Exactly another month and then the Germans go to the ballot box to choose a new parliament. Merkel, after nearly sixteen years in power, no longer participates. This makes the German political playing field completely open again for the first time in a long time.
And it‘s exciting: Merkel’s party CDU/CSU, the Christian Democrats, is worse than ever and ends in the latest polls even among the SPD Social Democrats. They seemed written off before, but started a wonderful catch-up race. After an ambitious start, the Greens are back in the polls.
What‘s at stake?
‘s no shortage of major themes. The elections are in the middle of the fourth corona wave. Where the list tractors hoped that they could talk about the post-pandemic economic recovery, it is mainly about rights for (un) vaccinated persons and potential new lockdowns. Climate was already a major theme in the campaign, and that‘s what it only got bigger after the deadly floods, with more than 180 deaths. And that has been the drama in Afghanistan over the past few weeks.
It’s one crisis after another. And in addition to these acute cases, the new government awaits plenty more urgently: years of overdue maintenance of (digital) infrastructure, pension reforms in a country that is almost half of over 50 people, increasing child poverty.
It‘s not just about Germany either. These elections decide who will be de facto de new leader in the European Union. As a country with the most inhabitants and the strongest economy, Germany has the biggest finger in the porridge there.
Correspondent Wouter Zwart explains in this video why the German elections are very important for Dutch people too:
Three list leaders have a chance to succeed Merkel: the current state prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet (60) of the CDU/CSU, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (63) of the SPD and Party President of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock (40).
Laschet was long seen as the victorious winner. As Prime Minister of the Land with most inhabitants, he has shown that he can govern and compromise with a wide range of parties. The Catholic Laschet is more believer and conservative than Merkel, but would roughly continue the Merkel rate as Chancellor. German voters value continuity and predictability, and less experiment, at least so far has often been so far.
Yet, Laschet voters are not really hot. Judgment: he is colorless, it is unclear what he stands for, he shows too little leadership. If the CDU/CSU win the election, it’s rather, rather than thanks to Laschet, that‘s how it sounds.
Swallowed Corona Policy
There is a
great chance that voters are also looking at candidates’ crisis management at this time. That was always Merkel‘s strong point, but Laschet hasn’t been able to convince that far. His corona policy swallowed too much and a big blunder during a visit to the flood area – where he was filmed extensively smiling during a serious speech by the president – has even further affected his image.
Whether Green live-puller Annalena Baerbock is a good crisis manager, we don‘t know – yet. She held various roles within the party, made an impressive career there, but has no board experience, even at state level. That has been its weakness from the beginning, especially with a people who like to know where it’s up to.
But still, climate change is at the top of the list of things they‘re worried about in many Germans. And in the announcement of Baerbock as a party leader, voters seemed to love the ‘Neuanfang‘ she promised. But at that optimistic beginnings followed a series of blunders, including the “fun” of her resume and overwriting passages in her book Jetzt, without mentioning the source. As a result, she has to apologize all the time, which reinforces the impression of an inexperienced politician.
Baerbock remains the young fresh woman between two older men, only that is why many young and progressive Germans will vote for her party. But to become Chancellor, she also needs to appeal to many voters outside the common Green public, and she doesn’t seem to be able to do so far.
Man with the Money
SPD leader Olaf Scholz benefits from the weak performance of Laschet and Baerbock. He has also been able to profile himself as a crisis manager in recent times. As Finance Minister, he has distributed billions of euros of corona support among the population. Even after the floods he was ‘the man with the money’ again.
In surveys, Scholz invariably emerges as the most appropriate Chancellor. Even CDU and Green voters have some preference for Scholz. He wasn‘t inside his own party.always so popular. Two years ago, he lost the battle for the party presidency of two relatively unknown party mates from the left wing. Scholz is known as a decent but boring driver. These traits now seem to be very good in people who see more of a new Merkel in him than in Laschet.
A coalition over left or middle?
Since the 1960s, Germany has always managed to form a majority government with two parties. For the upcoming government, Schwarz-Grün (CDU/CSU with the Greens) often comes along as a possible option.
However, three parties might be needed this year, for example a Jamaica coalition from CDU/CSU (black), Greens and the liberal FDP (yellow). Due to the advance of the SPD, another combination is increasingly called: SPD-FDP greens (the traffic light coalition). That would mean that the CDU/CSU should be in opposition for the first time in 16 years. A fright for the traditional driver’s party, that they try to avoid with man and power.
Especially by sparking the fear of a red-green ‘experiment’. Laschet: “I will fight with everything I have, to prevent ideologists from taking control of this country.”