Return of the Free Democrats: Who receives the "golden share" in Bundestag?

Author : Viktor Savinok

Source : 112 Ukraine

The moods of the German voters and politicians continue to amaze the observers
10:11, 25 May 2017

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The moods of the German voters and politicians continue to amaze the observers.

In the autumn of 2016, the hegemony of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian partner the Christian Social Union (CSU) seemed indestructible, but at the end of January 2017 it has been put into question with the appearance of the political scene a new leader of the Social Democrat Martin Schulz.

Almost 5 months have passed since Schulz became candidate for chancellor, and the situation seems to be rolled back - according to opinion polls, the gap between the CDU / CSU and SPD reaches about ten% in favor of Angela Merkel.

Moreover, German politicians should clearly prepare for a return to the federal level and participate in the potential coalition negotiations liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) that did not get to the Bundestag at the elections in 2013.

The results of the March and May local elections in Saar, Schleswig-Holstein, and North Rhine-Westphalia, where the Christian Democrats won a convincing victory and became responsible for the formation of regional governments, give an opportunity to think about similar result of the federal election.

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However, 4 months are left before the September elections, during which the situation could still change dramatically. CDU as its main competitors - the Social Democrats – have not yet announced the final election program. Both opponents realize that the campaign is just beginning. Accordingly, it is still too early to draw conclusions about their chances of racing at this stage.

However, a number of trends that determine the development of Merkel’s party can be determined right now.

Despite the concerns of the IMF, the chancellor intends to continue the course of the formation of surplus budgets and expand investment in infrastructure and innovation economy.

According to Merkel, the best expression of justice for the citizens is the economic stability and workplaces in the innovation sector.

Die Zeit said that decreasing the intensity of migration crisis, a number of proactive Merkel’s steps at international level - in particular, a visit to the USA and hard rhetoric towards Turkey and Russia - contribute to the ratings of the party.

The latter, according to opinion polls, reaches 36-38%. There is a growing level of personal approval of Merkel – in case of the direct elections, she would have received 49% of votes.

Also declining controversy with their colleagues from the Bavarian CSU plays in favor of Christian Democrats.

Both political parties seem to finally agree on one of the most controversial issues - the issue of migration crisis. This was stated by Chairman of CSU and Prime Minister of Bavaria Horst Seehofer, pointing out that "now Berlin refugee policy is fully in line with our vision."

The German Social Democrats are currently experiencing a difficult situation - the party has failed at all three regional elections that are preceding the race to the Bundestag, losing 6.7% of the vote.

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The most painful issued setback is in North Rhine-Westphalia, which is one of the most densely populated parts of Germany and traditionally considered electoral "patrimony" of the SPD. We should not forget that is home to a "SDs" candidate Martin Schulz.


Observers believe that a reluctance to focus on German’s general topics during agitation and debate during regional campaigns played against the Social Democrats. Instead, voters, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine, needed a comprehensive vision that would have united regional, federal and European themes.

However, the party is suffering from decline of personal rating of Martin Schulz.

After two months of admiration of Social Democratic candidate, electoral sympathies become to drop.  Absence of conceptual vision for coming months as a part of the current "grand coalition" with the CDU / CSU does not play in favor of the Social Democrats.

SPD leaders are currently unable to reach agreement on what idea should they promote during the campaign - focus on their achievements in the coalition, or talk about a "reset" of the party and offer radically new ideas. In this case, innovative course of Martin Schulz encounters some unclear opposition from the former head of "Social Democrats" and head of the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

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However, problematic is the lack of specificity in pre-election promises. For example, Süddeutsche Zeitung notes Schulz’s thesis about the need for equal access to education, increasing the number of jobs in the education sector, and the potential contrast tuition and visiting kindergartens.

These initiatives certainly cannot find voter’s approval, as is quite relevant, but Schulz does not specify the steps that are supposed to be taken for that.

"Social Democrats" suffer from lack of specificity and, most importantly, innovation in matters of foreign policy. In particular, they talk about promoting "defuse international tensions and global disarmament process."

Speaking about the eastern direction of the SPD's foreign policy, although it acknowledges the wrongfulness of annexation of Crimea and "actions of the Russian government in the East of Ukraine", it still uses the thesis of commitment to dialogue with Russia, its roots date back to the early 1990s.

According to the ideologues of the Social Democrats, "peace and stability in Europe without Russia is impossible," so it is advisable to return to the "political dialogue" to prevent escalation and start a political process of settlement of Donbas conflict.

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In May 2011, the former Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle left the leadership of the Free Democratic Party. It has lost the elections to the Bundestag in November 2013 too. So its political positions seemed barely hopeless.

As a result, Free Democrats lost more than half of public funding. Accordingly, the ability of the new leader of the FDP, Christian Lindner, to "breathe a new life" into his own political party, was really questionable, especially taking into consideration financial capacity losses.

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The second wave of doubt about the electoral success of Free Democrats appeared during migration crisis when they supported Chancellor Merkel in establishing flexible "upper limit" for the number of refugees.

Yet from mid-2016, situation with ratings of FDP began to level off, and in the regional race of 2017, party has "added" from 2% to 4% to the preliminary results and entered parliaments in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia.

In addition, the outcome of the elections in Düsseldorf (the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia), where the party chairperson led the campaign, was one of the highest in the history and FDP - 12%, and the Free Democrats received a "golden share" to form a government.

According to opinion polls, along with "Alliance90/The Greens," they are able to form alliances with the CDU / CSU and with SPD.

FDP program, unlike the Christian Democrats and the SPD, now looks quite specific and refers to a number of issues, ranging from the digital economy, tax liberalization and access to education, and ending migration policy expanding, protection of human rights on the Internet and responding to Brexit.

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"Alliance90/The Greens" still cannot get out of the crisis.

The results worsened by 6% at the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, in Schleswig-Holstein and Saar – by 1% (here they lost their representation in the regional parliament). At the federal level, rating also fell from 9% to 7%.

The party is undergoing an internal crisis, which is not only the lack of clear proposals in the program, but also the contradictions between its leaders.

The current "leadership deuce", Cem Özdemir and Katrin Göring-Eckardt, has failed to offer voters a new approach.

Yes, Özdemir mainly speaks on the "Turkish question", which is hardly appropriate to take the central role in the campaign. Göring-Eckardt has a good reputation and is not implicated in the scandals, but she clearly lacks the vibrant activity and statements.

However, the position of "The Greens" cannot be ignored. "The Greens" after the election would likely have the "golden share" in forming a coalition in the 19th convocation of the Bundestag.

In addition, the position of "The Greens" is significant for Ukraine, because they have initiated the recent debate on the prospects of cooperation between official Kyiv and Berlin.

Far right political party "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) during the last regional campaigns continued to increase presence in the local parliament.

On the other hand, its results in three "western" lands do not look as impressive as during the last year’s campaign in eastern Germany - AfD gained 6.7% in 2016.

At the federal level, its rating remains stable, near 8%. This, in particular, contributes to a reduction in the intensity of the migration crisis and increases the rigidity of the current Government’s position the refugees.

On the other hand, the party congress, held in the 20's days of April in Cologne, left more questions than answers.

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The first party meeting showed uncertain position of AfD Chairman Frauke Petry. The delegates, in particular, refused to approve her annual report outlining the prospects of further party building and to consider the application on exclusion of Björn Höcke, famous for his antisemitic statements.

Second, Congress once again demonstrated the presence of contradictions between the conventional group of "pragmatists" led by Petry and former AfD presidential candidate of Albrecht Glaser and "nationalists" faction headed by Alexander Gauland, EP MP Beatrix von Storch and Jorg Meuthen.

The latter take nationalist positions and oppose attempts to dialogue with other parties in favor of the thesis about the "fierce opposition" to the political establishment.

Thus neither Petry, nor Gauland compete for the heads of the campaign - both claimed that they wish to concentrate on the party work.

Meanwhile, the struggle for influence in the party does not stop. May 19, Frauke Petry announced her intention to eliminate member of the Saxon branch and candidate for the Bundestag Jens Meyer.

Related: Merkel’s party wins regional elections in Germany

The latter is accused of a series of contradictory statements, particularly criticism regarding the concept of "multiculturalism", defining Islam as a religion, not essential for Germany, and partial justification of the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik.

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