_ Alan W. Cafruny, Professor of International Affairs on the faculty of Government, Hamilton College. 23 September 2017.
Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) are expected to achieve a comfortable victory in the German elections on September 24, propelling her to a 4th term as chancellor. The CDU/CSU alliance is polling at 36% and so a coalition government will once again be assembled. The most likely result will be a continuation of the present Grand Coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who are polling at 22%.
However, facing the possibility of their worst ever result in a Bundestag election, many members of the SPD believe that further participation from a position of weakness in a Grand Coalition could prove devastating to the party. If the SPD were to refuse the offer of a coalition, Merkel could also choose to form a government with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), polling at 10%) and the Green Party (8%).
The Left Party (Linke) is receiving a respectable 10% in recent polls, but an SPD/Green/Linke coalition is unlikely in view of recent polling data. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), also polling at 10%, is expected to win 50 seats as the far-right makes its debut in the Bundestag.
Notwithstanding profound underlying problems afflicting the Federal Republic and the European Union, the election will almost certainly represent continuity rather than change, at least in the short term. With respect to refugees, there is little distance between Angela Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz. Prodded by the rise of AfD, Merkel herself has moved substantially to the right after having backed an EU-Turkey agreement to prevent migrants from proceeding to the EU and pledging that there will be no repeat of the decision to welcome migrants from Syria in 2015. Both parties now support enhanced border controls and deportation of rejected asylum seekers.
Merkel’s agreement to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2024, as demanded by Donald Trump, has been called “completely unrealistic” by Schulz and would also probably be resisted by the FDP. In addition, Schulz and SPD Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel have pledged to seek to remove the approximately 20 nuclear warheads under U.S. command at the Bundeswehr airbase in Büchel in the Eifel. However given the SPD’s weakness — and its longstanding general adherence to Atlanticism– it is unlikely to prevail on these issues, nor is its more moderate position concerning the Minsk process and the raft of new U.S. sanctions against Russia likely to gain much traction. Although less outspoken than Sigmar Gabriel regarding American attempts to derail to Nordstream 2, if necessary Chancellor Merkel will almost certainly provide strong support for the second pipeline against opposition from central and eastern EU member states as well as Washington.
Having embarked — to the satisfaction of Berlin — on sweeping and strongly contested neoliberal reforms of the French economy, Emmanuel Macron now plans to present the new German government with proposals for reform of the eurozone, including an expanded, stand alone budget facilitating a genuine fiscal union, a European Monetary Fund, and a eurozone finance ministry and parliament. However, the chances of such a “Grand Bargain,” resuscitating the diminished Franco-German tandem, appear remote. Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble have shown little appetite for significant reforms of the eurozone, speaking only of “small contributions,”and proposing tax cuts in the context of Germany’s budget surplus. Nor is the SPD — and certainly not the FDP — likely to endorse anything as ambitious as Macron’s proposal. Notwithstanding the growing problems of inequality and precarious work in Germany — and the deepening uneven development within the eurozone—there remains widespread popular opposition to a “transfer union.” The German elections are unlikely to change anything in this regard.