December 8, 2022

What the German Election Means for Merkel and Europe

The German election on September 24, 2017 is set to be the most significant in recent history. Angela Merkel has been chancellor for 16 years and her win would mean another four-year term with a coalition government of her Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD). This will be Merkel’s fourth campaign as Chancellor, but she is now 66 years old, which makes this her last chance at being elected again. The stakes are high for Germany – how it does economically matters to Europe as a whole.

Angela Merkel has faced an increasingly difficult campaign, with issues such as migration leading to the rise of the anti-immigrant, far-right protests that have made headlines around Germany. There are also challenges from the left – the Social Democratic Party (SPD) led by Martin Schulz is in a dead heat with Merkel’s Christian democratic Union (CDU). Merkel’s CDU has a narrow 1 point lead over the SPD, and it will be a difficult task for either party to win an outright majority. In that case, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier would ask the leader of the strongest coalition party – most likely Angela Merkel – to form a government. In this scenario, Merkel will have to forge a coalition with both the SPD and/or the Green Party.

Merkel has been widely criticized for her open-door migrant policy, which welcomed more than 1 million refugees in 2015 alone. The backlash against this policy is reflected in recent polls. A YouGov poll indicated that 42% of people in Germany think Merkel’s policy on refugees is bad for the country, while only 24% believe it to be good. Immigration has taken the center stage in this election – with German voters favoring new limits on immigration according to a Pew Research Center survey . While Germans are more concerned about terrorism, Merkel’s opponents have been quick to seize on the perceived flaws of her open-door migrant policy.

Terrorism is a major concern for Germans, with an attack in December 2016 in Berlin that left 12 people dead and the continued threat from ISIS weighing heavily on voters’ minds. The recent spate of terrorist attacks in Europe has shifted political discourse in the country. Merkel’s opponents have been able to highlight the fact that her last three terms have been marred by terrorist attacks across Germany, something the general public has not forgotten. It is no surprise therefore that Merkel’s strongest opponent Martin Schulz has taken a much tougher stance on terrorism and national security than she has, vowing to create 10,000 new police officer jobs and to deport criminals with dual nationalities.

Merkel’s biggest competition has come from Martin Schulz of the SPD, whose party has gained ground on Merkel’s largely due to his strong stance against Trump and criticism of U.S.-German trade. Schulz, who was President of the European Parliament, has been on the campaign trail touting a return to stronger EU integration. He believes that Germany and France must be Europe’s driving force and has said, “I want there to be a new departure for Europe: we will make our own sovereignty – of course in friendship with America, in friendship with Britain, but on our own.” When it comes to foreign policy, he has voiced opposition to globalization and free trade.

One possible outcome of the elections will see the CDU/CSU, Greens and SPD work together in a so-called ‘red-red coalition’. This type of coalition would be unprecedented in German politics since World War II – giving it much attention. This coalition would see the Greens agree to drop their opposition to defense spending, something that Merkel has campaigned on increasing. It would also see the Green Party support tax cuts which they have generally opposed in the past. Merkel’s CDU/CSU party will run under a campaign platform of strengthening immigration policy and containing terrorism, while the SPD campaign has centered around social welfare and labor reform.

Despite the fact that CDU/CSU has seen a fall in their numbers, Merkel is confident of her re-election and has stated: “I will fight for my fourth term with everything I have”. A lot of the success of her campaign will be determined by how she tackles both her domestic and international challenges. In the face of terrorism, her ability to show leadership coupled with a strong domestic policy would make for a very successful election campaign.