As Merkel era ends, German politics in flux - Korea Times
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As Merkel era ends, German politics in flux

By Andrew Hammond

With Angela Merkel in her final weeks of power, the German post-war political landscape was in a wider, historic ferment last week, with the Green Party sensationally topping national polls.

In the weekly Kantar survey, the Greens polled 28 percent, up 6 percentage points. This fact means that, for the first time in the nation's history, the Green Party is more popular than Merkel's right-of-center Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) bloc, and also the left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The reason this fact is so significant for Germany is that the SPD and CDU/CSU have stood as the twin pillars of German politics since the end of the World War II, in a longstanding duopoly of power. But with the CDU/CSU's bearings uncertain in the post-Merkel era, and the SPD not polling strongly either, Germany may now fast be moving from a de facto two-party to a multiparty system, with smaller parties that once functioned as subsidiaries of either the SPD or the CDU/CSU now sometimes eclipsing them.

Last week's Kantar poll put the CDU-CSU at 27 percent, the SPD at 13 percent, the socialist Left Party (Die Linke) at 7 percent, the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) at 10 percent, and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) at 9 percent.

Part of the reason that the two main parties are languishing is their choice of candidates for chancellor: the CDU/CSU has chosen Armin Laschet, the current CDU chairman, rejecting Bavarian Premier Markus Soder who is more popular with voters, while the SPD has put forward Olaf Scholz, who is currently serving as vice-chancellor.

While the Greens may yet drop in popularity, and not become the largest single group in the Bundestag, the major parties are rattled. Annalena Baerbock, who has been chosen by the Greens as their candidate for chancellor, has been roundly criticized in recent days for inexperience, with Scholtz, for instance, saying that, "Germany is one of the world's biggest and most successful industrial countries. It should be run by someone who has experience in governing, who not only wants to govern, but can actually do it."

Germany's political flux is not just a domestic issue, but one that also matters deeply for Europe, and indeed the world at large too. Germany is the continent's most populous country and largest economy, with its influence within the EU likely to grow significantly post-Brexit.

One of the drivers of Germany's political ferment is that the nation's post-war consensus is falling away in multiple areas. The areas that have been thrown into question recently include: History such as attitudes toward World War II, geopolitics including views toward Russia, the economy such as attitudes toward the auto industry and ethics including views toward refugees, and this cultural and ideological turmoil is reflected in the fracturing of the political landscape.

Historically, many Germans have been generally content with their post-war lot, seeing themselves as beneficiaries of globalization, with unemployment at the time of the last federal election being the lowest since the reunification of East and West Germany after the Cold War.

However, favorable conditions within Germany may be changing, as shown by the rise of smaller parties with, for instance, the Greens winning votes on the basis that now is increasingly seen by many as the right time for a political departure in the country, to protect the climate and reduce inequality.

While the Green Party's poll lead brings the decline of the two-party system into sharp focus, the movement toward a multiparty system has longer origins. The last federal election, in 2017, saw some 42 parties competing for 598 Bundestag seats, with six of them securing more than 5 percent of the vote, therefore winning seats in the Bundestag.

In addition to the CDU-CSU and SPD, the winning parties included the Greens and the FDP. However, the story of the 2017 election was the rise of the AfD, which surged to third place, becoming the first far-right group to win Bundestag seats in some six decades.

The flux in Germany also reflects a vacuum at the apex of power, as the most important political leader in Europe, Merkel, gradually transitions from the political scene, having been head of the CDU since 2000 and chancellor for more than a decade and a half. She sits only behind Otto von Bismarck, who served for almost two decades, from 1871 to 1890, after helping drive Germany's unification under Prussia.

Looking forward, the future of the nation's multiparty system may now mean that politics is generally less predictable, bringing an even greater challenge each election cycle to establish a governing administration. So there may be more rotating coalitions, with the problems that these can bring, including potential paralysis and the prospect of the chancellorship becoming weaker.

However, there may be positive aspects too. Firstly, the emerging multiparty system may impede the progress of the far-right AfD, by nullifying its anti-establishment appeal. That group may take its place among many parties, and its support may then be pegged in the 10 to 20 percent range.

Another potential benefit of such a multiparty system is that it might lead to more political engagement. With more parties, there are signs that voter participation may rise again.

This political situation highlights the historical crossroads the nation is now at. While a multiparty system could have some positives, the political danger is a potentially weaker Germany and Europe at a time of growing global geopolitical flux and economic uncertainty in the 2020s.

Andrew Hammond ( is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.


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