Germans’ Political Race: Merkel’s Win Amid Triumphs & Challenges


By Syed Qamar Rizvi.


As was expected, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel once again endorsed her victory– in the currently held election-2017– thereby astutely making a history of coming to power through her fourth consecutive term as Germany’s head of state. Despite ensuring her win in the election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel Party, center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) faces new challenges ahead since an atmosphere of forging a coalition between German far right and the far left political parties is yet underway. Yet, to the Germans the question arises: whether the electoral success of right-wing populists evidence that the government is leading Germany in a direction both domestically and externally. And while for the EU’s citizenry, Merkel rise to power seems simultaneously an affair of both hope and despair, for the Trump administration,  Merkel’s inexorable rise to power in Germany paves the way for Washington’s cautionary pragmatism vis-à-vis EU-US partnership.

Schulz’s Social Democrats party(SDP) secured second lead by having 20% of votes trailing by double digits but the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) also emerged as the third largest party, complicating the outlook for Merkel’s next coalition.  Schulz asserted that Merkel was “a world champion in not deciding,” someone who simply parroted others’ ideas. He vowed to push for further reforms, including better elderly care facilities, affordable housing, an end to discriminatory practices that harm children of migrants, and free child care.

Interestingly yet not surprisingly, Germany’s currently reformed electoral system has a dual voting system based on a direct vote and an  indirect vote of proportional representation—firstly for local participation and secondly for the national Parliament to be given on the same ballot paper. The country’s 61.5 voters give their respective choice of vote through single ballot paper.

Merkel’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, told Internet provider t-online. de the government would combat “Islamist terrorism” by strengthening European borders and bolstering security at home.

Previously, German polls suggested that Germany far right( the Alternative for Germany party) (AFD)  under the auspices of Frauke Petry whose party espoused the cause for national conservatism or right wing populism characterized by euroscepticism had the chance to win up to 60 seats after using anti-immigration rhetoric during the election. The gain for the populist party will deal a blow to Mrs Merkel who has pleaded with German voters to only “vote for parties loyal to the German constitution”.

Alternative for Germany (AFD), emerged as the third largest party won support with the electorate after vowing to keep the pressure on Mrs Merkel to answer why she let in a million asylum seekers into the country. Support for the AfD, jumped two points to 11 percent in a Forsa poll, putting it on course to become the first hard-right party in more than half a century to clear the five per cent hurdle and enter parliament. The party wants to launch a probe into whether the German chancellor broke the law by allowing in around a million refugees at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015.

The grand coalition will give Merkel a ready-made excuse to mollify the hard-right element in her own party and a way to bring the leftist elements of the Social Democrats into line. Interestingly, the formation of the government via coalition process has been an inexorable governmental arrangement orchestrated for the last three terms during which Merkel emerged as German political leader.

As for Germany’s profile– as an EU’s economic and political power house needs no further explanation other than that – president of the European parliament (2007-09), chairman of the EPP-ED group to which British Conservatives once belonged from 1999 until 2007, and a long-standing member of the European parliament, Germany belongs to the Union in a manner as heart is to the human body.

Though many of the Europhiles remained rightly convinced enough that deepening European integration via institutional approfondissement is the only way forward for the European Union, yet this hopeful scenario seems to be stymied because of the policy crisis in the European Union. And of course, the Brexit experiment has given a mammoth challenge to the European goal towards deepening integration. As for the Europeans, the EU and the euro are not perfect, but the Europeans have the chance, if not the duty for the sake of the coming generations, to improve them. Therefore, an EU”s  course of action to overcome the crisis as well as measures to strengthen the EU are paramount.

Today, European Union also need a stronger common foreign, security and defence policy to give the EU more power and authority on the international stage. Let me give you an example: my party, the German Christian Democrats (CDU), is a strong advocate of a free trade agreement between the EU and the United States.

Polls have shown that the parties’ closest rival, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has failed to gain momentum and it is currently in second place with around 22 percent of the vote.

The anti-immigration, anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party could come in third place with around 11 percent of the vote — gaining more than the 5 percent threshold of votes needed to enter parliament for the first time — as could the pro-business Free Democrats party (FDP), seen gaining around 10 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, The Left (Die Linke) party is also seen gaining around 10 percent of the vote while the Greens are seen with 8 percent of the vote.

She may be the world’s most powerful woman, but German chancellor Angela Merkel has governed with the utmost caution—one of several contradictions that make her an enigma at home and abroad. After a year that forced Merkel into confrontations with Putin and Obama, Maureen Orth explores how a once frumpy physicist has led her reluctant country to new prominence on the global stage.

She is often referred to as the world’s most powerful woman, although those in Merkel’s immediate circle utter disdain for even bringing up such a concept.  She governs by silence,” says Dirk Kurbjuweit of Der Spiegel, who wrote a 2009 biography of Merkel. “It’s her biggest advantage and disadvantage. She never says something fast. She waits and waits to see where the train is going and then she jumps on the train. Part of this she learned in the G.D.R. [Communist East Germany]. She knew she had to watch her words—there’s nobody better at [vague] words than Angela Merkel.”  In fact, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germans instinctively recoil at the idea of being powerful because that presumes responsibility on a global scale that they do not yet seem ready to take. The older generation still remembers the ravages of Hitler and the Third Reich, and the younger generation has grown up under the defense umbrella of the U.S. and NATO, which has been in place for nearly 70 years.

Put retrospectively, by the time she had won her third term, in September 2013, Merkel had already stubbornly maneuvered the euro crisis to Germany’s will, demanding, in exchange for not overly generous bailouts, painful structural reforms of the spendthrift South—Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy—and Ireland. She made few friends along the way. The Greeks even waved placards of her with a Hitler mustache. But the German economy, the richest in the Eurozone, seemed to be purring, if not exactly roaring.

During her 2013 campaign, Merkel said that by 2015 Germany would have a balanced budget—“black zeros”—for the first time since 1969, and even today she still insists she will not back down from that pledge; she will not go into deficit spending to stimulate the German economy despite two consecutive flat quarters of growth in 2014 and ominous warnings of recession and stagnation in Europe. Germany’s recalcitrance with regard to stimulating its own economy has been a continuing thorn in the side—if not a source of outright rage—to markets worldwide.

And yet recently, after a G-20 with plenty of drama but little substance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel must now face the ultimate test. She must exit the international stage and start speaking to German voters in a quest to be reelected for a fourth term. Although the G-20 was not the best showcase for the chancellor thanks to protests on the streets of Hamburg, her Christian Democrat party (CDU) has surged ahead in the polls over the last couple of months, giving Merkel a considerable lead of approximately 15 percentage points over Social Democrat party (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz. To maintain momentum, Merkel should address skepticism within her own party about domestic security and the creditworthiness of Germany’s EU partners while continuing to position herself to German voters as a bulwark against Trump.

But the overall situation in Germany has not been so good as ordinary people believe. The long-term and sustainable solutions for refugee issues, and the rise of right-wing populism, among other difficult issues, need to be addressed by Merkel and the German government.

Yet today, to some extent, Germany is enjoying some best times after the 2008/2009 financial crisis. Its economy keeps gaining momentum for growth, its export is robust, and economic think-tanks keep raising their expectations of Germany’s GDP growth rates. Employment is booming, as Merkel in her campaign outline vowed to achieve full employment by 2025.

The sound economic situation made the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) enjoy its upper hand against the Social Democrats (SPD), a center-left party traditionally representing workers and employees and always paying attention to social justice. But in its coalition with SPD, Merkel’s center-right Union has addressed a series of issues concerning social justice and showed center-left political stances, including supporting a welfare state and legal minimum salaries, and turning off Germany’s nuclear power plants. SPD has also been accused of lacking difference between itself and the Union in both domestic and foreign issues.

It appears that Merkel (who has been accused of foisting its own rules on Europe for its sole gain as export king and economic wunderkind), realizing she cannot win an absolute majority in any case, has refrained from pushing up the score. It seems like the last thing she wants is to get more than 40% of the vote and be obliged to form a coalition with the contentious Free Democrats, feeling their oats after once again being able to cross the 5% threshold to get into Parliament.

Ditto for the Greens, who would be even more contentious, while the so-called “Jamaica coalition” — Christian Democrats (black is their signature color), Free Democrats (yellow) and Greens — would be a nightmare of bargaining and compromise. Merkel likes the center and that’s why partnering with the center-left is ideal for her. Loosely speaking, the Free Democrats — liberal in the classic sense — are to the right of the Christian Democrats and the Greens — with their emphasis on environment — are to the left of the Social Democrats. With immigration and refugee issues still the top priority for many voters, it certainly helps that the flow of new asylum-seekers into Germany has slowed. In the first quarter of 2017, statistics from the German government show that 54,600 people applied for asylum in Germany—a stunning 73-percent drop over the same period in 2016. With fewer new arrivals, AfD has found it difficult to sustain its momentum: down from a high of 15 percent nationally, it is currently polling anywhere between seven and 10 percent in national polls.

As seen domestically Germans are hemmed in by manifold problems, albeit 25 years of German unification is a good reason for Germans in the East and in the West to rejoice not only over their national unity, but also over their mutual success. The problems in East Germany today are of a different nature: inadequate specialized labor, demographics, the complications of energy consumption, and the wave of asylum seekers. Land erosion. These are the same complications faced by most regions in the West. So, Germany’s problems have grown together too. How these problems are solved? With a lot of effort, a measured response, and most of all, with the same willingness to embrace change that the East Germans displayed in 1989 and ‘90.”But resurrection of white heat of such enthusiasm in the Germans’ mind seems a devious task yet.

Internationally and trans-regionally, too, Angela Merkel is faced with multiple challenges and threats. As for the Americans, ’Germany policies towards Nato, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine seem highly worrying keeping in view Germany’s comforting notions about the obsolescence of “hard” (military) power and the importance of “soft” (civilian) power. Germany’s liberal and internationalist foreign-policy approach is perceived to have come under threat also by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. This happening has widely been interpreted in Germany as part of a dangerous Zeitenwende, where nationalism, anti-liberal, and authoritarian tendencies; “Great Power” rhetoric and policies; geopolitical revisionism and irredentism; and trade protectionism threaten to produce new conflicts. In Europe, such tendencies, in various combinations, are underlined by the UK’s Brexit, Poland’s PiS, Hungary’s Orban and Jobbik, France’s LePen, Austria’s Hofer and the FPÖ, and the Netherlands’ Wilders. Outside but adjacent to Europe, they have arisen under Erdogan, his de facto abandonment of the EU option and turn to cooperation with Russia and Iran. How far Merkel remains instrumental in addressing these multidimensional challenges seems the litmus test of her statecraftship.

While having a juxtaposition of UK’s iron lady Margaret Thatcher with Germany’s unyielding Angela and EU’s dashing Merkel– we find that as in her third term, Mrs Thatcher tried  and failed  to turn Europe away from the “ever closer union” that saw the creation of the euro and the aggrandisement of Europe’s institutions– now another European woman leader in her fourth term has an enormous task of repairing  the waning fate of the European Union in her hands by saving the Europeans from their shattering  dream of a closer Union, a task that the European Union intrinsically and drastically faces in the wake of the Britain’s exit from the European club.

Though in the post Brexit phase, the challenges eyeing to Merkel are great and keeping in view the EU’s internal unity– posed by the expanding security threats and the emerging EU’s challenges in terms of transnationalism vis-à-vis EU’s institutional revitalisation. But many Germans still hope that under charismatic Merkel’s leadership, Germany will revitalize its role not only to resolve the German problems but also of those Europeans who hail from the community of 27 European nations.

The European Union—apparently a symbol of unity in diversity is presently seen to have horizontal and vertical polaristion in its body politic. It is here that Merkel has to address the task of EU’s political, economic, and institutional unity. As for the Europeans, the EU and the euro are not perfect, but the Europeans have the chance, if not the duty for the sake of the coming generations, to improve them. Therefore, an EU”s course of action to overcome the crisis as well as measures to strengthen the EU are paramount.

The EU needs a stronger common foreign, security and defence policy to give the EU more power and authority on the international stage .And as for German foreign relations, Angela has to astutely deal its relations with Turkey who seems to have been poised against Germany’s asylum policy accompanied by its stand on Turkish European membership. Veritably and most significantly, She has to also reset its relations with the UK in the post Brexit phase, and while strategically given her tilt towards Russia’s Putin , she has to profoundly and rightly readdress the chartered transatlantic challenges particularly Germany’s future role in Nato, and its trade relations with North America.

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