What Germany’s elections mean for the EU

Article by Lea Schiller

On the 26th of September, the federal elections in Germany will mark the end of Angela Merkel’s almost 16 years in power. The candidates of this election are not facing an incumbent, and therefore, the outcome is not as predictable as it was for previous elections. With less than four weeks to go, the three biggest parties are all polling in a range of 24 – 17%, which means all three candidates have a chance to become chancellor (Amaro, 2021). But what is their position when it comes to the EU and European integration? In other words, what does this election mean for the rest of Europe?

What we can learn from the party manifestoes

The Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has been in government for the past 15 years. With Angela Merkel as their leader, there was always an emphasis on international cooperation. The CDU’s current programme does not state any clear ideas on further European integration, although it does include a pledge in support of the EU; the party manifesto of the Social Democrats (SPD) is similar in this regard (Ålander, Mintel & Rehbaum, 2021). Both the CDU and the SPD support a European Defence Union, but neither outline concrete plans on initiating this. Out of the three, the newly resurged Green Party has the most distinct programme when it comes to the EU. The SPD and the Greens are in favour of advancing the integration of the Western Balkans, but the Greens want to increase the EU budget, which the CDU and the SPD do not support (Ålander, Mintel & Rehbaum, 2021).

After the election – which coalition will emerge?

In Germany, government is formed between at least two parties since no party usually receives enough votes to rule by itself. But this time, even a two-party coalition seems unlikely, as the biggest parties have lost voters to smaller ones. Germany has not had a three-party coalition in government since the early years after the war, and there is an array of possible outcomes (Karnitschnig, 2021). But no matter which combination emerges in the end – every party will likely have to compromise, and the ideological differences between them could cause problems both in the long run and in the important coalition-building phase. Such internal instability in its biggest economy would also be new territory for the EU.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the new German government won’t be made by the election alone – in the coming months, the formation of a coalition will decide which candidate will become chancellor and which parties will take part in governing the country. As part of a coalition, the smaller parties may also influence Germany’s future stance in the EU. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) stands in support of European integration and though the left-wing Die Linke is critical of the EU’s neoliberalism, only the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is advocating for Germany to leave the EU (Ålander, Mintel & Rehbaum, 2021). Therefore, it is unlikely that the new government will represent an anti-EU stance. However, should the CDU fail to remain in power, there would still be a substantial shift towards social and climate considerations in Germany’s EU policies. At present, the outcome of this election is difficult to predict – and we may have to wait for several months until we know for certain which direction Germany will take after Angela Merkel leaves office.

Picture by Element5 Digital published on Unsplash

References

Amaro, S. (September 3, 2021). ‘It is not a normal election’: The outcome of Germany’s historic vote remains uncertain. CNBC. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/03/germany-election-european-and-national-stability-at-risk-ambrosetti.html

Ålander, M., Mintel, J. & Rehbaum, D. (August 12, 2021). What the 2021 election manifestos tell us about the views of German parties on the EU. London School of Economics. Retrieved from: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2021/08/12/what-the-2021-election-manifestos-tell-us-about-the-views-of-german-parties-on-the-eu/

Karnitschnig, M. (August 24, 2021). German election a toss-up as Merkel’s center-right fades. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-election-campaign-cdu-csu-angela-merkel-polls-armin-laschet-spd-greens-coalition/