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Germany is getting ready for its federal elections on September 26, known as the easy-to-pronounce Bundestagswahl. This year marks the end of the reign of Angela Merkel, who’s been serving as chancellor since 2005. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union, might wish for her to stay on for another four years, not least because it is competing against the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party in the polls, all hovering slightly above the 20 percent mark.
Merkel’s successor as party chairman, Armin Laschet, doesn’t inspire much in the German electorate. To boost his industrial policy appeal, Laschet met up with Elon Musk—a stunt in which he clumsily asked Musk if hydrogen or electric cars would be the future, only to be laughed at: “Definitely electric! Hydrogen is a waste of time, obviously.”
In polls asking who German voters prefer to be Chancellor, Laschet is being eclipsed by current Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats. Scholz paints himself as a continuation of Merkel’s rule, a claim to which the center right hit back with the campaign website “Linkrutsch-verhindern.de”. Here, prominent Social Democrat, far-left, and Green politicians are portrayed with a German slogan that translates to “prevent the leftward shift”. Merkel’s party has consistently excluded a governing coalition with the far-left party “Die Linke,” while Scholz has not.
“Die Linke” is a descendant of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which was the governing Marxist-Leninst organization of the one-party state of East Germany, which collapsed in 1989. The party has never quite come to terms with its dictatorial past. Members of the Socialist Unity Party and East German secret police operators still linger in the party structures along with commemorations of the communist atrocities committed during the Soviet era. Leadership is either evasive on the subject or outright dismissive. This far-left party has never been in a federal coalition but has picked up steam and local governing powers over the years.
It is important to note that Germany’s electoral system is distinctive. Germans vote for a chancellor directly, unlike the French presidential election. But voters also elect members of parliament (the Bundestag in Berlin), which then finds a governing majority and a leader. MPs are elected through two different ballots, some directly, others through a seat-distribution system based on the number of votes the parties have received. This makes the German legislature a mix of known faces and utterly unheard of party apparatchiks.
This week, the German Federal Agency for Civic Education launched its “Wahl-O-Mat,” which helps voters identify which party they agree with most based on 38 policy questions. I’ve attempted to replicate the views of four American political perspectives in this tool to help readers understand who most closely resembles their favorites in the U.S. Understandably, some policy debates, like the conversation over whether speed limits should be implemented on all highways, are unique to Germany and hard to translate to the American political landscape.
By my estimate, social conservatives have an 88 percent overlap with the party “Alternative für Deutschland” (AFD). The eurosceptic party has struggled with far-right elements in its ranks, and prides itself in being distinctly anti-immigration, compared to other political groups. AFD also emphasizes the importance of the family and rejects gender-neutral language for administrative communication (which has been a topic in Germany for a while now).
Neoconservatives match a fringe Christian party (Bündnis C) by 75 percent, and the AFD with just over 70 percent. These results are somewhat uninformed because no German party matches the enthusiasm for military interventionism that American neoconservatism represents.
Biden voters would most align with the currently governing Social Democrats, who do support more substantial climate change commitments and redistribution schemes, yet still attempt to appear as a moderate force.
American left-wingers match “Die Linke” positions the most, with an impressive 71 percent overlap, most notably for their support for increased taxation for high-income earners and bold environmental policies.
Under current projects, the liberal Free Democratic Party could play a kingmaking role in the coalition talks after the vote. The party is staunchly pro-E.U., and focuses mainly on education policy and digital infrastructure. That said, a “green-red-red” coalition between Greens, Social Democrats, and the far-left is also possible, and could lead to significant policy changes.
For Europe, Germany’s election could be most impactful on the continent’s environmental policies. Germany’s weight in the politics of the European Union can be decisive in conversations about farm subsidies, which Brussels wants to steer increasingly towards supporting organic farming, as well as about transport, where the European Commission wants to put higher tax burdens on road transport and aviation, and about energy policy. It’s particularly on the latter where Germany has struggled over the years.
Merkel’s exit from nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear incident in 2011 has proven to be a failed gamble. German electricity prices rank among the highest in Europe, which hits consumers and heavy industry the most. As the country’s plans to increase production through renewables has been massively behind schedule, Germany has consistently missed its carbon emissions targets.
All political parties remain divided over the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a new project with the Russian state-owned gas provider Gazprom, bringing gas from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. Fifty-one percent of Germany’s gas consumption comes from the Russian state already. This trend is set to worsen since gas extraction in Europe is being reduced to reduce climate change targets. The United States and Eastern European nations have warned Berlin away from building the pipeline and increasing their dependence on Russia.
Germany, a country known for its heavy and precision industries, and especially its reliable car manufacturing, is under pressure. Its own climate change and social policies have made it less competitive over the years. Most large car brands now produce in Eastern Europe or Turkey, with only the know-how being German. A left-wing majority will try to accelerate this phenomenon, but even a centrist government is unlikely to slow it down.
Bill Wirtz comments on European politics and policy in English, French, and German. His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, CityAM, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Die Welt.
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