Weak Merkel Victory Leaves Policy Questions Up in the Air

Germany's chancellor has a lot of negotiating ahead of her.


Initiative D21

Angela Merkel led her party to a fourth consecutive victory in parliamentary elections yesterday, but she doesn't have much to celebrate. Her party, the Conservatives (CDU/CSU), posted their second worst showing since World War II. Her most recent governing coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), posted their worst showing since 1890.

A tussle between the CDU/CSU and the SPD, and the complicated horse-trading required for Merkel to form any other governing coalition, threaten an already eroded liberal immigration policy. It also creates more chances for Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing nationalist party founded in 2013, to exploit dissatisfaction with the status quo.

SPD leader Martin Schulz responded to the election results by signaling he would not continue the party's coalition with Merkel, who will have to instead turn to the pro-market Free Democrats (FDP) and the eco-leftist Greens. This potential combination is being nicknamed a "Jamaica coalition," after the three parties' colors: black, green, and yellow.

AfD gained the most from the CDU/CSU and the SPD's losses. In 2013 it fell short of the threshold required to to send members to Parliament, but this time won 12.6 percent of the vote and earned 94 seats.

The appearance of a nationalist party in the country that produced the Nazis is worrying, but the situation isn't necessarily as dire as that sounds. "A majority of their voters have said that voting for the AfD was primarily a way to express their protest and dissatisfaction with the other parties," explains Josefin Graef, communications officer for the German Politics Specialist Group of the United Kingdom Political Studies Association. Writing in The Guardian, Cass Mudde argues that the results show "de-alignment from the mainstream parties, rather than re-alignment to AfD."

Graef calls AfD "an extremely heterogeneous and internally divided party whose members represent different shades of a conservative political ideology, stretching from economic-liberal to national-conservative to outright right-wing extremist." Those divisions are not likely to diminish with the party in Parliament.

All the same, AfD's success, however limited, could excite far-right parties elsewhere in Europe. And the party has already arguably played a role in pushing German politics away from a liberal immigration policy.

"I am not sure Germany's immigration policy, specifically its asylum policy, can actually still be characterized as open and liberal," says Graef, "considering that a number of severe restrictions have been introduced in the past couple of years, not least due to the pressure exerted by the AfD."

For now, Germany's immigration policy does remain more open than that of most other EU members, including France and the United Kingdom.

The CSU—the Bavarian wing of the CDU/CSU political alliance—wants the next ruling coalition to back a cap on migrants. Merkel has so far resisted this demand, and Graef doesn't think a cap will be part of the next coalition agreement, since it would violate the individual right to asylum in the German constitution. The CSU's push could, however, lead to increased efforts with other EU members to create "reception centers" in North Africa to intercept migrants before they get to Europe .

If the Jamaica coalition comes to fruition, Merkel will have to balance the CSU's restrictionist demands with the Greens' pro-immigration agenda. And that won't be her only balancing act. "She will face similar challenges with regards to employment and housing policy, taxation and environmental policy, areas in which especially the FDP and the Greens are opposed in many questions," Graef says.

Merkel herself says her goal is to win back AfD voters by offering "good politics." She has been adept as chancellor at offering voters what they say they want. What that, or "good politics," will mean this time remains to be seen.

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  1. Okay, I can’t figure all this shit out. Why can’t everyone just have two parties, like us?

    1. Just one party would be easier, IMO.

      1. Just ask Stalin or Hitler.
        They’ll set you straight.

      2. Well if they take the side of what’s best for The People on every issue, there’s no need for a second party. By definition any opposition party would be entirely based on some nefarious against-the-people goals which should be categorically outlawed anyway.

    2. Check out Mr. ‘you can’t have too many deodorant choices’ over here.

      Why can’t everyone just have one party, like where I live?

    3. Doesn’t matter how many parties they have, none of us are getting invited to them.

    4. I think we have two party domination because of the electoral college.

      1. It’s because our representatives in Congress are elected per geographic district. And people want to vote for the winning team.

  2. I understand kegel exercises are good for a weak Merkel

  3. RE: Weak Merkel Victory Leaves Policy Questions Up in the Air

    Who cares?

    1. Why is Germany such a focus for us? It’s one of maybe four countries whose national elections get talked about here.

      1. Some Americans seem to be scared of German having a 4th Reich.

        1. Some Americans seem to be scared of Germans having too many beers.

        2. Maybe they’ll take Robert Reich.

        3. Only WP and NYT columnists.

      2. No Germany, no Greece. Do you want to live in a world with no Greece?

        1. This Gyro’s for you!

        2. I will not live in a world without deep-frying.

          1. You might live longer.

            1. That’s part of the torture. A world with out Greece keeps me around longer just to suffer more.

  4. “The appearance of a nationalist party in the country that produced the Nazis is worrying, but the situation isn’t necessarily as dire as that sounds.”

    Because any such concern is just more of the simple-minded reductio ad hitlerum that has become so pervasive since ww2 yet almost always wrong?

  5. All the same, AfD’s success, however limited, could excite far-right parties elsewhere in Europe. And the party has already arguably played a role in pushing German politics away from a liberal immigration policy.

    I’m no expert on European affairs– or what’s happening on “Europe Street” but I think it was the liberal immigration policy that pushed German politics away from a liberal immigration policy.

    1. For now, Germany’s immigration policy does remain more open than that of most other EU members, including France and the United Kingdom.

      Which produced an interesting political situation in all of Europe.

      The result was that Germany effectively set immigration policy for the entire EU. No matter what one’s opinion on immigration, how loose or tight it should be, it’s pretty easy to see a politically dicey situation arising when one nation sets the policy for the rest of them.

    2. Yeah, when the ruling parties started giving the voters something they didn’t want, an alternative party sprang forth. It’s not like the AfD pushed out a wise and popular policy through nefarious means, like American liberals always blame the NRA instead of the millions of voters who are pro-Second Amendment.

  6. You know who did NOT have a weak German victory?

      1. Stalin?

  7. What’s the FDP party? Looks like they did almost as well as the infamous AfD.

    1. They’re a moderate pro-business party that did very poorly last election. They’re generally the most libertarian leaning party in Germany but in Europe they’re regarded as rather far right. Of course with the AfD in the picture they FPD looks rather reasonable. And they had a better showing than the idiotic Greens.

      1. How do you mean pro-business? Free-Market types or do they believe in active encouragement of certain companies by government means?

        1. Free-market mostly but they don’t have the balls or the power to go after the strong German trade unions. It’s still German business first but they are much more open to free trade and oppose subsidies. Usually.

  8. You know what other German chancellor gave the voters what they wanted?

  9. I have some Jamaica Mistake salad dressing, it’s pretty good, sorta Caesarish, which seems appropriately Kaiserish.

  10. Why doesn’t Ed find an English translation of the AfD party platform. The Econazi German press is screaming RIGHT WING and nobody has a clue what this means (libertarians? Bastiat society? nationalsocialist death camps?). The term is now a meaningless n-word. The one certainty is that is does NOT mean admirers of Saracen Berserkers running amok with suicide vest Sharia Law enforcement. The platform was published months ago but… go ahead… try to find a copy.

    1. The AfD is extremely diverse. I haven’t read their actual platform, and I’d be surprised if all of their parliamentarians have either. Their support is strongest in the old DDR, mostly Saxony and regions that couldn’t compete after reunification. They’ve blamed the loss of jobs on foreigners and immigrants so the crux of the movement is anti-immigration and anti-free trade. They actually have “trade reform” goals that aren’t too dissimilar from the Greens and other socialist parties. One group just says its to help Germans and the other claims ending free trade helps the world.

  11. pushing German politics away from a liberal immigration policy

    A “liberal immigration policy” apparently means declaring Germany a open borders country without any legal grounding, effectively “inviting” upwards of one million asylum seekers as Frau Merkel has done.
    The “severe restrictions” include temporarily suspending family reunifications for certain classes of asylum seekers (which will either be rescinded after the federal elections or the Bavarian state elections), which are expected to add another 400.000 Syrians alone to the “migrant” population. None of these will be counted as refugee admissions by the way.

    And what the CSU wants isn’t a cap on “migrants”, it wants cap on refugee admissions. Given that something like upwards of 90% of asylum seekers are not expected to sucessfully intergrate themselves into the German job market that would still mean adding 180000 people on the welfare rolls every year.

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