Disclaimer: As the polling surrounding this election has seen large shifts throughout the campaign period, the data in this article on frontrunners or polling numbers may not be completely up to date.
Germans will head to the polls on September 26th to elect the Bundestag, the German parliament. This election will have ramifications far beyond the borders of Germany, with impacts felt around the European Union (EU) and the world, as incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel is retiring after 16 years in power. Merkel, once called “the world’s most powerful woman” due to her influence over the EU, may leave a significant power vacuum in Europe with her departure from the chancellorship.
Although the EU has no official, singular leader, individual nations can hold large sway over the bloc’s policies. For example, a unanimous vote is needed to pass major decisions in the European Council, made up of the heads of state of the 27 EU member states. Furthermore, the member nations that have higher GDPs or that have a large population can also influence the bloc’s decisions, which was perhaps most obvious during the migrant crisis in 2015. Chancellor Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to millions of refugees also set the tone for other countries to take in refugees, despite the pushback from other member states.
The direction that the EU takes will also be decided by this election. Whichever political parties form the German government will also play a major part in influencing the future of the bloc. The EU currently faces a large host of issues, such as democratic backsliding in Hungary and Poland, disagreements over migrants, and admission of new members into the bloc. All of these challenges will need to be resolved if the EU wants to fully achieve its goal of “[enhancing] economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among EU countries.”
Analysing the Election: Which Coalition Will Come out on Top?
Germany uses proportional representation in its elections, a system in which the parliament is not only elected through individual ridings in a nation but also through a nationwide ballot. This system means that getting a majority in parliament is next to impossible for individual parties (the last parliamentary majority in Germany was from 1957-1961). Instead, coalitions between two or more parties are the norm. These agreements between parties often dictate the policies and directions of the German government, as seen with the current governing coalition. Called the “Große Koalition,” or Grand Coalition, the present governing alliance is between Germany’s two biggest parties, the CDU/CSU Union (Christian Democrats) and the SPD (Social Democratic Party). Despite leading the coalition and holding the chancellorship, the Union had to concede or compromise on many of its policy points with the SPD platform, which shows how coalition partners can dictate policy even if they’re not explicitly the one in power.
In the upcoming election, many possible coalition combinations have been proposed, with the left-wing parties standing to gain the most as shown in polling. In particular, the SPD has been surging in polls, and along with a strong, albeit scandal-ridden Green Party, the two parties together could be well on their way to forming a majority with the assistance of one of the smaller parties. Despite the volatility that has gripped this election thus far, the left-wing parties (SPD, Greens, and the aptly-named Left) will most likely play a significant role in the Bundestag, if not in the government, post-election. A left-wing surge would also hamper the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which had been gaining traction in previous elections but is now lagging behind in polls.
A left-leaning, if not outright left-wing, government in Berlin would have a significant impact on the EU as it recovers from the pandemic. The bloc has been divided over how much to spend on pandemic recovery plans, with more spending advocated by some, such as France and Italy, and frugality pushed by other nations, such as the “Frugal Four” consisting of Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, and Denmark. Although Merkel has pushed for bigger spending, an even more economically progressive government in the EU’s most powerful nation could accelerate the negotiations and rollout of any pandemic recovery plan. As the coronavirus resurges in many nations, a more rapid rollout of stimulus may be crucial to preventing even more economic downturns.
Europe’s Other Leader: Can France Take the Helm?
France has traditionally been one of the most influential nations in the EU alongside Germany. France is a founding member of the EU and is also an economic powerhouse, being the second-largest economy in the EU. Following German reunification and then Merkel’s chancellorship, however, French influence in the bloc has declined. Some have attributed this decline to weak leadership in France, which contrasts Merkel’s international fame and influence, as was shown during the migrant crisis.
However, this is changing, with French president Emmanuel Macron taking stronger stances in the EU. He has been calling for stronger EU cooperation, especially on topics such as an EU army. With Merkel’s time as chancellor coming to an end, and along with it her personal influence over the bloc, some have suggested that France may be able to recover its role as an unofficial leader of the bloc. That is, of course, assuming that France continues to take a more proactive role in European affairs, which some in France are opposed to.
In addition, it is important to note that Germany’s influence in the EU doesn’t just come from Merkel’s personal skills, but also from its own economic prowess, which is independent of any leader. Thus, although Germany’s influence in the EU may temporarily weaken with the departure of a leader who is internationally renowned for her policy strengths, it will remain an influential power in the bloc.
International Impacts of the German Election
The upcoming German election on September 26th will mark an end to 16 years of leadership from Angela Merkel. Aside from the impacts on German politics, this could also have effects on the EU and beyond due to the influence Germany has on the world stage. Many parties could benefit from this situation – the political left could set the tone for EU policy, and France could take over leadership of the EU. Because of all of the potential impacts, this election will be one to watch.