a majority. There are many within the SPD who are reluctant to enter into such a coalition which cost a large proportion of their popularity during Merkel's first term 2005-2009.

The SPD has a party congress scheduled for 11-14 November. Should it enter into talks with Merkel, an agreement could be ratified then, meaning that a new government wouldn’t be sworn in for almost two months. And if such coalition talks take place, reports Reuters, one person will figure prominently: Hannelore Kraft, who is seen as the left's answer to Angela Merkel. She will probably play a crucial behind-the-scenes role in any coalition talks and may determine the fates of fellow SPD leaders after the election. She is already talked about as possible candidate for chancellor 2017.

And within the CDU? It is heresy even to pose the question to the Chancellor's supporters before Sunday's general election - but "who could, theoretically, succeed Angela Merkel?", asks Reuters. Speculations, albeit denied by Merkel, were sparked off by two recent credible media reports ( that she will only serve two or three years of a four-year term. "Of course there is a debate about the succession", said one long-standing member of the Bundestag lower house, critical of a cult atmosphere where Merkel has become "our only asset". Names that creep up in conversations are Ursula von der Leyen (Minister of Labour and Social Affairs), David McAllister (former Prime Minister of the state of Lower Saxony) and Thomas de Mazière (Minister of Defence).

What does Europe think?

A new OpinionWay poll for Le Figaro shows that 56 per cent of French want Angela Merkel to stay on as German Chancellor. Only 28 per cent think that Peer Steinbrück might be a better option for France. And 63 per cent of respondents said France should "take inspiration" from the German economic model. 

Europeans are actually placing more hope in the German elections than in the May 2014 European elections, comments José Ignacio Torreblanca in an article in presseurop. Aware of how important Germany has become for their own future, it is quite likely that, given the chance, many Europeans would indeed be interested in voting in the German elections, even though they may not bother going to the polling booths in May 2014 for the European elections. This signifies a gigantic dissociation in the very organisation of the EU: while goods and services, capital and people circulate freely throughout an enormous territory structured around a common currency, policy continues to be organised on the basis of a series of highly fragmented national units of very unequal size and capacity.

The analysis by Statfor of what Europe is to expect after the German elections argues that all the anticipation of the election outcome may be somewhat misplaced, as Germany's economy relies on the free trade zone and on exports, which the rest of Europe can buy only if it can afford to do so. Thus any government in Berlin will continue to aid countries afflicted by the European crisis - even at the risk of growing domestic opposition.

RanSquawk German election analysis portal

Financial Times (subscription required) German elections "indepth"

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