The 2017 German Federal Elections stand to be some of the most important Europe has seen for a long time. Founded just four years ago, the right-wing Alternative Für Deutschland (AfD) is likely to become the official opposition to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. Yet the election is strangely devoid of hype similar to Marine Le Pen’s campaign in France, Geert Wilder’s Dutch election campaign or even the 2015 British General Election, in which the British equivalent UK Independence Party were expected to make large gains.
This is perhaps a measure of Angela Merkel’s hold on power. The re-election of the woman who has dominated European politics for the last decade is virtually certain, but Merkel’s fourth term as Chancellor may be her most important – and most legacy defining. Her first test will come with forming a coalition in order to govern. Given Germany’s somewhat idiosyncratic electoral system, the norm is for a grand coalition to form a government. Yet despite the undoubted continuation of Merkel’s reign, German politics is shifting to the right – and this may change in who she buddies up with.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP), Merkel’s current coalition partner, have ruled out another coalition unless certain conditions are met. These include free nursery schooling, equal pay for women, pension protection and a pro-European Union stance. But party leader Martin Schulz has run a poor campaign and many view his current coalition as the reason for the SDP’s lack of electoral progress. Buckling under criticism that there is little to distinguish his party from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, polls suggest he is unlikely to scrape enough seats to take power again. Meanwhile the Greens and the Left have featured little in this election, and the unpopularity of the Europhile SDP stands in stark contrast with the rise of AfD – as well as the reinvigoration of the pro-business Free Democrats Party (FDP), under the charismatic leadership of Christian Lindner.
If polls are to be believed, the FDP are the most likely partners to form a government. But months of wrangling is expected and, depending on numbers, Mrs Merkel may engineer the inclusion of the Greens in a ‘Jamaica’ coalition. The presence of the FDP in government will likely change Mrs. Merkel’s stance on certain key issues. Namely, the FDP stands opposed to greater European economic integration and the open immigration policies of Mrs. Merkel, with Mr Lindner suggesting Canadian-style controlled immigration instead.
Even further to the right are the AfD, who stand to win most of their support in former East Germany, a region that has struggled to keep pace with the more industrialised and populated West of the country. But it would be wrong to assume that the AfD relies on the dissatisfaction of Germany’s economic ‘precariat’; the party’s appeal extends much further. Consolidating both the growing dissatisfied and anti-establishment votes, the AfD has gone to the polls on an anti-migration, anti-Islam and anti-Europe platform. They even plan to reintroduce the Deutschmark. And although they are not set to enter into government, they are set to win an unprecedented number of seats in the Bundestag – and may even become the official opposition.
Winning the election is the easy part. Once in power, Merkel will face a range of new challenges. First is the German economy; Business leaders have warned that in order to keep Germany at the top of the table it needs a more growth-orientated approach from the government. The rise of the German right may also have repercussions for Mrs Merkel’s European challenges. Germany, by virtue of it’s economic prowess and Mrs Merkel’s gravitas, is front and centre of the European Union. The influence of a new coalition with the business friendly Free Democrats could not only change Merkel’s stance on Brexit – but that of the entire European Union. The FDP and AfD are known critics of the EU, both in terms of it’s open borders policy and it’s economic regulations. Both may soon change – Angela Merkel is famed for her pragmatism. As Germany moves to the right, she may too.