Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

The German 2017 election

with 2 comments

We are now two weeks past the last German parliament election, and there is still no certainty about who will rule with whom*—however, there is a fair chance that we will be rid of the conservative CDU/CSU** and social-democrat SPD coalition***. The most likely resolution appears to be a CDU/CSU, FDP (liberal, libertarian), and “the green party” coalition. This would be a clear improvement, but the presence of the Greens would make the situation sub-optimal: The environment is important, but large parts of this party is simply highly irrational—astrologists, not astronomers. To boot, large parts of their agenda is as incompatible with the potential partners as SPD’s was. On the plus side, the Greens did not even break 9 % and would be a decidedly junior partner, and they share my and FDP’s distaste for e.g. privacy violations, Bundestrojaner, and the like: Together they and FDP might restrain CDU/CSU in this regard.

*Note that Germany has a multi-party system with a fairly proportional representation by votes (unlike e.g. a first-past-the-post system). After the latest election, there are a total of six parties that made the 5 % cut-off.

**A quirk of German politics is that these parties are not nationally present, with CSU appearing only in Bavaria and CDU everywhere but Bavaria. For the purposes of national politics, they are often informally treated as one entity.

***This coalition being unfortunate in two regards. Firstly, objectively and neutrally, it had two parties in bed with each other that simply do not belong together. This type of coalition amounts to a breach of the voters trust and is by its nature not very democratic. As I noted after the previous election, if such coalitions are tolerated, we might just as well do away with the unnecessary formality of voting. Secondly, subjectively and personally, I dislike the politics of SPD (more than e.g. those of CDU).

It can be interesting to look back at the last few elections, seeing that they have seen some notable developments:

2009: Leading up to the election, another CDU/CSU and SPD coalition was in charge. SPD took a severe hit, CDU/CSU a minor hit, and the smaller parties benefited correspondingly. While CDU/CSU and SPD had been roughly on par last time around, CDU/CSU was now considerably larger and formed a (much more natural) coalition with FDP, which reached a record 14.6 % of the vote.

2013: CDU/CSU gained considerably and looked set for a continued coalition with FDP—except that FDP took a severe hit… So severe, in fact, that it narrowly missed the 5 % cut-off and was left out of parliament. Roughly 10 % or two thirds of the vote gone, from record high to record low, in four years. This was particularly unfortunate*, since CDU/CSU and FDP would have remained in majority, had the cut-off been just a sliver lower.

*However, at the time, I reacted with misplaced Schadenfreude: FDP had been fishing for tactical votes from CDU/CSU supporters, something I strongly disapprove of. Yes, it served them right; however, a very unfortunate political situation arose (cf. above).

2017: This time both CDU/CSU and SPD took severe hits (the former more so in absolute terms, but proportionally the loss was roughly a fifth each), but the remaining two parties (the Greens and leftist extremist/populist Die Linke) only saw marginal gains*. The reason was a resurgence of FDP, which not only made the cut-off but was back above 10 % (historically a good level)—and the massive rise of AfD**, gaining 8 % (for a total of 12.6 %) and its first entry.

*In terms of votes. In terms of seats, they obviously lost ground.

**I am loath to categorize AfD for several reasons, including that it is a very young party with an undeveloped own identity and that it can be hard to tell the difference between its own actual position and the often distorted portrait painted by the other parties and media. It does, however, indisputably have aspects of nationalism, migration skepticism, and a general dissatisfaction with the political establishment. Add in a degree of populism and it might be fair to say that it fills a similar niche as Trump in the U.S. (On these three points, I strongly agree with the last, disagree with the first, and agree or disagree with the second, depending on exactly what we discuss. Cf. a footnote below. In most other areas, I am likely in disagreement; a pro-equality and anti-feminist stance being an obvious exception.)

Interestingly, despite the major changes of 2013, the results of 2017 match those of 2009 very well, apart from the addition of AfD. (And, indeed, without AfD, the Greens would not be needed for CDU/CSU and FDP to re-form their coalition.) Scale off roughly 1/8th of the 2009 results and that is approximately the 2017 result. CDU/CSU has a little more; FDP a little less; the others match very well—as does the sum of the CDU/CSU and FDP percentages.

A twist here is that AfD allegedly has gained disproportionally many voters from CDU/CSU, while CDU/CSU remains the least affected compared to 2009. (This paradoxical situation is likely explained by other voter movements to the benefit of CDU/CSU, especially, I suspect, from FDP.)

Looking at the long term developments, 2009 saw an all-time low for SPD and a lowest-since-1949 for CDU/CSU—something repeated exactly in 2017. The historical constellation of two major parties with several minor parties is, just like in Sweden, disappearing. To some degree, cf. above, this could be explained by the ruling parties being punished: They actually have to do something, often something unpopular, and with a risk of screwing up; the other parties can just sit back, complain, and promise that “with us, everything would have been/will be better”. However, other explanations include voter estrangement and dissatisfaction with the attitudes and policies of the older parties, as well as more success for parties that focus strongly on specific areas where individual voters have similar priorities (the Greens, AfD, and Die Linke fall strongly into this category). SPD, specifically, is likely hurt by Die Linke* “stealing” more and more voters with opinions on the far Left or that are vulnerable to Leftist populism, especially in the area of the old GDR, where SPD often finds it self the smaller of the two…

*This starting with the entry of PDS (the reincarnated SED) in the 1990s and increased by the defection of a part of SPD to PDS to form Die Linke at some point before the 2009 election.

As for my personal take, I am not a fan of any political party (cf. earlier writings), but I would tend to consider a CDU/CSU and FDP coalition the best alternative. While none of them match me ideologically, FDP is likely the closest to a match, with CDU/CSU second. The Greens and Die Linke have no place in any government, hardly to be considered politically sane. SPD is politically sane, but remains a Leftist party (admittedly less so than in the past), with many ideas that I cannot get on board with, at least some of which are likely to be detrimental to Germany’s long-term prospects. AfD as a first time entry, is unlikely to be a good choice for a coalition partner (see also above and below).

The entry of AfD is tricky to judge, especially with the problems of understanding its ideology correctly. However, it has at least two benefits as a signal to the older parties: Firstly, that they cannot ignore, trivialize, or misrepresent migration* issues like they have done in the past. Secondly, that they have to step up their game in looking to the people, not themselves, in general. Until more is known, I am cautiously positive. (I would certainly see the continued presence of Die Linke as a greater reason to be concerned.)

*Migration is another tricky issue, including what levels and what type of migration should be allowed, including applying different perspectives. For instance, from an ideological perspective, I would favor free migration, seeing borders, citizenships, passports, more as an artificial obstacles than anything else; however, from a pragmatical perspective, I would want to consider properly the effects of such migration—including the negative ones that the politicians of the older parties often want to ignore. Similarly, we must consider the possibility of different resolutions for immigrants from different countries, with different backgrounds (notably in terms of education), or with different attitudes. Here is the important point: Irrespective of whether we are for or against migration, migration policy is something that must be discussable and discussed in a free manner, just like e.g. tax levels. The too common attitude of “either you agree with me or you are a racist/xenophobe/Nazi/whatnot” is inexcusable, doing no-one a favour.

(I draw on the German Wikipedia pages for the respective elections for data: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2017, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2013, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2009.)


Written by michaeleriksson

October 8, 2017 at 8:40 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Six or seven weeks ago, I wrote “We are now two weeks past the last German parliament election, and there is still no certainty about who will rule with whom”. […]

  2. […] In October 2017 I wrote: […]

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