Is Angela Merkel’s victory a pyrrhic one?

By Arnout Nuijt

Angela MerkelYes, Federal Chancellor Mrs Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance won an astounding victory in Germany’s federal elections on Sunday September 22nd and that is exactly her problem now. Her party failed to win an absolute majority in the Bundestag by a narrow margin. Much worse, her preferred coalition partner, the liberal FDP, was soundly defeated and lost two thirds of its voters. This left it with a mere 4,8% of the votes, just below the minimum of 5% required to obtain seats. A disaster for the FDP and a setback for Mrs Merkel, who will now have to negotiate forming a government with either the social-democratic SPD or even the Greens.

The last option seems highly unlikely, as CDU-CSU and Greens have little in common. Nor for that matter is the SPD eager to govern again under these circumstances, given the history of running a grand coalition before 2009 (often referred to as a fighting coalition). It was also an experience that alienated many of the SPD’s voters in the 2009 elections. Though the social-democrats won a couple of percentage points back this time, entering a second grand coalition under Mrs Merkel might again prove to be disastrous in a following election.

So Mrs Merkel will face some tough weeks or even months of negotiations with the SPD and if both parties will enter another grand coalition, it might very well be an unstable one.  The SPD will be careful not to alienate its voters again by going along with too many of the conservative CDU-CSU’s policies. On the other hand, the CDU-CSU will have to be weary of a new enemy that showed up on its right flank.

Though the brand new Eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD) with 4,7% of the votes failed to enter parliament, it managed to attract enough voters from the FDP to make it lose its position in parliament and to make Mrs Merkel lose her preferred coalition partner.

By having allowed the rise of the AfD, that opposes more costly European financial bailouts by Germany as well as the concept of the Euro itself, Mrs Merkel shows she did not live by the rule of a onetime Bavarian CSU leader: Franz Joseph Strauss always avoided “creating enemies to the right” by keeping his party as far to the right as possible.

Though the German political and media establishment have tried to prove the AfD is a controversial political outfit and while its members face a lot of public scrutiny (and even physical abuse), the new party has already proven its right of existence. It is now a force to be reckoned with and if Mrs Merkel enters a coalition with the SPD, she knows the AfD will be lurking in the woods until the next opportunity, the European elections of 2014. As Mrs Merkel will be expected to continue bailing out Southern European countries at great cost to Germany, CDU voters who oppose that and who oppose a new CDU-SPD coalition might increasingly find the AfD indeed the alternative it says it is.

A continued political and media campaign aimed at discrediting the AfD, its leaders and, worse, its voters, may also turn against itself, as has happened in other European countries. It was sad to witness the ZDF, a respectable German public television network, showing a picture of the AfD’s leader, Professor Bernd Lucke, waiving his right arm at his followers, while a journalist in the studio suggested it was a certain historic salute. There is however no evidence the party is extremist.

Whether you like it or not, the AfD may have touched the right chord among many Germans and its potential may be far greater than its present results suggest. The AfD’s website was by far the most consulted of all parties’ websites by voters on election day (about a quarter of total consults).

So, expect another grand fighting coalition of a CDU that does not want its voters to run off to Professor Lucke’s Alternative and an SPD that may not even like being there at all. Will it last?

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One thought on “Is Angela Merkel’s victory a pyrrhic one?

  1. Not sure about Pyrrhic – Germany’s only not had a coalition in 1957 (I think) so there are always these sorts of probs. Personally I think she wouldn’t have sent the last minute letter to 5million supporters asking for both votes if she thought she was going to miss the FDP. Other than that there’s the Greens to move the SPD into a reasonable position she can do business with. Even if CDU/CSU seems to have ruled out Green coalition with current senior people they’re having a conference to change key people in November and if SPD haven’t been reasonable by then the Green’s will be (their ex leader & fomer foregin minister has crisicised Greens for leftward lurch). Merkel’s nothing if not patient so I can’t imagine she’s in the least bit bothered.

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