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How Germany’s Elections will Shift European Politics
On September 26th, Germany held elections to choose their new Bundestag (federal parliament) members and chancellor. While this was a regular election season for the Bundestag, it was even more important that the Bundestag was set to elect a new chancellor as Angela Merkel, Germany’s current chancellor, announced she would not be running for reelection. While the Bundestag is voted on by the people, the chancellor is chosen by the Bundestag which made this election all the more important as depending on who won seats in their federal parliament, those new members would choose the next chancellor. Angela Merkel did not put herself up for reelection making this the first non-incumbent chancellor since World War 2 to be chosen – Olaf Scholz.
Olaf Scholz is a member of the Social Democratic Party who was able to gain a narrow lead over Angela Merkel’s party, the Christain Democratic Union; in turn, they were able to secure more seats and have the chancellor in their party. This win came as somewhat of a shock after the Social Democratic Party only won 20.5% of the vote in 2016, and may indicate a new change for all of Europe towards a centre-left leaning government.
People in Germany are becoming less bound by class or religion – which could be one of the reasons Merkel’s party received their lowest levels of support in decades. This could be a symbol of the changing political demographic in Germany, however, there are some concerns over whether or not Scholz is a true proponent of what voting members of the Social Democratic Party believe in. During an interview with CNBC, Robin Bew, managing director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, states that “While the mood music is going to be a bit more positive towards some of the things that the EU wants, I think the ability of the German chancellor to act decisively — that’s going to be pretty constrained.”
With these predictions, it can look like things seem bleak, but there is still hope that Germany can be shifting towards a more progressive and left-leaning government. Because there was not a party with a clear majority in this election it will force a coalition government where a “body of advisors…is formed when different political parties choose to cooperate [in a] temporary alliance…and competing parties instead negotiate to work together.”
Even if Scholz does not fulfill the hopes and dreams of the Social Democratic Party, he will still be making lasting changes in the political landscape within Germany based on how he interacts with different parties. Scholz is more likely to be working with the Greens, a further-left-leaning political party that combines environmental protection into their core values. In the end, it doesn’t matter if Scholz enacts the changes that he promises because simply interacting more with the Green Party inside the coalition government will give it more influence. From there the Green Party and other left-leaning members of Bundestag will have more opportunities to have their voice heard by the German people which they can use to leverage in order to slowly gain more elected seats.
Within Europe as a whole, this itself can be a huge success. As the Council on Foreign Relations explains, Green Parties started in the 1960s as a “fringe movement” but have been gaining popularity within governments as well as broader support among their populations. Having such an influential member of Europe (the chancellor of Germany) not only having to interact with them in the coalition but willingly wants to, can be the start of more serious growth within European Green Parties. The way that Scholz interacts with more left-leaning parties within his own country will allow other left political parties throughout Europe to gain more power within their countries. Because of Germany’s high level of influence within the European Union and as a founding member, countries look towards it as one of the biggest policymakers; now that Scholz is working closely with further left parties they will get a bigger say that will give more power to similar Green Parties throughout Europe.
However, the coalition poses some difficulties on its own. The biggest difficulty is that with a coalition it will be a 3-way party system and harder to manage, this might make it so that there will be less solid leadership from Europe. Without Germany as a leading policymaker, the rest of Europe is in a more vulnerable state leading to unstable and uncertain situations without a continuous leader, like Angela Merkel was, to fall back on. It’s possible that Germany will be taking more of a backseat role in the EU as there will be less decisive decisions coming from it. With a coalition, there are a lot more opinions to be heard, and without Merkel behind it to make strong decisions, other countries aren’t going to be able to rely on it as much to be one of the main voices coming from Europe.
This election and the new coalition will significantly change Germany’s stance within Europe. While the chaos of the coalition and lack of leadership from Angela Merkel might force it to take more of a backseat within policymaking, the overall political shift we saw in Germany will nevertheless ring strong through Europe in the coming decades. It’s clear that, while slowly, the people of Germany are shifting from centre-right to centre-left and the coalition will give more far-left-leaning-parties influence that they were unable to have before. Regardless if Germany takes a slightly smaller role in policymaking in Europe these next few years, it does not change the fact that it is one of the most powerful, if not the more powerful decision-maker in the EU. Germany’s political changes are strongly felt throughout the continent and can indicate future changes in other progressive European countries.
Hannah Winnick is a senior in high school who currently writes for Foreign Policy Youth Collaborative.