Monday 28 September 2009

German elections and the European Union

The German elections have caused a shift in the federal parliament Bundestag, and they will bring in a new government coalition (Bundesregierung). The conservative parties, the Christian Democratic CDU and the Bavarian CSU, suffered some vote losses, but remain the largest group by far.

Angela Merkel has a clear mandate to continue as Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzlerin), but the record loss of the Social Democrats (SPD) finishes off the “grand coalition”, and the unprecedented success for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) ushers in a “black-yellow” federal government.


Latest results

I decided to use the convenient web page of Deutsche Welle, Bundestagswahl 2009, which shows the results as of 00:42 CET.

The union parties CDU and CSU lost 1.4 per cent of the votes, but gained 13 seats (total: 239 MPs). The liberal FDP advanced by 32 seats to give them a total of 93 (votes + 4.8 %). This gives the new government coalition 332 seats out of a total of 622.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered a catastrophic loss of 11.2 % of the votes and 76 seats, leaving them with 146 representatives in the new parliament.

If the liberals lunched on SPD on the right, the Left Party (Linke) dined on them on the left, gaining 3.2 percentage points in votes and adding 22 seats, bringing their total to 76 MPs.

The Green Party (Grüne) was also a winner. It gained 2.6 % in votes and 17 new seats, which brings their parliamentary group to a total of 68.

The opposition seats add up to 290 (out of 622).


Implications for Germany

Since the poor showing in the European Parliament elections in June, Social Europe has been trying to stimulate a debate on the crisis of socialist and social democratic parties in Europe. A new discussion opener notes the miserable SPD result in Germany.

Power&Politics World remarks on the personal triumph of Angela Merkel.

Mount EUlympus sees the election result as a great deception for the young generation without four wheel drives.

The German Marshall Fund Blog notes that the liberal leader Guido Westerwelle will become the next foreign minister and that the SPD’s defeated chancellor candidate Frank Walter Steinmeier will become opposition leader (chair of the SPD group). The GMF blog sees three changes in the German political landscape:

• a generational shift in the political leadership;
• fragmentation; and
• a re-polarization of politics.


Implications for Europe

The European Union is still primarily a confederation of member states, so all general elections have implications for European integration. In addition, Germany is the biggest EU member, with a population of 82.5 million, and it is traditionally the economic power-house of Europe. Historically, Germany is the other half of the Franco-German engine of European integration, and Germany is (in) the European mainstream.

Within the EU China shop, Germany is an elephant. Even small movements have consequences.

I found some early blog comments on the implications of the German elections for Europe. Whatseuropinion expects Angela Merkel’s position to be weakened within the new coalition, both by the CSU and the FDP. Julien Frisch speculates on the new German member of the EU Commission, and he expects a more market liberal approach.

Both are convinced that opposition in the second chamber, the Bundesrat, where the Länder are represented, is going to become harder, especially given the new laws accompanying the Lisbon Treaty.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt offers an elegant summary (in Swedish) on continuity and change in Germany, while Erkan presents an assortment of disappointed Turkish press reactions, with regard to the membership prospects of Turkey.


My comments

Germany – EU

Four years ago, I studied the detailed programme of the grand coalition, and I found it to be sadly passive, introverted and defensive. The cohabitation of the big Volksparteien has not disproved this initial impression.

For the sake of dynamism, a coalition change seemed to be in order, and the German voters have expressed the same view.

At European level, the competent German Presidency of the EU Council was led by Angela Merkel and Frank Walter Steinmeier, and it managed to relaunch the treaty reform process, which led to the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon.

The new centre-right and liberal coalition will mostly stand for continuity in EU affairs as well as in wider European and world relations. The changes will depend on how much Guido Westerwelle makes an imprint of his own. His views, comments and first acts are going to be studied intensely.

After the great enlargement and the during the painful process of institutional reform, the European Union has become somewhat bleaker in the minds of national leaders, and the financial and economic crisis has led to protectionist moves by member states. In the case of Germany, the general atmosphere of national egoism and the upcoming elections did little to promote scrupulous attention to EU competition rules, when preparing rescue packages, such as Opel.

The big member states have become accustomed to having their way with a weakened EU Commission, although Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes seems to have fought valiantly for the application of common standards, despite the temporary lowering due to the crisis.

Will Germany see the long term interests of the internal market, or will it defend its prestige and pecuniary interests in the short term?

Many member states may be tempted to find more accommodating holders for the internal market and competition portfolios. On the other hand, these are the core areas of the European Community and the Commission’s competences.

Does the President-elect, José Manuel Barroso, have the spine and the clout to uphold the common standards through the nomination procedures and beyond?


Social democracy – EU

The French socialists still form an important part of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament, but their constant infighting and challengers on the left have left them little room to devise new strategies for the 21st century. When leftist activist frequently sound as reliving the conditions described in Émile Zola’s Germinal, they have ceded the ground to the presidential majority of Nicolas Sarkozy almost by default.

But the general picture in the EU member states is that the formerly important moderate social democratic parties with a social conscience seem to have lost their bearings and that voters are abandoning them in droves. The centre-right parties dominate the governments in Europe, and Germany now adds to this trend.

For the sake of democracy, I think that Europe needs credible alternatives for future governments, and it is hard to imagine these without social democratic parties. But I am at a loss to grasp how the renewal could take place or how popular trust could be restored.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Merkel has reluctantly agree to expanding insurance of bank deposits, she did sign a stimulus plan, but as criticized the US for the overly large one that we have enacted and criticized Obama for planning further stimulus plans.

    She has stated her plan for further Free-Market reforms in Germany. Historically, she has supported reducing the VAT and substituting a flat tax. While German coalition politics have forced her to compromise some of those views her core positions are for fiscal restraint. She has been closer to Bush than Obama in her Middle East policy.

    This was not a win for Obama, and unlike CNN's reporting it does not show a weakening f her position, but rather she is stronger because she is able to take on a more conservative coalition partner than she had previously.

  2. Vibaku,

    I was a bit surprised by the comments that Merkel would be seriously weakened.

    Her personal popularity saved the CDU/CSU, which lost some votes but gained new seats. They would be stupid to dump her.

    The new coalition partner offers at least the possibility to embark on reforms.

    The Bundesrat can prove tricky in a fairly complicated German political system, also in EU related matters.


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