German Elections 2017

By Cecilia Godoy

While many world leaders were present in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Angela Merkel was busy campaigning for what would most likely be her fourth term as the German Chancellor. On the weekend of September 22nd, German citizens went to the polls and made their voices heard; and voted for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – Merkel’s party – once again, officially extending her position as Chancellor. If she serves the whole term, she will officially be tied with Helmut Kohl as the longest-serving post-war chancellor. Her main rival during these most recent elections was Martin Schulz, is a former president of the European Union, he is associated with Merkel’s sister party, the center-left Social Democratic Party. The pair had a lot of common views on immigration and pension systems. Merkel focused her campaigning on lowering unemployment and advocating for tax cuts. Schulz, on the other hand, campaigned on the promise of raising taxes and using some of the German budget surpluses “for investments in infrastructure and to help boost the EU.”[1] Security and terrorism were also key issues during this campaign, with both candidates promising to strengthen Germany’s security forces and hire more police forces.

Even though Merkel’s party won the majority, it was still a bruising election that weakened her mandate to form a government in Germany. A political party must win more than 50% of the seats available in Parliament to form a majority government. Given that there are 42 seats, it is immensely difficult to establish a majority government, so Merkel was required to assemble a coalition government with the other parties who achieved representation in Parliament.  Nonetheless, the chancellor’s party “gained just 33% of the vote, its lowest share for decades”[2], making the need for support of other parties to govern greater than ever.

What was even more surprising is that, for the first time in 60 years, the far-right party, known as the party Alternative for Germany (AfD) received enough votes to gain them 94 seats in Parliament. The AfD is known for its anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric and its spokesman, Alexander Gauland, “promised his party would provide staunch opposition to the new government.”[3] The party was founded in 2013 and rose to prominence thanks to a controversial anti-immigration stance which opposed opposition to Merkel’s decision to open up the border to the millions of refugees. Merkel would never form a coalition with them; her best chance right now is to create a three-way coalition with the liberal FDP and the Green Party – a coalition never seen at the federal level. The three-way alliance could provide an extra boost to the German and European economy, as both Merkel’s party and the FDP “are likely to prioritize policies that favor business and trade, with all three promising tax cuts.”[4]

Even though Angela Merkel’s re-election is something to be celebrated, the rise of the AfD is something that should cause concern for the rest of the world. It shows that the anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric that was present during the 2016 campaign and referendum around the world has not yet disappeared. While elections in France, the Netherlands, and now Germany have reversed the legitimacy of these populist uprisings to an extent, their rise in popularity shows us that it is evident that liberal and globalized policies must prove themselves in the new international order.