Election Results

A Bitter Win for Democracy

Germany Election
Bummer. Source: AP

Democracy can be bitter, because it allows people not to vote for what the elites believe to be correct, but for what they want.

This is the lesson learned by those who believed they could ignore the anger of voters. The election is a turning point, because it has established the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) as a new force in Germany, and because it has brought the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) back into the German parliament, the Bundestag.

FDP Chairman Christian Lindner was following the right instincts when he positioned the party as being more critical of Europe than his predecessors. Former party leader Hans-Dietrich Genscher had prevented them from offering the party as a channel for growing Euroscepticism. Mr. Lindner can now play a powerful opposition role or put his stamp on the new administration.

Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer, on the other hand, backed the wrong horse. The internal party advisors who were able to convince him to take a soft approach to the chancellor during the campaign have harmed his credibility. He would have been better off relying on his own instincts.

The chancellor helped give birth to the AfD by leaving too much space on the right. She stretched and may even have violated existing laws with her refugee and euro policies, and in doing so she incurred the wrath of prominent constitutional lawyers and large segments of the population.

The continuation of a multicultural approach seems difficult to impossible

The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has already stated that it is no longer interested in being part of a grand coalition. Contrary to his own assertions, this spells the end for SPD candidate Martin Schulz. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Labor Minister Andrea Nahles and SPD speaker Thomas Oppermann will probably battle over the party chairmanship and parliamentary leader position, since there simply isn’t enough room for everyone.

Today the SPD represents the reversal of the Agenda 2010 reforms, which can be seen as one of the crowning achievements of Social Democratic postwar policy. Early retirement, the minimum wage and rent control, combined with a united, welcoming culture, are the opposite of the pragmatic and market-based course the party chose under the leadership of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Germans are no longer interested in the outdated, ideological party of class warriors.

Unless the SPD changes its mind, the Greens will have to gear up for a coalition with the CDU/CSU and the FDP. But what sort of a coalition will it be? In light of the declared views of the population and the CSU’s reversion to the mantra of former chairman Franz Josef Strauss, that there should be no room to the right of the party, the continuation of a multicultural approach seems difficult to impossible. This plants the seed for the decline of the new government from the beginning. A continuation of the old European policy will also be difficult, because it would force the FDP to break its campaign promise. But the party would rather remain in the opposition than to fall over once again, because it would not survive this time. It will seek to close ranks with the CSU on European policy.

Germany has become more conservative and Eurosceptical.

So the lowest common denominator remains a continuation of green policies. The FDP will have to accept this if it wants to be part of the coalition, and the Greens will have to make peace with the more euro-critical stance of the FDP and the CSU. The chancellor will have no choice but to support all of these positions.

Germany has become more conservative and Eurosceptical. A so-called red-red-green (SPD, Left Party and the Green Party) coalition has no prospects for the foreseeable future. The chancellor will allow the CDU to drift back to the right to deprive the AfD of support.

French President Emmanuel Macron probably had second thoughts on his begging letter to Germany on Tuesday. His demands, supported by Italy and other needy countries, collide with the reality of the new balance of power in the German government. Europe is approaching a moment of truth.

The AfD remains a wild card. I doubt it will become more radical as it makes its way through the institutions. On the contrary, it will become more moderate, just as the Greens did in their day. Its success in this election makes it more appealing to the more cautious members of the middle class, paving its way to power. Reporting in the public media will become more matter-of-fact as it relates to the right side of the spectrum, as the AfD claims its positions on the Broadcasting Board. This too will become part of the new normal in Germany.

To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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