A Thorn in the Side of Germany—and the Rest of Europe
December 8, 2017 | Throughout Europe, right-wing populism is making a comeback. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilder’s islamophobic Party For Freedom (PVV) increased their seat count in the Dutch Parliament from 15 to 20. In this year’s French presidential election, Marine Le Pen of the National Front, another right wing party, won 33.9% of the vote. In 2002, the last time that party competed in a presidential election, they had won only 18% of the vote.
Germany, however, seems to be the country where right wing populism has made its biggest gains. On September 24, 2017, Alternative For Deutschland (AfD) entered the Bundestag for the first time with 13% of the vote, making it the third largest party in government. This has become problematic for the other parties and Germany as a whole. This is the first time that a right wing party has entered the Bundestag since World War II. As a country that has struggled with accepting its Nazi past, the election of another right wing party that scapegoats a certain group of people for Germany’s problems has been troubling.
All of the other parties in the Bundestag are refusing to include the AfD in any ruling coalition. However, what complicates the situation further is how the AfD’s entry into the Bundestag has affected how the other parties’ voting shares break down. The Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), a center/center-right party with Chancellor Angela Merkel at its helm, remains the largest party in the Bundestag with 33% of the vote. The Social Democrats (SPD), the center-left party, follows behind with 20.5% of the vote. Coming in fourth are the Free Democrats (FDP), a free market oriented party, with 10.7% of the vote. Fifth and Sixth place are held by the Left and the Greens respectively, both left-wing parties. They both won about 9% of the vote each.
Before this election, CDU/CSU and SPD governed under a grand coalition, but because SPD won its lowest vote share since the end of the World War II, they have decided to enter into the opposition against CDU/CSU. CDU/CSU has tried recently to form a coalition with FDP and the Greens, yet the political situation has become more dire now as they are struggling to form a governing coalition after FDP leader Christian Lindner pulled out of the negotiations. They could not overcome differences over the environment and immigration.
Since CDU/CSU, FDP, and the Greens have yet to form a coalition, the president of Germany, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, might have to call for the Bundestag to vote on reaffirming Angela Merkel as Chancellor. After that vote, the president will either allow the CDU/CSU to rule as a minority government where they have to constantly seek votes to pass bills, or he will have to call for a new election to be held. The latter option is risky in itself.
All of the parties might see working with AfD as political suicide, but if a new election is called for, it could get worse if AfD manages to increase its vote share.
This could also be bad for CDU/CSU, the ruling party in the Bundestag since 2005. If the other parties were able to increase their voting share, then perhaps another party like SPD, the second largest party in the Bundestag, might be in a position to form a coalition government. It is also possible that Angela Merkel, who has served as Chancellor of Germany since 2005, might be denied a fourth term in office, leaving a real power vacuum within the CDU/CSU.
Perhaps the results of another election will continue the status quo, where all of the parties more or less retain their current number of seats. In that case, the same problems Germany faces currently will still be at play.
Currently, it seems that the SPD is reconsidering its position as leader of the opposition and it might enter another grand coalition with CDU/CSU. The SPD has continually lost power since 2005 when it last led the government, so it is afraid to continue on that trajectory. However, the SPD might be blamed if CDU/CSU cannot muster together a ruling coalition.
Meanwhile, AfD is laughing all the way to the Bundestag. Though it will not be a part of any ruling coalition, AfD’s mere presence in the Bundestag alone is sowing chaos in forming a functioning government. This is why some consider them to be the real winners here. Nothing is certain at the moment, and it has placed CDU/CSU in a predicament where they face a good chance of losing power.
On a higher level, an unstable Germany could mean an unstable European Union. Germany, with 82 million inhabitants, is the largest country in the European Union. Germany has led the European Union in ensuring that it remains fiscally solvent, bailing out the PIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain). Germany has also led the Union by having a strong economy, competing with the Czech Republic in having the lowest unemployment rate among the 28 country bloc. If Germany is rendered unstable politically, then this instability could spread to the economy. If that happens, the rest of Europe could be dragged down with it.
Look out in the next couple of months to see what transpires in Germany.
Ocean Eale studies German studies and political science at Lewis & Clark College and is currently participating in an overseas program in Munich, Germany.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbtiror itself.
Photo by Norbert Nagel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons