Slower decisions but more diverse politics in Germany after the elections


Germany is much less polarized than many believe, as the results of the federal elections on 26 September showed. Angela Merkel's departure has seriously shifted the balance of power, and the coming weeks (or rather months) will be spent on forming coalitions. The aggregate results show that the Social Democratic Party (SPD), led by Olaf Scholz, won, narrowly beating the Christian Democrat CDU-CSU coalition. In third place were the Greens, who had their best performance ever, although they might still have reason for disappointment after looking like front-runners a few months earlier. We asked Dr. András Hettyey, Germany expert, associate professor at the National University of Public Service, about the results, the coalition prospects and the development of German-Hungarian relations.

What is special about the recent German elections? What do you think are the most important consequences for Germany and the EU in the short and medium term?

The people's parties (SPD, CDU-CSU) together won only 51% of the vote. Although this poor showing was predicted quite accurately by pollsters, its actual occurrence means that an era has come to an end in Germany, since post-1949 Germany was characterized by the dominance of the two parties, often with 70-80% of the vote. For this reason, it is not too much to call this election historic. The SPD or the CDU will still hold the chancellorship, just in a weaker position than before. The result reflects the diversity of Germany and, as a consequence, it is likely that decision-making will be more difficult and slower at home and in Europe. 

Given the results, how likely is the formation of the so-called traffic light coalition (SPD-Greens-FDP)?

At the moment, I see it as more likely than the Jamaica coalition (CDU-Green-FDP), mainly because of the growing criticism of Laschet within the Union. In particular, Söder could benefit from the demise of Laschet and a period in opposition, during which he could position himself as the savior who will lead the CDU/CSU back to power in 2025. Moreover, in 2005, at the end of a similarly close election, the CDU claimed the right to form a coalition by coming first, if only by a small margin. It will now find it hard to deny the SPD the same.

Do you think that the taboo against extremist parties will be overcome and that the far-left Left Party will be included in the governing coalition?

The Left Party cannot be included in the governing coalition because of its poor performance.

What role could the AfD play in German politics after the Merkel era?

The AfD will continue to absorb the 5-10% protest vote that is dissatisfied with the system and the elite. The result shows that it has not much greater potential than that, it could barely sway voters away from the CDU/CSU, and it itself lost 20% of its 2017 voters. True, the AfD's position was more difficult now than four years ago because it lacked migration as a rallying issue.

The CDU/CSU lost almost a third of its voters with Merkel's departure. Is the conservative union expected to shift more to the right, looking for new voters? Based on the election results, what can we say about the polarization of the German political scene?

The CDU's shift to the right makes no sense, as it has hardly lost any voters from that direction. Those who were disillusioned by the CDU/CSU's shift to the center abandoned the party alliance earlier. The German election also confirmed the thesis that the vote is decided by politically moderate, centrist voters: the far-right AfD fell short of its result four years ago, with 10 percent, while the far-left Left Party (BalD), which fell by the most among all parties, got 4.9 percent. 85 percent of German voters did not want a loud and radical political style. Germany does not show the strong political polarization that characterizes Hungary and many others.

How might German-Hungarian relations change in the post-Merkel era? With a left-wing dominated government and parliament, can we expect to see a further intensification of the rule of law debate with Poland and Hungary?

Hungarian-German conflicts are also a certainty for the future, especially in the case of an SPD-Green-FDP coalition with a Green foreign ministry. Even so, Berlin will stick to its strategy and will seek to resolve Hungarian rule of law problems through the European Union rather than bilaterally.

Can we expect a shift from the former pragmatic German foreign policy towards a more values-based foreign policy?

I don't expect much of a shift towards a value-based foreign policy, even for a Green foreign ministry, because economic interests bind countries together, especially the recent Hungarian arms purchases show this. Of course, all this may change after a change of government in Hungary in 2022, but until then I feel that the main challenge is to find a way for the Hungarian economy and German investors to cooperate fruitfully in a world where electric propulsion will dominate, not the internal combustion engine - which is the technology that generates a significant share of German investment.

 Rudolf Berkes


The interview was conducted in the framework of the international project "EUscepticOBS: analyzing Euroscepticism, informing citizens and encouraging debates", in which Political Capital is working with international partners to create a special website and database to track the movements of Eurosceptic parties. We also monitor major political events in Germany, Austria, and Hungary on a monthly basis.