The Upcoming German Elections: Continuity or Chaos?

In ten days, German voters head to the polls for parliamentary elections. This particular election is a watershed moment as Germany’s long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, is not running for re-election. After 16 years in power, the center-right chancellor is stepping down. Currently, the election is too close to call. As a result, the United States is intently watching the German election. Now, the questions become, how will Germany’s new government conduct its foreign policy and how will this impact the United States’ relationship with Germany?

Source: Flickr

How Do German Elections Work?

German elections work differently than those in the United States. German parliamentary elections utilize a combination of proportional representation and single-district constituency processes Each German voter submits two votes; the first vote is used to elect a local member of Parliament (MP) using the first-past-the-post system. In this vote, each candidate that wins the most votes (or is the first to move past the post) in the individual districts wins a seat in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament.

The second vote is choosing a party and is key as it “determines the overall proportion of seats that each party holds” in the Bundestag. Then, the seats are allocated in accordance with how the parties fared in the election. Typically, no one party wins the majority of votes; the party with the most votes forms a coalition with another party (or parties) in order to govern. The Economist recently announced a poll to predict the winner of the German election. While there are several combinations of potential governing coalitions that may lead the next German government, the poll indicates that the combinations most likely to form a majority include the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Greens, and the centrist Free Democrats (FDP); the Greens, the FDP, and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD); or, the least likely coalition, the CDU/CSU and the Greens.  

Who are the CDU/CSU Parties?

The CDU/CSU, the current conservative governing bloc, is expected to perform well in the upcoming election on September 26. Led by Armin Laschet, the party’s foreign policy platform calls for continuity, aligned with Chancellor Merkel’s stances. For one, the CDU/CSU governing coalition are staunch supporters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a central part of regional and global security. The transatlantic alliance with the United States also centers prominently in the party’s foreign policy worldview, viewing the United States as a “central partner.” Additionally, the CDU/CSU, while noting that China’s rise must be countered, seeks close cooperation with China while coordinating with the United States and Europe. On Russia, the CDU/CSU promises to take a firm stance, striving to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Who are the Greens?

Overall, the Green party, led by Annalena Baerbock, wants to adopt a firmer position on both Russia and China and support further European unity. The Greens view NATO as a key “collective defense mechanism.” They are also deeply committed to European cooperation, Germany’s membership in NATO, and a strong transatlantic alliance with the United States. Should the Greens come to power, they would offer a shift toward a more aggressive foreign policy on China and Russia as they view the showdown in global politics to be between authoritarian and democratic ideals. Specifically, the Greens strongly oppose the Nordstream 2 pipeline with Russia and the European Union’s investment deal with China.

Who is the SPD?

The SPD foreign policy platform varies little from the other parties. Led by Olaf Scholz, the SPD supports NATO military deployments for peacekeeping mission, crisis prevention, and conflict management under the “framework of international order and its institutions.” The SPD is also a strong proponent of the transatlantic alliance and views the United States as a key ally. Similarly, the SPD advocates for deeper European integration. In short, the SPD maintains a deep commitment to the European and transatlantic alliances, seeing the European Union, the United States, and NATO as integral to Germany’s foreign policy. Moreover, the SPD looks to strike a balance between engaging and containing Russia and, while not considering China to be an adversary, advocates for the development of a Europe-wide strategy towards China.

The German Election and the United States

The United States and Germany have a long history of close relations. Today, as the State Department notes, “Germany is one of the United States’ closest and strongest allies.” While relations between the two countries declined under the Trump administration, U.S.-German relations remain strong. Yet, the U.S.-German relationship is entering unchartered territory as Ms. Merkel has decided not to pursue another term. However, no matter which party wins or who becomes chancellor, the U.S. and German relationship will remain close. As Secretary of Blinken noted in Berlin on his June trip to Germany, “I think it’s fair to say that the United States has no better partner, no better friend in the world than Germany.”

The foreign policy platforms of each of the major parties projected to form a possible governing coalition align well with those of the Biden administration. For one, all parties in contention support Germany’s positions within the European Union and NATO. All parties concede that Germany and Europe need to recalibrate the relationship with China. While there are minor agreements on the fate of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, all parties seek to take a hard line against Russia. Perhaps most importantly, at least to the Biden administration, none of the countries challenge the importance of the transatlantic alliance. While Germany’s upcoming promises to cause a little bit of chaos, continuity looks to be the order of the day.

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