Merkel will win, but who will form next Ger­man govern­ment?

The de­par­ture of the UK from the EU will make Ger­many even more dom­i­nant in the fu­ture, some­thing which wor­ries most of its part­ners.

The Sunday Guardian - - World -

LON­DON: Why should you bother with the Ger­man Fed­eral elec­tions next week? Here’s one good rea­son: Ger­many runs Europe and the European Union (EU) has a ma­jor and grow­ing trade re­la­tion­ship with In­dia. Ger­many doesn’t of­fi­cially run Europe, of course. Brus­sels, the home of the EU, is full of highly paid, un­elected bu­reau­crats and politi­cians who think they are run­ning the EU, but in re­al­ity what­ever Ger­many wants to hap­pen, hap­pens; and what­ever it doesn’t want to hap­pen, doesn’t. The rea­son is quite sim­ple. The Ger­man econ­omy is by far the big­gest in the EU, with a GDP of about $4 tril­lion. The pop­u­la­tion of Ger­many at about 83 mil­lion is also by far the largest in the EU. Per­haps the prin­ci­pal rea­son for Ger­many’s dom­i­nance in the EU is its net con­tri­bu­tion to the EU bud­get, some 14.5 bil­lion eu­ros net in 2015, dwarf­ing all oth­ers ex­cept the UK. The de­par­ture of the UK from the EU will make Ger­many even more dom­i­nant in the fu­ture, some­thing which wor­ries most of its part­ners, who un­til now have re­lied on the UK to pro­vide some kind of bal­ance of power in the EU. So, if Ger­many is dom­i­nant, the per­son who runs Ger­many must be the dom­i­nant politi­cian in the EU. The Ger­man elec­toral sys­tem, how­ever, is al­most de­signed to en­sure that a sin­gle party, and there­fore leader, can­not rule with­out the sup­port of a coali­tion part­ner. Power is, there­fore, more dis­trib­uted than in a “first-past-the-post” sys­tem, as is the case in the UK. Here’s how it works.

Un­like in the UK, where vot­ers put a cross against one name on the vot­ing slip, Ger­man vot­ers get two votes on a sin­gle bal­lot pa­per. The first vote is for the rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the sec­ond is for a po­lit­i­cal party. There are 299 elec­toral dis­tricts, so there are 299 seats in the Bun­destag, the Ger­man Par­lia­ment, al­lo­cated to a straight first-past-the­p­ost vic­tor from the first vote. There are 299 more seats in the Bun­destag al­lo­cated on a party ba­sis, pro­vided they clear the thresh­old 5% in the sec­ond vote. So, if a party gets 20% of the na­tional vote it gets 20% of the party seats, be­ing 59 seats. But here’s where it gets a bit com­pli­cated. If a party gets more seats from the first vote than it is en­ti­tled to by the pro­por­tional sec­ond vote, the other par­ties are com­pen­sated by get­ting ex­tra seats. The seats in the Bun­destag from the last elec­tion in 2013 to­talled 631.

So much for the tech­ni­cal bit, what about the par­ties vy­ing for power next week? There are seven ma­jor par­ties rang­ing across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. On the far right is the na­tion­al­ist and euroscep­tic Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) party. Mov­ing to the cen­tre is the cen­tre-right lib­eral Free Demo­cratic Party (FDP). Then comes an­other cen­tre-right party, the Chris­tian So­cial Union (CSU), a Bavar­ian party, which al­ways al­lies with the main lib­eral con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU) of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. Cross­ing to the left you meet the So­cial Demo­cratic Party (SDP) led by for­mer EU politi­cian Martin Schultz. The Green party comes next, fol­lowed by the Left Party. There have been 18 Fed­eral elec­tions since the end of the Sec­ond World War, 11 be­fore East and West Ger­many were re-united on 3 Oc­to­ber 1990, and seven since re-uni­fi­ca­tion. Of these the CDU/CSU (con­sid­ered as one party) has won 12 and the SDP six. On only one oc­ca­sion has a sin­gle party, CDU/CSU, gov­erned by it­self, and that was in 1957, be­fore re­uni­fi­ca­tion; on all other oc­ca­sions there has been a coali­tion, usu­ally in­volv­ing the right-of-cen­tre FDP. For the seven years be­tween 1998 and 2005, the cen­tre-left party SDP formed a coali­tion with the Greens, form­ing the only post-war left wing coali­tion.

What is likely to be the re­sult of next week’s elec­tions? For many months, An­gela Merkel’s party has polled about 37%, which puts her well into the lead, al­though not enough to gov­ern alone. Martin Schulz’s party, the SDP, is polling at about 23%. The Left are hov­er­ing around 9%, but the party most pleased with its cur­rent polling is AfD, at about 10% and is al­most cer­tain to win seats in the Bun­destag this year for the first time in its short his­tory. The Greens are polling at about 8%. Al­though poll­sters say that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of electors re­main un­de­cided, if this pat­tern re­mains un­til elec­tion day, it is cer­tain that Merkel will win for the fourth con­sec­u­tive time. She will, how­ever, need to seek yet again a part­ner in coali­tion. It is pos­si­ble that she could per­suade Schultz to join her in a so- called “grand coali­tion”, a pop­u­lar so­lu­tion she adopted in both 2005 and 2013. An­other pos­si­bil­ity for Merkel is a coali­tion yet again with the FDP. In 2013, the FDP had a dis­as­trous elec­tion re­sult, but polling this time sug­gests they have re­cov­ered to about 9%, which will en­sure some 60 seats. This, to­gether with the ex­pected 260 seats for the CDU/CSU would give Merkel a work­ing ma­jor­ity. The only pos­si­bil­ity for Schultz to be­come Chan­cel­lor would be to form a coali­tion with both the Left and Greens, a pos­si­ble but un­likely out­come. No party will form a coali­tion with the far right AfD. So there we have the list of prob­a­bil­i­ties: a grand coali­tion, a CDU/CSU/FDP coali­tion, a CSU/Left/Green coali­tion, in that or­der. But what­ever the out­come, don’t ex­pect to hear soon. In 2013, the elec­tion took place on 22 Septem­ber and af­ter ex­haus­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions, the new govern­ment was sworn in on 17 De­cem­ber. In Ger­many, pa­tience and pol­i­tics are syn­ony­mous. John Dob­son worked in UK Prime Min­is­ter John Ma­jor’s Of­fice be­tween 1995 and 1998 and is presently Chair­man of the Ply­mouth Univer­sity of the Third Age.

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