The results of the German elections show that Angela Merkel’s party is losing ground. But the far right has lost more.
If there was a big loser in the decisive national election in Germany on Sunday, it was the conservative and far-right wings of that nation’s political spectrum. The results suggest that Europe may be losing its fascination with the far right in the wake of the chaos that characterized the Trump years.
There was little feeling that right-wing forces provided meaningful answers to many of Europe’s most intractable problems.
The Social Democrats and the German Greens – the latter winning their biggest national election victory ever – are up more than 5% combined from their results in 2017, the last time an election was held. Meanwhile, the conservative Christian Democratic Union / Christian Social Union coalition of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) saw their results drop by 8%. It was the worst performance for right-wing candidates in Germany since World War II; in the previous elections, the AfD had become the third largest bloc in the Bundestag.
These dramatic changes in electoral results still leave a host of uncertainties and a path to potential chaos in a nation that has long served as the European Union’s anchor nation, with Merkel the undeclared but widely recognized leader of the continent . With its economic power and dominance, Germany was the country to which the continent’s weaker and poorest nations turned for help during economic crises. He also led the EU’s response to Russian provocations, waves of immigration from the Middle East and Africa, and challenges from America throughout Donald Trump’s tenure as president.
Now, after Merkel refuses to run for a fifth term, Germany is threatened with its own chaos. It seems unlikely that the right will succeed in forming a government, despite suggestions from CDU leaders that it would attempt. The race for position could last for weeks or even months. The Social Democrats, who have gritted a plurality by a hair’s breadth of their teeth, are expected to introduce a powerful new Green Party and the smaller but still important Free Democrats.
During this difficult interregnum, Germany could find itself without a cohesive government – a retained Merkel functioning as interim chancellor with little remaining power. This could threaten to turn into a situation similar to those faced by Italy and even Belgium, which holds the record of 541 days for the longest period of any European nation without a democratically elected majority government.
All of this leaves the way open for French President Emmanuel Macron to reclaim Germany’s position as Europe’s unofficial leader ahead of his own crucial elections in France in the spring. It turns out that France and Macron are expected to assume the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months, and France has already started to prepare the ground for this period by expanding the use of French as the main language for proceedings. of the EU.
But the most obvious is the confirmation that, contrary to fears at the height of Trump’s power in the United States as far-right parties and authoritarian regimes have mushroomed in Europe, it is not the future that a large part of the continent intends to be forged.
In 2019, Italy’s far-right Lega, led by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, was the country’s top voter. In France, Marine Le Pen, who had reached the last round of the presidential elections two years earlier before losing to Macron, led the national polls. Hungarian anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban has seen his Fidesz party win more than half of the votes in hotly contested national elections. He then began to rule by decree.
Today the situation has started to change. In France, Le Pen faces a challenge from far-right media star Eric Zemmour, who threatens to split a far-right constituency that currently comprises barely a quarter of the electorate. In Italy, Salvini continues to hammer home his views, but it is the technocrat Prime Minister Mario Draghi, economist and longtime president of the European Central Bank, who is now pulling the strings in a more moderate way. And the European Community has started attacking the right-wing government in Poland on issues ranging from press censorship to the rule of law and oversight of the judiciary.
Admittedly, there were issues ahead of Sunday’s vote that encouraged Germany’s far right to believe it had a chance to maintain its position of strength. Immigration was at the top of their platforms, especially in the wake of America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and its sudden rampage of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees whom the Germans feared would overwhelm their nation. . So far, this fear has not materialized.
But the far right, especially the AfD, has done little good by adopting an anti-vaccine and anti-mask program. Some observers thought it might help the party in some areas, but overall, such a platform at a time when Health Minister Jens Spahn was warning of an “unvaccinated pandemic” did not materialize. clearly not gone well.
Beyond Covid’s missteps, the waning appeal of the German right wing is a tribute to the feeling that it is time to move on to another approach to the nation’s problems. Indeed, the German Social Democrats invoked the memory of former West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, who became a much admired chancellor when he assembled a coalition of his own Social Democrats and Free Democrats and won. the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to unite Europe in one community. Beyond Germany, there has hardly been the impression that right-wing forces have provided meaningful answers to many of Europe’s most intractable problems.
As Germany determines its new coalition, the Biden administration must demonstrate that it will work professionally and effectively with the emerging government. Since the United States’ entanglement with France over a submarine contract, much of Europe has been skeptical of the United States and its willingness to deal directly and openly with its countries. long-standing allies, but a new German government offers an opening to forge new strong ties with European leaders. .
Significantly, a center-left government in Germany comprising the Social Democrats and a powerful New Green Party could play a critically important role in supporting Biden’s environmental initiatives around the world, his preference for diplomacy by relationship to military force and its pressure for a government-dependent economic program. spending rather than austerity. This will certainly not bring any comfort to the Trump wing of the US Republican Party, or any similar political force in Europe.