One day on from the Bundestag (German Parliament) election and all eyes are on Germany, asking what has just happened and why? Who can and who will form a new Government and what does this mean for the European project? For the first time in more than 50 years, The Alternative for Germany (AfD), a nationalist, extreme-right and broadly racist party, will sit in the Bundestag, which is sad, shameful and disgraceful when you consider Germany’s history. Will this change the political climate and landscape in the country, and is this the greatest challenge for the post war German democracy ever? Europa United Editor Martina Brinkmann is reflecting on last night’s German Parliamentary election and gives us an insight into how Germany is feeling this morning.
The official final end result
I am experiencing a sort of an ‘election hangover’, which I have never experienced before, and according to the comments on social media, a lot of my fellow Germans are feeling the same.
We see that the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) under Angela Merkel is still the strongest party in the Bundestag, with 33 per cent of seats, and Mrs Merkel has already declared that she understands this as the mandate to form a new Government. For the last years the CDU had enjoyed a grand coalition with the SPD and theoretically this scenario would be possible again, as the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) came in again second with 20.5 per cent. However, during the usual post election TV debate Martin Schulz quickly made it clear that his party will go to opposition and that the collaboration with the CDU is over.
There is only one option left to get the necessary majority – Jamaica
A coalition between the CDU, the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green party, nicknamed ‘Jamaica’ due to the primary colours of each party, is a viable option, but this will not be easy, as these three parties have a lot of different aims regarding the economy, environment and Europe. This could mean that it may take a long time to find common ground, or never even get there at all. The FDP and the Greens signalled already that they are ready for talks, but stated that they won’t give up their fundamental values for this coalition. This stance by the Greens can lead to a direct collision course with the Bavarian Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) which is already part of the CDU team. The Greens have also vowed to block a motion to cap or limit the amount of refugees Germany takes in, while the CSU vowed to support the proposal.
And with the FDP just back from nowhere-land after the last coalition with CDU, they will not want to risk anything that could cause them to lose their newly gained voters’ trust. We are heading towards a difficult time of coalition talks which could even lead to new election in worst case scenario.
What about the AfD? Who voted for them and why? Will they influence politics for the next four years or longer?
It is a shame that this openly racist, extreme-right and nationalist party will sit in a German Bundestag despite the fact that all other parties ruled out a coalition with them. Their first statements after the exit polls were: ‘”we will hunt all the other parties and take back the country and the people“ . In a Donald Trump style move, they will also seek an official parliamentary investigation of treason against Angela Merkel. These announcements where met with derision across Germany today, resulting in huge protests outside of their post election party location in Berlin and in several other German cities. One bright side is that there seems to be inner conflict within the AfD, judging by the fact that their chairwoman, Frauke Petry, walked out of a party press conference today after announcing that she would not join the party in the Bundestag. “I decided after careful reflection that I will not sit with the (AfD) parliamentary group”, Petry revealed to packed a press conference, while sitting alongside other key figures in the party before abruptly leaving the room. Judging by the their faces, it was clear that her colleagues were not given advance warning of what transpired. Could this be a sign that the thoughts of actually having to do real everyday work are a little frightening for some of them? We watch and wait for future developments.
All other parties have already made it clear that they will fight any kind of attacks on the German constitution in the Bundestag from the first day on.
But the debating culture in Germany has already changed over the last few years and I am sure the huge amount of attention these people received from the media helped them get where they are now. A good example was a discussion during a recent TV debate between the Chancellor candidates ahead of the German elections where one hour out of a ninety minute broadcast focused on the refugee crisis rather than issues like social injustice, economy, reforming the tax system and a concept for an over ageing population with insufficient pensions. And this discussion was led by four moderators representing German media. The AfD was invisible in the room without being there and this is only one of the many examples for laying the focus on a agenda that only 12 per cent of the German people voted for yesterday.
Don’t get me wrong, reporting and discussing is part of our democracy, but focusing on a small minority of extremists to get better viewing and reading ratings is plainly wrong for German media which have the mandate to be unbiased and objective, and which are also being financed via the contributions of all Germans to guarantee this.
The way the German media handled the AfD is one of the reasons it became so attractive for protest voters. Let’s have a look at who voted for the AfD. This graphic shows the changes in voters per party who voted now for the AfD instead of their previous choice.
Are all AfD voters right wingers or Nazis?
No, of course not, but they voted for a Nazi party. And if their votes were only a protest against the other parties and their politics, it surely makes them out to be a highly irresponsible part of the German society. Because it is exactly this kind of voting that led to the last German Nazi uprising and eventually to World War Two. If you want to protest against the ‘old’ parties and their politics, vote for the satirical parties like ‘Die Partei’, or one of the other small parties.
Assuming that the talks will succeed, the most likely outcome is that there will be the CDU, the FDP and the Green Party in power. Is it this what you wanted, dear AfD voters? I don’t think so. It’s probable that this coalition could bring four years of stagnation in Germany, as there will be lack of real changes due to their contrasting stance regarding further European integration. And this will also stall any real progress there on the European front, too.
But that story is another future chapter to examine, providing of course that this coalition will really be our next German Government.