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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 43, October 12, 2013

Letter from Germany: Merkel Short of Absolute Majority, Reaches Out to Leftist Rivals

Monday 14 October 2013

by Arani Basu

The outcome of the Bundestag Election 2013 has hardly come as a surprise. Deutschland wanted Angela Merkel to continue as the head of the country and the results are just a mere reflection of it. However, the USP of CDU’s success lies in the fact that Merkel is all set to outdo the ex-British Prime Minister, the late Margaret Thatcher, with the emphatic victory! Until now, Ms Thatcher was Europe’s longest serving female head of state. But Angela Merkel’s triumph in the National Election 2013 makes her reach the pinnacle in the history of European politics with 15 straight years of running a government. Angela Merkel is lounging in a historic third-term victory in the elections that has led the conservative party to its best result in more than two decades in Germany.

However, her party (CDU/CSU) appeared just shy of the absolute majority and may have to persuade one of the Leftist-socialist parties to be a part of the coalition government. Merkel’s favourite coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), crashed out of the parliament (won less than five per cent of votes). This is a massive blow to the party as it will be the first time in more than half-a-century that the Free Democrats will not be represented in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament. The final results gave the CDU/CSU 311 seats, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) 192, the Left Party 64, and the Greens 63.

It may take days, even weeks, before we come to know, which party – the Social Democrats or the Greens—will be a partner of Angela Merkel’s coalition. At the moment, both the SPD and Greens are hesitating over an alliance with the Merkel-led government.

The Likely Scenario

The stage is thus set for yet another Grand Coalition. The top leadership of the SPD is tightlipped over a potential pairing with Merkel. Insiders say that the party is divided into two camps over supporting the conservatives. In fact their leader, Peer Steinbruek, is not too keen to join the coalition; according to him, playing the Opposition’s role in the parliament will make the SPD a bigger and better force in the next Election.

According to an ardent SPD party worker, Otto Kaiser, “Coalition with the CDU will not be on an even playing field. We have entered into Grand Coalition before and the experience was not good. In the end, we fear that everything would turn out as it did during the last time. Merkel and her party will get the credit for anything positive that will happen within the government, even it was the fruits of our own hard work.”

The Green Party, which got around 8.4 per cent of votes, may also enter into the coalition with the CDU/CSU. The Green Party and CDU are already state-level coalition partners. But, the Chancellor is likely to approach the SPD first as her coalition partner simply because it may give her an upper hand in governing the country in the coming days. With the SPD in her kitty, she can hope to face a more timid upper legislative chamber and may have the requisite two-thirds majority needed to change the German Constitution in future.

Rise of AFD and Fall of FDP

An interesting development of the 2013 General Election in Germany has been the emergence of the Alternative Party of Germany (AFD) in the field of politics. This was their first election
and they were only a short of 0.3 per cent which is necessary to get a representation in the parliament. But this election has made the AFD a force to watch out for in the coming elections and can give other political parties a run for their money. The Right-wing Alternative for Germany basically wants to abolish the euro, and has been able to make an instant appeal to the voters, draining votes from the Free Democrats and probably causing that party’s defeat.

However, the biggest setback of the General Election was the horrible show by the pro-business Free Democrats. The FDP had never fallen below the five per cent mark in any election before until September 22 and naturally the defeat was a massive blow to the party’s morale. The party braces for major post-elections reshuffle with its Vietnam-born Chairman, Phillip Roesler, being the first to resign.

Issues and Obstacles Upfront

Both the SPD and CDU/CSU have been on the same page when it comes to foreign policy. Even as an Opposition party, the SPD supported Angela Merkel’s bailout and stability fund and established itself as a steadfast companion of the foreign strategies. In a few days’ time Greece would need a third bailout package. One can expect these two parties to hit the headlines together once the negotiation begins over the bailout package.

However, it is on the domestic reforms that both the CDU and SPD are definitely not on the same wavelength. Especially when it comes to a minimum wage and raising taxes, the two parties are nearly contesting and raising voice against each other, one for and another against. In its election campaign the SPD this year has taken a big stride to the Left, and its suggestions are not likely to catch any affection amongst the capitalist CD/CSU.

If the SPD joins the Merkel-led coalition government, it will certainly try to implement its central campaign promises, which includes a countrywide minimum wage of 8.50 euros, new regulations for temporary work and also rolling back Merkel’s subsidy for households that decides on not to take advantage of the government-guaranteed place for their kids in day-care.

At the same time, the SPD would also want to put a cap on rent and raise taxes on the wealthy to 49 per cent from 42 per cent. As of now, the Merkel Government is sternly against the idea of raising the tax limit and has cleverly evaded the issue. But economists say an increase in the tax limit will bring an additional 11.5 billion euros in the public casket each year. Besides, the SPD wants to introduce dual citizenship for people born in Germany to parents with migrant backgrounds.

Conclusion

However, Angela Merkel’s victory is a fabulous personal achievement which consolidates her unobstructed claim to be the central political leader in the present crisis-stricken Europe. She is the third Chancellor to win a third four-year term in post-World War II Germany after conservative heavyweights Konrad Adenauer, who was Germany’s first post-war leader, and Helmut Kohl, who led the country during the reunification in 1989-90.

Angela Merkel is a prodigy of Kohl, and largely benefited from a robust German economy which is still very strong and flaunts a low unemployment rate of less than seven per cent. This has helped her to stand out among the leaders of other European nations such as France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Portugal, who were voted out of power over their handling of debt and unemployment crises. However, to secure her legacy in what could well be her final term, Angel Merkel will need to address domestic economic reforms that she has ignored so far and also start grooming a successor.

The author is a Doctoral Candidate at the Inter-national Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture, Justus-Liebig University, Giessen (Germany). He can be contacted at aranibasu.b@gmail.com

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