The electoral campaign in Germany has entered the final straight. Last Friday, the leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union Angela Merkel came back from her three-week vacation in order to start a six-week electoral tour of the country. She is going to visit as many as 50 cities from Passau in the south to Cuxhaven in the north. She will finish in Munich on Sept 22, two days before the voting. Experts are sure that she will win again.
“The race for the first place is over,” the leader of the Free Democratic Party, the candidate for Merkel’s new partner, Christian Lindner, said last weekend. But though being far ahead of her rivals, Merkel is going to run till the end. Her strategy is clear: to avoid confrontation and to evade moot questions. Her advantage is that the supporters of the Cristian Democratic Union will vote in any case, while the other voters need to be mobilized. This is why one of her party’s posters says. “Enjoy the summer and make your choice in the autumn!” This summer, Merkel claims that things are not bad and that she will carry on – quite a good approach a society preferring a consensus to unnecessary risks.
Merkel’s strategy is to be as calm as possible and to avoid disputes. Last month, her key rival, Martin Schultz from the Social Democratic Party, tried to attack her with a warning that Germany was facing one more refugee crisis. But mass media did not bite: they just said that Schultz’s statistics were not accurate. And Merkel came out dry.
She is perfectly aware that the better-off voters better react to specific promises, like full employment by 2025 or a cut in the income tax, than to the Social Democrats’ attempts to address big problems. This is why she is focused on domestic issues. During her July speech, Merkel gave the foreign policy just 40 seconds. Her priorities were the efforts to cut taxes and to provide allowances and housing to families with kids. She promises that if re-elected, she will raise the minimum level for the 42% income tax from 54,000 EUR a year to 60,000 EUR a year and will cancel the solidary tax the Germans have so far paid to the eastern provinces. She also promises full employment and just a 3% unemployment rate in 2025.
In the security sphere, Merkel promises to enlarge the police and to strengthen the Bundeswehr. The Christian Democrats believe that the Europeans should be more decisive. When speaking in Dortmund last Saturday, Merkel urged Trump to be more restrained in his military rhetoric. But the other big problems - like the need to strengthen the Eurozone and to create the EU banking and defense unions or Russian-U.S. relations – are not on her agenda.
She is quite amicable in her foreign policy. She said that she will not demand sanctions against the Visegrad Group for their decision to dismiss the EU’s refugee quotas and prefers negotiating with them. In contrast, her rival, Schultz insists on punishing them.
Regarding Erdogan, Merkel is also quite peaceful. During her recent meeting with bloggers, she said that the Turkish president and she were in a mode allowing them to talk to each other.
Merkel promises that the growth in defense costs will not affect the Germans’ welfare. The Social Democrats are criticizing her for yielding to the Americans’ demand to raise the costs to 2% of GDP. If the Americans’ plan is implemented, by 2025, Germany’s defense costs will redouble. Schultz is worried that this will make Germany Europe’s biggest military power, while his colleague, Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said that the elections in Germany were just a referendum on whether Germany should join Donald Trump’s “weapons madness.”
Concerning domestic problems, when speaking in Dortmund last Saturday, Merkel criticized car producers for their lies about their engines. In the past, she defended them from tougher EU rules, now, she will push them towards electric car production.
Air Berlin’s bankruptcy was bad news for the Chancellor. She hurried to lend the company 150 million EUR. This will certainly be a pretext for her rivals but they will hardly be able to make best of it.
Regarding migrant, Merkel is at variance with her partner, the leader of the Christian Social Union Horst Seehofer. She promises that the situation of 2015, when Germany received as many as 890,000 refugees, will not recur. She was laconic concerning this, “Wir schaffen das” (“We will manage it”). And this aphorism may well become Merkel’s slogan during her next term in office.
Things are very good for her now: her party is 14-17% ahead of its key rival, the Social Democratic Party. And she is still much more popular than her major opponent Marin Schulz – even though the latter still hopes to win the race.
According to the last polls, Merkel has 38%, while Schulz has just 24%. This is very close to the figures recorded during the previous elections in 2013, when the CDU and the SDP polled 41.5% and 25.7%, respectively. Alternative For Germany is the most probable candidate for the third place. Its only strong rival here is Die Linke.
If nothing extraordinary happens, the CDU-CSU and the SDP will get 2/3 of the votes and Germany will get a stable two-center political system.
The Free Democrats, who failed to get 5% in 2013, may this time get as much as 8%. The Greens hope for 7%.
The only problem here is that each fourth voter is not sure if he will vote. As a result, 1/3 of the voters may refuse to vote on Sept 24. This is too much for Germany.
Liberal mass media are very much worried about the third place of Alternative for Germany. They claim that they are new Nazis. The party urges the Germans to regain their national identity and to get rid of the sense of guilt. Their candidate is not their leader is Frauke Petry but 76-year-old national conservative Alexander Gauland (former member of the Christian Democratic Union). The second candidate is open Lesbian Alice Weidel. Gauland says that Germany must stop receiving refugees and suggests sending refugees back. His party’s second trend is anti-Islamic rhetoric. Euroskepticism is no longer in fashion in Germany: the Germans are not against closer European integration, all they want is that Germany provide no financial guarantees to its partners. So, Alternative for Germany will try to adjust itself to this mode.
And now the main question: who will be Merkel’s partner? The Christian Democrats hope for one more coalition with the Social Democrats, but this time, their 39% and 8% will not be enough and the most probable candidate for a partner is the Greens.
The only alternative is a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats, but this scenario is bad for the latter as it will not let them run for power during the next elections. Their voters are displeased to see their leaders cooperating with the Christian Democrats and would like to see them in opposition. This is exactly what the Social Democrats have promised until recently. But something has changed. In an interview to ZDF last Sunday, Martin Schultz said that he was open for one more coalition with Merkel.
Now let’s talk about Merkel. If in coalition with the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats will be more careful regarding the Eurozone and more compliant with NATO’s policies. Both forces support the idea of European Defense Union and both of them are quite skeptical of Macron’s plan to create a common Eurozone budget. Just like Merkel, the Social Democrats advocate multi-speed one-core Europe. Their leader Christian Lindner – who may act as Foreign Minister in the CDU-SDP coalition – believes that the Ukrainian crisis must not be an obstacle to business contacts with Russia. His last statement that de facto Crimea was Russian caused serious protests in Kiev.
The grand coalition with the Social Democrats is a good basis for Merkel to push her European policies. The Social Democrats may object to bigger defense expenses or the sale of German arms to some Saudi Arabia, but the coalition of 2013-2017has shown that they cannot break the basic rules.
EADaily’s European Bureau