Germany’s election gets messier for Merkel – again
September 20th, 2013
01:54 PM ET

Germany’s election gets messier for Merkel – again

By Heather Conley and Amb. John Kornblum, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Heather A. Conley is senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs (CSIS) in Washington and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. John Kornblum is a former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and CSIS Senior Advisor. The views expressed are their own.          

As she enters her third and final election on September 22, German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be losing her political mojo in the campaigns’ final days, just as she did in 2005 and in 2009.  Is it her refusal to emote?  Has the absence of a European and foreign policy finally begun to worry even the most pacifist of Germans? Whatever the reason, Merkel is again stumbling a few days before the polls.

In 2005, Merkel’s pre-election musing about tax increases went down badly with voters A 21 percent lead in the polls melted to a small plurality. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party was forced to build a grand coalition with her political nemesis, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

In 2009, German forces in Afghanistan called in a questionable yet lethal NATO air strike in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz just days before the vote. Merkel and her government were forced to admit publicly for the first time that German forces were in actual combat in Afghanistan and not peacekeeping operations. Again, the German people were not amused with this revelation and the election was much closer than analysts predicted.

Now, as we enter the final stretch of the 2013 race, Chancellor Merkel’s CDU has consistently polled between 40 percent and 42 percent – a ten year high for CDU – while the SPD, her closest competitor, dipped at one point to a historic low of 23 percent. But supporters are again pulling back like they did in 2005 and 2009. This time the cause may be Barack Obama.

Revelations about NSA snooping and the total confusion surrounding U.S. Syrian policy have abruptly awoken the German voter from its Merkel-induced slumber. And they have clearly awoken on the wrong side of the bed. Although foreign policy is far down the list of election priorities for most countries, for Germans, human rights and peace do not lose their importance. Both the NSA and Syrian issues have hit a sensitive German nerve. While German public opinion strongly opposes military intervention, Germans are most dismayed by the image of total political disarray over these critical issues.

More from CNN: Is German politics becoming Americanized?

Merkel is still in the lead, but it is looking increasingly questionable whether her current coalition with her liberal junior coalition partner will survive: a sentiment that was reinforced during last week’s Bavarian state elections when her coalition partner received less than 3 percent of the vote.  Germany’s complex proportional voting system does not necessarily reward the winner. With seven parties contesting the race, it is now nearly impossible to calculate the final seat count in the parliament which determines which party will form the government.  Every vote counts.

And with three days left until the election, Merkel and the CDU know they must run faster, harder but find it difficult to do so. Curiously, the three mainstream German parties – the CDU, SPD and the Greens – are seeing little increase (if anything slight decreases) in their popularity.  But smaller, issue-focused parties are seeing some improvement, such as the new Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party which advocates for Germany to leave the Eurozone.

And here is where the election finishing line again becomes more challenging for the chancellor.  Merkel desperately needs her current junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, to make the minimum 5 percent threshold to enter parliament to have just enough seats to continue to lead German with her current coalition.  If the AfD receives 5 percent (it is currently polling at 4 percent), Merkel would likely not include them in a future coalition because to politically accommodate an anti-euro party would gravely undercut her political vision of “more Europe.”  The SPD and the Greens, the likely left alliance, presently do not have enough votes to form a majority coalition.

No matter the outcome, this election will thoroughly reshuffle the German political deck. Either Merkel will be forced for the next four years to defend a weak majority with her current partner, the FDP, or she will again govern with the SPD in a Grand Coalition. This latter prospect would make dealing with Germany more difficult in general and could potentially split the SPD politically in half. SPD has never recovered from its last coalition adventure with Merkel and the party will not come easily to this decision, dragging out coalition negotiations and increasing European economic uncertainty. A Grand Coalition 2.0 will likely mean a more skeptical and contested relationship with the U.S. as well.

At the helm of this political configuration stands Angela Merkel. Undoubtedly, Merkel’s final term in office could be her most difficult yet, profoundly affecting her political legacy. And whatever happens at home, the next four years will certainly be difficult for Europe and the United States.

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Topics: Germany

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soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. John

    Probably, quite contrary. Is American politics becoming Germanized? This was the case in the last 2 decades, what eventually led to American failures, what many voices prior to 9/11 called the 'biggest intelligence failure'. The George W. Bush politics will make Americans winners and America one success.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  2. Messy

    Please note that the Greens are NOT a mainstream political party. They are a radical group who have never gotten more than seven percent of vote. The Free Democrats (FDP), who are, and have been very small, are between the SPD and CDU in ideology and have been in parliament since the beginning in 1949.

    September 21, 2013 at 11:17 am | Reply
  3. Mal

    The Greens are no 'radical group', as 'Messy' wrote earlier on. In fact they are a mainstream-party, exactly like the FDP used to be, Baden-Württembergs 'Ministerpräsident' (Don't know the english word for it, maybe 'Governor'?) is a politician of the Green Party.
    I'm looking forward to the election and to a red-red-green coalition, although this seems to be very unlikely...

    September 21, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Angela Merkel's nickname "Mutti" was on the CDU's own banners – "Mummy". That was the appeal to many German voters. In difficult times, the CDU projected Merkel as the safe pair of hands. Some adverts featured her hands positioned together, the fingers in the shape of a diamond or a heart, the way she does in countless pictures. This advert was symbolic and had an impact on the voters, knowing they would be in good hands.

    September 23, 2013 at 10:17 am | Reply
  5. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    September 29, 2013 at 2:52 am | Reply

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