Parliamentary elections in Germany: Merkel vs. Schultz

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

On Sunday, September 24, Germany will hold federal elections to the Bundestag (German parliament). 38 parties will take part in the elections. The main battle will unfold between the conservative parties of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Christian-Social Union (CSU) of the Prime Minister of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) of former European Parliament President Martin Schultz.

21:37, 11 September 2017

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To date, all these parties are partners in the coalition in the Bundestag. Other prominent political forces will also compete for seats in the German parliament, including the parties Left (DieLinke), Green (Grüne), Alternative for Germany (AfD), Free Democratic Party.

Federal elections in Germany are held in a mixed system. The Germans vote on two lists. From the party list, 299 deputies are elected. The same number of majority deputies are elected in each of the 16 German lands. If party candidates who have won in single-seat constituencies are more than the number of mandates, then additional seats in parliament are introduced for them. As a result of the previous federal elections in 2013, 32 additional seats were allocated. The new composition of the Bundestag elects the Chancellor for 4 years.

Christian democrats dominate, but without triumph

Sociological agencies prophesy leading positions to Christian democrats in the coming elections. According to polls, 37.8% of German voters are ready to vote for the CDU / CSU. They have the highest ratings. The leader of the CDU Angela Merkel behaves quite confidently in the pre-election race. She intends to nominate her candidacy for the post of Chancellor for the fourth term. Angela Merkel has been in power in Germany since 2005. In the regional elections of 2016-17, Christian democrats won in the lands of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig and Holstein. Will the Christian democrats succeed in this election in repeating the "triumph" of the 2013 election campaign? The question is ambiguous. In previous federal elections, the CDU received a convincing victory - 41.5% of voters. In 2015-16 years the policy of Angela Merkel became the object of criticism in German society. Despite the fact that the CDU dominates in the political arena of Germany, the ratings of the party have significantly decreased compared to last fall. According to the BBC, in November 2016, about 55% of Germans agreed that regarding the outcome of the September elections, Angela Merkel continued to remain chancellor.

The weak point of the CDU is the lack of progress in resolving the migration crisis in the EU. In Germany, compared to other European countries, we can see the largest number of refugees from countries in Asia and Africa (over 1 million people). Merkel continues the policy of "open doors" and accepts refugees in German cities. According to a survey of the ARD agency, about 81% of Germans do not believe that the current government is coping successfully with the settlement of the migration crisis. Before the aggravation of the migration situation in Germany, Merkel was supported by 75% of the citizens in April 2015. The authority of the chancellor is undermined by the actions of the authorities of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia who refuse to host Muslims on their territory and believe that Germany is guilty of deepening the EU migration crisis and should solve this problem. Together with migrants and refugees, radical Islamists can sneak into Europe. Ordinary Germans are not protected from the threat from their side. In 2016-17 years, there were 14 terrorist attacks and provocations by Islamic extremists in Germany, which killed 18 people.

The consequences of the recent "dieselgate" scandal, in which German automakers are involved, also were negative for Angela Merkel's rating. As a result of investigations initiated by law enforcers in the United States, Volkswagen has been able to recognize that 11 million cars have been sold all over the world with software, which allows manipulating tests with for compliance of diesel engines with environmental standards. Volkswagen diesel engines pollute the atmosphere 40 times over the permissible standards. Volkswagen companies will have to pay fines, and inspections for compliance of engines with modern environmental standards have affected other German car manufacturers. The CDU / CSU advocates the interests of big business, including German industrialists, which actions run counter to the Paris agreement on climate, whose adherent Angela Merkel is. Until recently, she condemned US President Donald Trump for refusing to participate in it. In fact, the CDU electorate violates the document by its own hand, resorting to fraud.

Christian democrats retain their advantage at the expense of certain social and economic successes. During the time in power, the team of Angela Merkel contributed to the growth of employment of Germans, the reduction of unemployment, including among the youth. From January to July this year, the number of employed Germans increased from 43.610 million to 44.208 million people, by 1.4%. In 2014, Germany had the lowest unemployment rate among young people in Europe. In her political program, Merkel promises to reduce unemployment from 5.5% to 3%, reduce taxes and increase subsidies for young families, ban dual citizenship for second-generation migrants and increase the number of policemen by 15 thousand people to strengthen security in the state.

According to Reuters, half of the young German citizens, who will vote for the first time, intend to vote for the CDU / CSU. Christian democrats are a lesser evil for car manufacturers than SPD. Even in spite of the "dieselgate", Merkel opposes a drastic reduction in the production of cars with diesel engines and increased quotas for the production of electric vehicles, in contrast to the SPD. Despite the costs, Merkel still has the trust of significant part of German society. If, following the results of federal elections, the CDU / CSU would not create a one-party government, German conservatives can agree on a coalition with the SPD, as in 2013, or with the Free Democratic Party, as it was in 2009.

SPD members do not surrender

The main political competitor of the CDU / CSU in these elections to the Bundestag is the SPD party of Martin Schulz, supported by 23.4% of population. The Social Democrats have strong positions in the lands of Berlin, Mecklenburg- Vorpommern, Rhineland-Palatinate, where they won in the last regional elections. Despite the big lag in ratings comparing to Christian democrats, the leader of the Social Democrats does not lose hope of getting a substantial number of seats in the German parliament and taking up the post of chancellor. The new head of the SPD and former President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz advocates free education, increased state funding for schools, medical care for the sick and the elderly, programs for retraining for the unemployed, the equation of salaries for residents of the eastern and western lands, and the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany. Martin Schultz proposed to introduce financial incentives for EU member states that accepted the largest number of refugees, and, on the contrary, to cut financing from the European budget for those who refuse to participate in solving the migration crisis. SPD plans to increase the income tax from 42 to 45% for citizens with income of 76 thousand euros per year. For comparison, the CDU considers saving 45% of the rate only for people with income over 232 thousand euros per year.

The SPD expects to gain an advantage over the CDU / CSU in the elections, gathering the voices of those Germans who have not yet decided who to vote for. The SPD wants to become a senior partner of the CDU / CSU coalition and elect Martin Schultz as chancellor. And also the SPD can leave the CDU / CSU behind the coalition if their leader agrees on an alliance with left and green if these parties can overcome the 5% barrier. The party formed coalitions with greens in six lands and with the left in the lands of Brandenburg and Thuringia. Some Germans are convinced that Angela Merkel is preferable to the post of chancellor, because she has more experience, and together with Martin Schultz in the coalition they will be able to "move Europe forward".

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This year is not the best time for the Social Democrats. In Germany we see the relatively low unemployment rate. A significant number of Germans are satisfied with the current economic situation in the country, and they are not determined to change anything. In 2016, Germany's GDP per capita increased by 2% and amounted to 37,817 euros. To date, the average salary in Germany is 72 thousand euros per year, while well-funded are considered civil servants (100 thousand euros per year) and financiers (95 thousand euros per year). Social Democrats’ successful stardom is period of socio-economic difficulties. The positions of the leaders of the SPD and CDU on political issues are quite similar. Both Schultz and Merkel are supporters of federalism, deepening European integration, strengthening the power of supranational bodies of the EU. All this explains the large backlog of the SPD from the CDU / CSU ratings.

Radicals and liberals

Of particular importance is the participation in the elections of the opposition Free Democratic Party of Christian Lindner, the Green party of Catherine Göring-Eckardt, Cem Özdemir, who can overcome the five-percent barrier and become potential partners of the CDU / CSU or SPD in forming the coalition. Their program is based on liberalism and euro-optimism. 8.4% of voters support Free Democrats. They were already junior partners in the CDU / CSU coalition in 2009-13 and advocate for tax cuts. 7.4% of Germans are ready to vote for greens. This party won the regional elections in Baden-Württemberg and has experience of partnership with the CDU / CSU and SPD in local self-government bodies. Priorities of their pre-election program are environmental protection, tax liberalization and improvement of social policy.

About 9.2% of Germans are ready to vote for the left-wing party of Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger. This political force was formed in 2007 by the merger of the Labor and Social Justice - Electoral Alternative Party and the Left Party, the successor to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which ruled the GDR. This political force occupies 64 of the 630 seats in the Bundestag, 157 seats in the Landtag and 7 seats in the European Parliament. "Left" are consistent critics of the policy of Angela Merkel, they advocate raising minimum wages, the withdrawal of Germany from NATO, the termination of the participation of German soldiers in conflicts in the territory of third countries.

The ultra-right party of eurosceptics Alternative for Germany also intends to participate in elections. The party relies on the electorate from East Germany and Russian migrants. The cornerstone of the political program of "alternatives" is toughening the migration regime and recognizing the incompatibility of Islam with traditional German culture. German Eurosceptics support the EU's transformation into the European Economic Community, which existed from 1957 to 1993, before the Maastricht agreement on the creation of European Union came into force. The EU is perceived as a threat to national identity. "Alternative for Germany" took second place in the regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt, third in the Landtagues of Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate. However, the party's rating declined from 15% last summer to the current 9.1%.

Consequences for Ukraine

For Ukraine, it is unprofitable that, following the results of the federal elections in Germany, the radical parties as "Left" and "Alternative for Germany" could join the coalition. "The alternative for Germany" supports rapprochement with Moscow in the political and economic sphere, promises to promote the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions. "Left party" does not support anti-Russian sanctions. The leaders of the party Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger criticized the statement of former German President Joachim Gauck that the West will resolutely react to Russia's aggression in Ukraine. The chairman of the Left Party faction in the Bundestag, Gregor Gysi, believes that responsibility regarding the conflict in Donbas lies not only on Russia, but also on the EU and NATO. These political forces will serve as the fifth column of the Kremlin in the Bundestag and lobby the interests of Russian authorities and business in Germany and the EU.

It is more acceptable for us to see a coalition between the CDU / CSU and SPD or an alliance of one of these parties with the Green Party, which condemns Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Angela Merkel and Martin Schultz are supporters of the EU's existing sanctions against Russia, believing that the cancellation of restrictive measures could be proposed when the Kremlin fulfills the Minsk agreements and stops aggression in Ukraine. Nevertheless, both politicians do not support a new package of US sanctions that affect Russia's energy interests, hamper the financing of the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, in which German companies take part. According to the German authorities, new anti-Russian sanctions were introduced because of US energy interests, which intend to increase the supply of their liquefied natural gas to Europe and push Russia in the EU market. At the moment, this is the only measure to force Russia to provide peace in Ukraine.

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