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Merkel’s fourth term: “The Magic Skin” of in-system democracy in Germany

Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Party conference in Essen resulted in an important decision ahead of the 2017 parliamentary elections in that country. Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected as CDU Chairperson and has automatically become a candidate for the chancellor’s post for another term. In case Merkel’s party wins the elections, she will head the government for a fourth term, since 2005.

Yet this spring, the political quintet of the world politics was represented by Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Barack Obama, Matteo Renzi and David Cameron. Six months later, only Merkel remains there…

She enjoys a high approval rating by more than half of the voters in Germany. However, voters have many claims to the chancellor’s current tenure. Nothing of the kind had happened before. What troubles voters most is Merkel’s open-doors policy towards immigrants amid acute crisis in Europe. That is why, Merkel said at the CDU conference she expects German election in 2017 to be “tough like no other”.

Amid serious political changes in Europe, Germany is considered an island of prosperity and stability in Europe and even in the entire Western world. In the meantime, CDU fails to get enough votes to form a one-party government. CDU needs a coalition, and consequently, Merkel herself seeks political accord and concession and not an authoritarian national leadership. In 2017, CDU appears to have problems with forming a coalition it needs. Note that Merkel did not speak much about her coalition prospects at the party conference.

Ahead of elections, Germany’s both leading traditional parties in power – CDU and SDP (Social Democratic Party) – seek to find alternative partners for their own coalition government. The leaderships of SDP and CDU are keen to divide the current “Big Coalition.” The traditional social-democratic voters are not happy with the participation of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in the coalition government. It is mostly because of being in power, not in opposition, that SDP’s rating is going up and down around the set point of 22%. For CDU, the union with “the red” is not good either, as there is an effect of bifurcation because of control over foreign policy and economy by the Social Democrats. In particular, during the last three years, this bifurcation could be seen on the example of Germany’s policy in the east and concerning the Ukraine crisis. The Social Democrats heading the foreign ministry have consistently demonstrated cooperativeness with Moscow.

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Potentially the situation is that after elections, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats will be seeking an opportunity to form their own government in coalition with junior partners from the current opposition. Merkel’s coalition plans remain unclear yet. The only thing she said at the conference is that CDU must not let Social Democrats create a coalition with the Green and the Left. Merkel believes that the Left and the AfG are impossible partners for the CDU unlike the Green and Free Democratic Party (FDP). Will FDP manage to overcome the 5% threshold to the parliament? It failed to do it in 2013. Now the rating of German liberals from FDP ranges around 5% risking to “fly-out” of the federal politics.

Let us assume that FDP is elected to the parliament in 2017, the fundamental problem will remain anyway. There will not be enough votes to form a coalition government in either combination: CDU-Green-FDP or SDP-Green-Left. Here are the ratings of the parties at the federal level now:

  1. CDU — 32%
  2. SDP — 22,5%
  3. AfG — 14%
  4. Left — 11,5%
  5. Green — 10,5%
  6. FDP — 5%

To get an opportunity to form the government coalition, either CDU or SDP need to move forward from their current ratings. Arithmetically, it will be easier for CDU to do it. This means that the prospects of the Left-Center Left coalition in Germany remains even more obscure than the one of the Right-Center-Green coalition. At Bundestag, Social Democrats openly slam the Left for populism. SDP has demonstrated that a bloc with the Left is possible at least at the regional level. However, the Green and Liberals will hardly want to join the red-red coalition. The latter lacks enough votes to create the coalition government and will hardly manage to get more in the current political developments.

To have an alternative combination to the Big Coalition in Germany’s politics, something extraordinary is needed that would affect dramatically one of the two traditional leaders: CDU and SDP. If the preferences of German voters remain unchanged, the two parties are doomed to another Big Coalition next autumn.

We anticipated the following trends ahead of 2017 elections: CDU will further lose votes, but not dramatically. SDP will slightly improve its positions, but not as much as the oppositionist AfG will. Actually, emergence of a new non-system right-wing political actor impedes formation of a coalition admissible to potential members of the coalition government.

The crisis of the post-war democratic order in Germany is reflected in this very process. The new Big Coalition will just discredit the traditional order of the post-war democracy. If Merkel heads the new coalition, she will have to drink that cup of bitterness. The Magic Skin of the in-system German democracy will be shrinking in her own hands.

EADaily’s European Bureau

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