By James Moules
SUNDAY’S vote in Germany wasn’t just another national election – it marked the end of an era.
Angela Merkel, who has served as Chancellor since 2005 – making her one of Europe’s longest serving heads of government – did not seek another term in office.
Despite Merkel’s enduring popularity, her centre-right CDU/CSU union suffered its worst result since the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany, winning just 24.1 per cent of the vote – down from 32.9 per cent in 2017 and 41.5 per cent in 2013.
The bloc’s lead candidate Armin Laschet, who was elected to the CDU leadership earlier this year, was not a hit among voters, with just 13 per cent of voters listing him as their preferred Chancellor in a Forsa poll shortly before election day.
While the CDU/CSU initially polled well during the summer months, the union took a major hit in popularity when Laschet was pictured laughing with colleagues at the scene of devastating floods.
Meanwhile, Germany’s main centre-left party the SPD (Social Democratic Party) pulled off a dramatic comeback under Olaf Scholz – who serves as Vice-Chancellor under the current coalition between the Union and SPD.
Despite consistently polling third and in the mid-teens in the time between the two federal elections, the party experienced a surge in the final weeks, ending up with 25.7 per cent of the vote.
This puts the SPD at the top of the pack for the first time since Merkel took power – and makes Scholz the favourite to be the next Chancellor.
The German Greens also experienced a surge in support, although early lofty expectations of their performance did not come to fruition.
Under Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, the Greens rose from sixth place in 2017 to third place in 2021, taking 14.8 per cent of the vote and 118 seats.
Although early polls suggested the party may have been in with a chance of second place – or even the Chancellorship – the Greens sunk slightly after Baerbock faced scandal.
While Baerbock’s chances of the top job diminished, the Greens are in prime position to play kingmaker in the coming coalition negotiations.
But the Greens won’t be the only ones seeking a substantial role in shaping the next government.
The pro-business liberal FDP, under leader Christian Lindner, also wield substantial leverage, having won 11.5 per cent of the vote.
Lindner has shown in the past that he is serious about demanding concessions – his party walked away from negotiations with the CDU/CSU and Greens after the 2017 election over migration and energy policy disputes.
Out on the further reaches of the political spectrum, the far-right AfD and hard left Die Linke both saw declines in support and seat share – although the AfD won a number of constituency seats across the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.
Is is unlikely that either party will feature in the coming coalition.
In Germany, coalition governments are the norm.
Throughout Merkel’s tenure as Chancellor, she always stood at the head of a multi-party government – at various points, her junior partner was either the SPD or FDP.
After the most recent election in 2017, renewed the Große Koalition (Grand Coalition, or GroKo) with the SPD after negotiations for a Jamaica Coalition fell through.
But what do these terms mean? Scholz may have come out on top, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he will be Chancellor.
Here are a few of the potential coalition scenarios based on the election resutls.
Traffic Light Coalition
All over the world, traffic lights feature three standard colours: red, yellow (or amber) and green – and these are the colours of the three parties make up this hypothetical coalition.
This potential alliance would see the SPD team up with the Greens and the FDP – forcing the CDU/CSU into opposition for the first time in more than 15 years.
However, a three way coalition has never happened in Germany before – and reaching a deal between these parties wouldn’t be straightforward.
After all, it was disputes between the Greens and FDP that brought down their potential alliance with the CDU/CSU back in 2017.
Had those negotiations not broken down after the last election, this would have been the incumbent government of Germany.
An alliance between the CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP – duly named as the colours of the parties correspond with those on the flag of Jamaica, would likely see Laschet cling on and secure the Chancellorship in spite of the Union’s hammering at the polls.
Again, however, the challenge would be for the three parties to find sufficient common ground to strike such a deal – one that failed before under Merkel, no less.
At this point, the Grand Coalition is a familiar state of affairs in Germany.
This is when the two largest parties in the Bundestag – the CDU/CSU and SPD team up in coalition.
Numerically, it is a possibility that this arrangement could continue, albeit with the Union as the junior partner this time around.
However, the increasing fragmentation of their collective vote could be interpreted as a desire for change from the electorate – and there’s a chance the two parties could unite alongside a third.
Another coalition named after its colour co-ordination with a national flag, this coalition would see the current Grand Coalition partners add the Greens into the fold.
This coalition would command the largest number of seats among the plausible alliances.
A coalition of the colours of Germany’s own flag, this team would be similar to the Kenya Coalition, but swapping the Greens for the FDP.
Redaction Report will continue to cover the German coalition formation as it unfolds.
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