What you need to know about the national elections in Germany
BERLIN – The Germans will vote on a new government on September 26 and for the first time since 2005 Angela Merkel is not running. After nearly 16 years in power, Merkel, 67, will hand over control of Europe’s largest economy to a new chancellor.
The race for the Chancellery is wide open and in the wake of Brexit and the election of President Biden in the United States, the world will be watching which way the Germans take their country.
What’s at stake?
Pulling Germany out of the coronavirus pandemic, with a focus on reviving the economy, remains a most pressing issue on the home front. Climate policies, which will be more urgent after the recent floods, and the greening of the country’s industrial sector are also on the minds of voters. And digitization and the guarantee of equality and social security were also featured in the debates.
Whoever takes power will decide how much to build on Merkel’s policies and how much to put the country on a new course. If his Conservative Party remains in power, there will likely be more consistency than if the Green Greens made history and took the chancellery for the first time.
On the foreign policy front, the Tories would largely seek the continuity of Germany’s burgeoning trade with China and its positioning on Russia, notably the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which is expected to be completed later this year and would carry fuel. natural gas directly to Germany from Russia, bypassing Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. The Greens are against the pipeline.
All political parties – with the exception of the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD – agree that Germany is a firm member of the European Union. The Greens are pushing for a more ambitious relaunch of the European project, with harsher actions against Hungary and other members who do not respect democratic principles.
For years, Germany’s approach to China has been “change through trade,” but China’s crackdown on dissent within the country and flexing its muscles. abroad have questioned this strategy. The United States has pressured its reluctant allies to take a tougher line on China.
Unlike four years ago, when migration was still on the minds of many Germans and the anti-immigrant AfD first won seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament, it struggled to attract large numbers of people. new voters this year. The party has polled around 10% and analysts say it is weakened by deep internal divisions and the lack of a galvanizing issue.
Who will be chancellor?
Polls indicate that, as usual, no party will win a majority of seats in parliament, so whoever wins the most seats would be the first to form a coalition government and choose a chancellor.
Each party nominates its candidate for chancellor before the start of the campaign, although the public is more focused on candidates from the main parties who have a realistic chance of winning.
Traditionally, these have been center-right Christian Democrats (Ms. Merkel’s party) and center-left Social Democrats. But for the first time, the green candidate for the Greens is seen as having a real blow to the chancellery.
Here are the main candidates for the post of chancellor:
The Greens: Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the Greens since 2018, is seen as more pragmatic than many in her party, which has its roots in the environmental and student protest movements of the previous century. At 40, she is the youngest candidate, the only woman, and the only one not to have previously held an elective mandate.
The Christian Democrats: Armin Laschet heads the Christian Democratic Union and is governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. It is seen as the choice of continuity, having largely agreed with Merkel on major political decisions, including the authorization of around 1 million migrants in the country in 2015. But a public dispute over the candidacy for the chancellor with the head of the Bavarian Christian Social Union – the two parties campaign and caucus together in Parliament – weakened him at the start of the race. And the blunders he made in recent days after the massive floods that hit Germany have not helped him.
The Social Democrats: Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democrats, German Minister of Finance and Vice-Chancellor since 2018, is considered the most experienced of the three. He was Minister of Labor in a previous government under Ms Merkel and has years of state-level experience in Hamburg. But his party largely dominated the polls in third place, behind the Tories and Greens, and Mr Scholz struggled to generate buzz around his campaign.
The other parties vying for seats in parliament are the Free Market Democrats, the far-left Left Party and the AfD. Dozens of small parties, from the anarchist Pogo Party to the Animal Welfare Party to free voters, are also on the ballot, but are unlikely to cross the 5% hurdle needed to be represented in the Bundestag.
Why is Germany important?
Within the European Union, Germany is often seen as a de facto leader. It has both the largest economy and the largest population and, along with France, is widely viewed as a driver of policy and decision-making.
Under Merkel, who became one of the top leaders of the 27-member bloc, that influence grew further, although she failed to build consensus among member states on refugee policy. and on preventing the democratic retreat of Hungary and Poland.
Ms Merkel also used her country’s weight as the world’s fourth-largest economy and a member of the Group of 7 industrialized countries to defend global climate policy and push for tough sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea. His successor will inherit thorny questions of how to handle an increasingly powerful China and a push from some in Germany and the EU who are ready to re-establish trade with Moscow. The central relationship with the United States is only beginning to gain a foothold after four destabilizing years of the Trump administration.
During Merkel’s four terms, the nation of 83 million people underwent a generational shift, becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, but also aging significantly – more than half of all eligible voters have 50 years or older. Social norms have become more liberal, with a legal right to same-sex marriage and a non-binary gender option on official documents. But a resurgence of the far right and a breakdown in political discourse at the local level threatened the cohesion of the country.
What role will Chancellor Merkel play?
Until a new government can be formed, a process that can take several weeks to months, Merkel will remain in office as interim head of government. The formation of the government will depend on how the vote falls and how difficult it is for the winning party to come to an agreement with smaller supporters to form a government.
The Chancellor stepped down from her party leadership in December 2018, but remained as head of government until after the election, a position that left her a lame duck, making her decision-making more difficult during the election. second year of the pandemic. She has vowed to stay out of the election campaign and has so far focused on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.