Current Affairs Editor
The 26 September 2021 has been a crucially important day for Germany, but also for Europe. The election held on that day did not only have the role of deciding the political succession to Angela Merkel in the Kanzleramt (Chancellery) after 17 years of "Mutti" leading the nation. While its full outcomes are not yet entirely decided, this election will also have a lasting impact on the international political scene.
Indeed, the election results have provided no clear-cut outcome, which makes prognoses for the future difficult. While the formerly ruling party, the CDU/CSU has come second behind the socialist party SPD by less than two percentage points, the SPD is in no position to dictate what will happen when it comes to forming a government. In fact, the German political tradition of coalitions has placed the ball in the smaller parties’ court.
In the race for the chancellorship, the Green party (Bündnis90/Die Grünen) initially did very well, and their candidate Annalena Baerbock was at times even ahead of Armin Laschet, the candidate of the CDU, and Olaf Scholz, candidate of the SPD. However, in the months running up to the election, the Greens lost a considerable number of percentage points, and thus reached 14.75 % on 26 September. Next to the Greens, the neoliberal party FDP also managed to position itself as a key player in the ongoing coalition negotiations.
In coalition scenarios, a leftist alliance between the Green Party, the SPD and the Left Party (Die Linke) was quickly ruled out. The two most viable options were thus so-called “flag” coalitions, named after national flags for their colours. A “Jamaica” coalition would involve the CDU (black), the FDP (yellow) and the Greens. However, this plan was officially abandoned on 6 October 2021, and the “Senegal” or “traffic light” coalition of SPD (red), Greens and the FDP has become most likely. It would be the first of its kind in German history.
Whatever the outcomes of this election will eventually be once a government is formed – which will still take time –, it is however clear that this could have wide-reaching consequences. Germany, next to France, is still one of the main driving forces of the European Union. As France also faces upcoming presidential elections in 2022, the potential leadership changes in both countries could profoundly impact the EU. At a time when Europe is searching for a place between the growing Sino-American rivalry and the equally growing political ambitions from Russia, these elections and their results could potentially destabilise European efforts to assert themselves - or strengthen them.
The situation will thus have to be especially closely monitored through the lense of foreign policy. Under Merkel, Germany has overall been fairly quiet on the international scene and has shied away from many engagements and open alliances, often positioning itself in the role of a mediator. This was for instance the case when the Syrian Civil War started, as Germany repeatedly stressed a diplomatic resolution over a joint European military intervention. Germany only agreed to military measures that were ultimately never taken when it became known that the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad was using lethal sarine gas against his own people. Likewise, Germany is a mediator in the peace efforts to resolve the war between Ukraine and Russia, sparked in 2014, and continues to do so despite the increasing Russo-European tensions over the last years.
Decisions like these have also had an impact on overall foreign policy and perception of the EU by the global community; the EU’s dependence, in particular in a military context, on the US has also played a role. And as China has become increasingly aggressive in its foreign and economic policy over the last decade, the EU has not decided on a joint strategy on how to navigate the clear opposition between China and the US, nor its own relation to China. While the US is heading into the direction of a conflict with China, Europe has important economic relations with Beijing and a slightly less hostile relationship to consider. These exterior problems highlight the EU’s internal divisions, as even Germany and France as leading forces often steer in different directions. Under Macron, France continues to campaign for more European autonomy, both in an economic and a military context, while Germany has usually urged for caution. Berlin's approach to foreign policy could now be changed under the new coalition, although there remains the problem of how cooperative the three different parties will be, as their political ideas sometimes differ to quite some extent. The effectiveness of this historic coalition will therefore only become apparent after some time.
Whatever government Germany will officially be led by for the next four years, the tensions and looming threats on the international scene will arguably create a challenge for Germany - and, by extension, for Europe and its relation to the world.
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