Germany: What’s next for liberals and AfD after the election

And how SPD plus Greens plus Die Linke is not going to happen. Read few comments.

Questions:

1. Die Linke beat Greens, it is quite unexpected results. How that happened in your opinion and do see any chance that SPD, Greens and Die Linke could create the coalition as in theory they could have the majority?

2. What kind of fate do you expect for FDP and AfD after they did not make it in Bundestag?

Answers:

Sebastian BukowWissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätsicherung

1. Right now (and for this legislature) a red/red/green coalition is quite unlikely, due to the fact that SPD and greens still reject this option, and the Linke will not accept that coalition as well. But there are minor changes in SPDs statements, saying an left-wing coalition is not possible right now (which includes: it might be possible in future, that’s a little more openness than before).

For now, two options are likely: Grand Coalition or CDU/Greens – hard to say which option is more likely, both have specific problems. In both cases, SPD and Greens are afraid of electoral loss in the next federal election after governing with Merkel (and CDU performed bad after the grand coalition as well). SPD will have a party convention on Friday, after that we will know more. Greens will have a convention on Saturday. But I guess, both parties will have preliminary talks with CDU/CSU and will then decide if coalition negotiations are useful.

A option, already mentioned by one or two greens politicians, would be a minority government of CDU/CSU, e.g. including agreements with SPD & Greens to cooperate in special issues. But this is really unlikely (Merkel wants a “stable coalition”)

All in all: I guess a Grand coalition is a little bit more likely than a CDU/Greens coalition, but the latter is not impossible (and already discussed within the green party).

The Linke was a little bit stronger than Greens, like 2009. But the polls before the election did not say that. Greens’ loss is based on voter changes towards SPD and CDU mostly, as far as we know right now. That means: Greens did not manage to win these groups. But Linke and FDP lost voters as well, and this shows that the election was mainly a competition between both big parties, and: Merkel did dominate the election based on her personality. But there are more reasons that – combined – brought trouble and electoral loss for the greens: Their campaign focused on financial politics, which is not a core competence of greens. They had a lot of trouble with their history (the pedophilia-documents from the early 1980ies) and made a few mistakes in their campaign (“vegetarian day” and so on). But most important might be the problem that there was no clear chance on participating in government and due to that a lot of voters changed towards SPD. The second great loss (towards CDU) is a result of Merkels popularity (and in this group it could be an effect of greens financial plans as well).

2. FDP and AfD will focus on local / Länder level. FDP will have to reorganize their party and will renew their intraparty elites, but this will be very hard. They had a lot of losses within the last year and are not present in too many Länder parliaments as well. As we know from history (Greens, Linke) a loss of federal parliament mandates will not necessarily be the final end of party, but they need to reorganize (and to redefined their positions) in combination with a come-back based on Länder parliaments. AfD will be supported by this surprisingly result and will focus on the next elections, esp. the European election next year.

Alex Clarkson, Lecturer in German and European & International Studies, King’s College London

1. The reasons the SPD and Greens are unwilling to enter into coalition are ostensibly policy based. In particular, the Linke’s pacifist rejection the use of German troops for military purposes outside of the NATO area, coupled with the tendency among parts of the Linkspartei to informally sympathize with ostensibly ‘revolutionary’ yet authoritarian regimes (Cuba, Venezuela the ‘Axis of Resistance’ etc.) means that both the SPD and Greens are afraid a coalition with the Linkspartei would paralyse Germany’s ability to even take minimal foreign policy action. The Linkspartei’s rejection of established German policy towards the Eurozone crisis is also a factor, as the SPD in particular is worried that any acceptance of the Linkspartei’s agenda would lead to the Social Democrats haemorrhaging centrist voters who support the current policy approach. When it comes to domestic social and economic policy, however, there is a lot of room for compromise between the three parties.

The less dogmatic ‘East German’ wing (which come from the key bastions of the party’s base in Brandenburg, Saxony and Sachsen Anhalt) are now positioning themselves away from demands of a total unravelling of the Hartz IV reforms, though the West German component of the Linkspartei around Wagenknecht will still try to block this. It is really up to the Linkspartei to develop more nuanced approaches towards foreign and eurozone policy (Gysi, and the recently deceased party grandee Lothar Bisky made moves in that direction) before the Greens or the SPD can contemplate intensifying cooperation.

However, there are also historic factors that need to be kept in mind. A large swathe of the Green Party in East Germany stems old GDR dissident networks and still remain deeply suspicious of former SED members within the Linkspartei to this day. Within the SPD, even among more left-wing party members there is a deep loathing of Oskar Lafontaine and other former SPD figures who defected to the Linkspartei in protest against the social reforms of the Schröder/Fischer era. Moreover, former members of extreme German left-wing parties (DKP, MLPD, Linksruck etc,) who regularly accused the SPD of ‘selling out to capitalist imperialism’ also joined the Linkspartei in large numbers from the late 1990s onwards and can be found in senior positions. So there is a lot of bad history between the SPD/Greens and Linkspartei to be overcome before a coalition on the federal (as opposed to the East German Länder level) can really function well. In the long run, only as a post-reunification generation of politicians (in the Linke politicians like Katja Kipping and functionaries like Jeremy Ristic) takes over all three parties can many of these historical resentments be overcome.

2. The FDP really has one more regional electoral cycle to demonstrate it has any future in the German political system. If it is unable so stay in the Saxon or North Rhine Westphalian parliaments in particular, it is likely to be unable to have the financial basis or political infrastructure to stage a recovery on the national level. In particular, the FDP suffers from the lack of a wider popular base, which has been eroding since Genscher and Lambsdorff’s decision to shift support from the SPD under Schmidt to the CDU/CSU under Kohl split the party in 1982. In the ensuing two decades, many of its core social liberal supporters shifted to the SPD or Greens, while many economic liberals have shifted to the CDU/CSU since the early 2000s. A party without a dependable core support that can give it the needed 5% in every regional or national election cannot survive in the long term. Tactical voters only get you so far in the Federal Republic. That is also why I doubt the AfD has much of a future. In many ways, the AfD is a vast exercise in political astro-turfing whose initiators are still rather murky. But as the Pirates have proven, if they cannot organise themselves and build a strong core that can go out and campaign for them in a disciplined fashion on a regular basis, than they are likely to fall apart as they come under pressure to confront political issues beyond their focus on the Eurozone crisis. Even though everyone points to the Greens as a precedent in being a social movement that managed to organise itself sufficiently, people gloss over the fact that the core movements the Green Party was built on took over a decade to take shape and build coherent structures before it achieved lasting success in the Bundestag in 1982.

Rüdiger Wurzel, Professor,  Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Hull

1. Yes, this is an unexpected result. However, it is less a case of the Linke ‘beating’ the Greens and more a case of the Greens defeating themselves. The Greens were riding high in opinion polls (especially after the Fukushima reactor meltdown). However, their general tax proposals received little support amongst the general public. Their proposal to introduce a ‘vegetarian day’ was also ridiculed and rejected as interventionist by in particular the FDP but also the CDU/CSU. Moreover, the debate about some Green party members having endorsed statements in favour of legalising sex between children and adults in the 1980s was also very damaging. Leading Greens have apologised for what they now rightly consider as a grave mistake. The Greens have recently commissioned a prominent German political scientist to research this dark chapter in the Green’s history. Some of the provisional findings of this research were released during the election campaign.

The Greens, which lost 2.3% in votes compared to the 2009 election, have accepted the 2013 result as a defeat. However, the Linke, which actually lost 3.3% (i.e. almost 1% more than the Greens) in votes compared to 2009, is trying to sell its result as a success.

There is no chance of a ‘Red-red-green’ coalition (i.e. SPD-Die Linke-Greens coalition). The Linke holds positions (e.g. on the EU and NATO) which are totally unacceptable for both the SPD and the Greens. Moreover, the CDU/CSU gained 7.7% (compared to 2009). The CDU/CSU is by far the largest party (faction) in the new Bundestag. Merkel will therefore remain chancellor. A theoretically possibly SPD-Die Linke- Greens coalition would almost definitely fail to get a majority in the Bundestag for its proposed chancellor as a significant number of SPD and Green MPs would not vote for that person as they are fundamentally opposed to a coalition with the Linke and would not consider it as politically legitimate to oust Merkel who missed an absolute majority for the CDU/CSU only by a whisker. There will therefore not be talks between the SPD, Linke and Greens about the formation of a coalition government.

2. There will be a change in leadership in the FDP. In fact, it is already under way. The party will also need to renew its programme and change its ideological outlook. There is no sufficient electoral support in Germany for a party which endorses a free market ideology. Under its new leadership the FDP is likely to endorse (again more strongly) a social market economy ideology while emphasising also issues such as human rights, minority rights, data protection, etc. However, it is likely to take the FDP considerable time to recover from this election disaster.

The AfD is very much protest party. For the time being its only unifying issue is its ant-Euro stance. (It proposes to introduce a single European currency only for Northern European member states which, however, amounts to demanding the abolition of the Euro and the reintroduction of the DM because there is no support for a Northern European Euro amongst member states). The AfD gained votes from disaffected former CDU and in particular former FDP voters (i.e. supporters of the past coalition government). However, it also gained support from former PDS voters. Interestingly, the AfD gained more support in the former East than in the former West Germany. Moreover, the AfD has also gained some support from sympathisers of right wing extremist parties. Ideologically it is an amorphous party which appeals to anti-Euro voters from different political parties. Having said that, the AfD is likely to do (even) better in the European Parliament elections which are often used by voters to register a protest vote. However, the AfD will struggle to come up with a coherent party programme which caters for its very disparate supporter base. Without a coherent ideological programme leadership struggles are likely to occur within the near future. Importantly, one has to keep in perspective the AfD’s relative electoral success (of missing only narrowly the 5% hurdle). The CDU/CSU increased its share of votes by 7.7% to gain overall 41.5%. The AfD on the other hand received only 4.7%. Clearly in Germany there is very strong public support for Merkel and her handling of the Euro crisis.

Christian SchweigerLecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

1. Die Linke has also lost some support recently but still maintains a substantial amount of support in the Eastern parts of Germany. B90/Greens on the other hand did not have a good campaign this time. They started from a very good position in the opinion polls two years ago – this was the time of the Fukushima debate on nuclear energy, when they won the position of prime minister in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Ever since the party has been rocked by leadership wrangles and the new leadership duo Tritten and Goering-Eckhardt focused the campaign predominantly on financial issues. This played quite badly with traditional green voters. According to a first analysis of the results many of them went to vote for the CDU this time. Moreover, in the past two weeks of the campaign Trittin was plagued by a scandal which went back all the way to the early 1980s, as he had to admit that he had supported the election manifesto of the Green/Alternative List in West Berlin in the early 80s which called for the legalisation of consensual sex between adults and children.

2. On the FDP: They are in quite a bad state at the moment and neither represented in the Bundestag, nor in many regional parliaments. They will therefore have to profoundly renew themselves under a new leadership. This could work if they move away from a pure neoliberal low-tax agenda towards a broader agenda of liberal social issues. It has just been reported that Philip Roesler, the FDP leader in North Rhine-Westphalia will take over as the new national FDP leader. He could potentially rebuild trust for the FDP as he is not an unpopular politician.

On the AfD: Very little is known about this one-issue party (against the euro membership). They will probably have to present a broader agenda to gain more votes in the future but at the same time I would suggest that their standing will increase if the eurozone crisis continues and more money has to be transferred to Greece and/or possibly other countries such as Italy, Slovenia or (again) Ireland.

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