Political Analysis by Emma O’Connor
When Germans go to the polls on September 26th, 2021, there will be more on their minds than just the formation of the 20th Bundestag. Since 2005, Angela Merkel has guided the country and provided stability through global crises, such as the 2008 global financial crisis and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Named fourth in Forbes’ list of World’s Most Powerful People, Germany’s first female chancellor has solidified her position amongst the top world leaders, often viewed as the de facto leader of Europe. As her time in power draws to a close, people across the globe are keen to see if her successor will carry on this legacy and solidify Germany’s position as one of the strongest countries in the world. Whilst some voters in Germany are eager for change, others are cautious to break away from the staid politics of the last 16 years. Given the increasing popularity of more radical political parties across Europe, 62% of Germans fear political extremism (Politico, 2017). Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has led Germany since 2005, however, times are changing and support for the CDU is declining. According to current opinion polls, support for the CDU has dropped more than 10% since they won the 2017 election. Below we discuss the political parties on the rise in Germany and the candidates vying to become Germany’s new chancellor.
The CDU + Armin Laschet
Since their formation in 1945, the CDU have been in government 15 times and are currently in government with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). A centre party whose policies stem from Christian values, they gained approval for their moderate, anti-extremist stance, which was welcomed by a lot of German people post-World War II and during the Cold War. The party has become more liberal in recent years in an attempt to appeal to younger voters, but some CDU members are unhappy with the move away from the CDU’s core beliefs. The party has maintained relations with many foreign powers, taking a pro-EU and pro-USA stance, and Germany is often seen as the driving force in the EU. Germany’s immigration policies and the CDU’s handling of the 2015 European migrant have often been condemned by their opponents but the CDU remains committed to supporting immigrants integrating into German society.
The CDU candidate, 60-year-old Armin Laschet, is naturally one of the favourites, given the CDU’s reign in power. A member of the Bundestag since 1994 and a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2005, Laschet is one of the most experienced candidates in this year’s election. He is currently the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, as well as leader of the CDU since January of this year. In line with most of CDU’s conservative policies, Laschet is a proponent of conservative policies influenced by Christianity. During the 2017 vote on same-sex marriage, Laschet was staunchly against the passing of the law. He has been accused by some of being a ‘Russlandversteher’ for his soft stance towards Russia, and he also wants to develop a closer rapport with China, a move criticised by many. Laschet has also come under fire in more recent times for backing Israel in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He takes a middle-ground stance towards climate change, wanting to avoid any extreme measures in fighting the climate crisis.
Laschet has come under fire recently for his inappropriate behaviour whilst visiting towns affected by the recent German floods. In July whilst visiting Erftstadt, a town particularly impacted by the floods, Laschet was seen talking and laughing as German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave a statement about the devastation of the floods. Whilst Laschet has apologised for his actions, these behaviours have been criticised by many as being wholly inappropriate and hurtful to the victims of the floods.
Die Grünen + Annalena Baerbock
The Green Party (die Grünen) in Germany are on the rise and are set for one of their best election results yet. Having won 8.9% of the votes in the 2017 federal election, current opinion polls show support for die Grünen to be sitting around 17.6%, having reached a peak of 25.8% in May 2021. Founded in 1993, the centre-left, environmentalist party have been in federal government twice, in 1998 and 2002, both times in coalition with the SPD. Their policies are extremely progressive and are a notable contrast to the policies of the CDU. Their main goal is to take more drastic action to combat the current climate crisis and to foster sustainable development. Die Grünen support the legalisation of marijuana, the introduction of higher minimum wages, and increased investment in education. They are supportive of feminist and LGBTQ+ policies and want to offer asylum to LGBTQ+ people who may be facing persecution in their home countries.
The 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock of die Grünen is looking to become the second woman to enter Germany’s highest government office. Having joined the Bundestag in 2013, Baerbock went on to become leader of die Grünen in 2018 and has become increasingly popular since the last election. As with her party, Baerbock calls for more action to be taken in combatting the current climate crisis, such as expediting the phasing out of coal, allowing the registration of only emission-free cars, and in what is deemed a highly contentious policy, introducing a speed limit of 130km/hour on the German Autobahns (German motorways known for their lack of speed limits). She supports stronger foreign policies from the E.U., particularly towards Russia & China, and also backs the formation of a European Army.
Baerbock has been criticised by many for her lack of experience, having never previously held an office in government. She has also been caught up in some recent controversies, namely her quoting of the N-word when retelling a story of a child who refused to complete a workbook which included racist terminology. Baerbock has apologised for her use of the racial slur but many remain hurt by her insensitivity to the topic of racism. Another recent scandal for Baerbock has been accusations of plagiarism in her new book. Baerbock’s book was found to contain passages from other sources which had not been referenced. Baerbock has admitted that she should have taken more due diligence with referencing but insists that she was merely stating commonly known information.
SPD + Olaf Scholz
Founded in 1863 and boasting the largest number of party members, the SPD are one of the oldest and most established parties in German politics. Despite having been strongly influenced by Marxism originally, the SPD has become a centre-left party who support a capitalist economy whilst still focusing on the rights of workers. They believe in creating equal opportunities for everyone, rather than splitting out wealth amongst the people. They hope to achieve this by removing barriers to education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In terms of foreign policy, they consider themselves progressively pro-EU, but are more cautious about Germany’s relationship with America than other parties. The SPD have previously been in coalitions with die Grünen, the FDP, and more recently the CDU. They have been in government with the CDU since 2013 where they received 25.7% of the vote which fell to 20.5% in 2017, although they managed to remain in government.
At 63 years old, Olaf Scholz of the SPD is one of the oldest candidates for the chancellery. A Bundestag member since 1998, he has held notable positions in his political career, including Minister of Finance and Vice-Chancellor of Germany since 2018. Scholz is deemed to be conservative by members of his own party and is seen as taking the middle-ground on many key issues. His focus is mainly on economic and foreign policies, aiming to reduce public spending, reduce Germany’s debt, and taking a stronger stance against aggressors, such as Russia. In relation to refugees, he wants Germany to help make it possible for refugees to stay in other countries, rather than Germany taking in large numbers of refugees.
Scholz has come under fire for his handling of the 2017 Hamburg G20 riots during his time as mayor of Hamburg. Rioting broke out outside the summit and spread across Hamburg, mainly as a result of far-left extremists. Scholz was accused of not preparing the city enough to deal with the riots which resulted in major damage to personal and public property. More recently Scholz was the subject of a Bundestag inquiry into what went wrong with Wirecard, a German digital payments company which could not account for €1.9 billion of assets. As head of Germany’s finance ministry and BaFin (Germany’s financial watchdog), people have questioned how much Scholz knew about the issues with Wirecard and how his department could have overlooked these problems. This scandal has led to somewhat of a confidence crisis in Scholz.
FDP & Christian Lindner
Germany’s main centre-right party is the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), whose policies support liberal economics, privatisation and free markets. Since their formation in 1948, the FDP have been in coalition with both the SPD and CDU separately 14 times. The party is considered to be close to the CDU in relation to economic issues, but closer to die Grünen and SPD on social issues. The FDP want to improve infrastructure, reduce taxes by €30 billion, as well as selling the government’s stakes in companies like Deutsche Bahn (the German train company) and Deutsche Post (Germany’s postal service). They propose increasing spending on defence and introducing a system for immigration based on points, like those in place in Canada. In line with their liberal stance, they are proponents of the legalisation of marijuana and support same-sex marriage.
The leader of the FDP, 42-year-old Christian Lindner, has been a member of the Bundestag since 2009 and was elected leader of the federal FDP party in 2017. He places emphasis on the importance of entrepreneurship and free trade. He focuses heavily on foreign policy, and is strongly anti-Turkey, as he feels Germany has been too soft in their dealings with President Erdogan. He has campaigned for Germany to take a more hard-line approach towards autocratic regimes. He originally supported the sanctions imposed on Russia but have softened his stance and hopes to build a relationship with Russia. He is extremely pro-EU, wants to strengthen external EU borders and supports the establishment of a European army. In regard to the refugee crisis, he is in favour of offering refuge to migrants fleeing from war but feels they should return to their homeland when the conflict ends. Lindner supports taking action against climate change but is opposed to taking drastic measures to combat the issue as it may harmfully impact the economy. Lindner has previously been accused of having colleagues make positive edits to his Wikipedia profile, and some critics have also called out sexist comments made by Linder about the FDP’s general secretary, Linda Teutebergs, and fellow politician, Claudia Roth.
AfD & Alice Weidel + Tino Chrupalla
Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was originally founded in 2013 as a Eurosceptic, conservative, centre-right party but have shifted to become a far right-wing party. They received 4.7% of the votes in the 2013 election, but this rose to 12.6% in the most recent Bundestag elections, making them the third largest party in the Bundestag. The populist and nationalist AfD are opposed to multiculturalism and feel that German identity is being threatened by immigrants and refugees. They are staunchly against same-sex marriage and deny the existence of climate change. The party support NATO, the USA, Israel and even Russia, despite being anti-communist. There is a split amongst AfD politicians, mainly between the more ‘moderate, conservative’ party members and the ‘far-right’ members. Certain factions of the AfD, such as ‘Der Flügel’, haven been deemed extremist and unconstitutional by the German government, and at times the AfD have been put under surveillance by government departments.
The AfD is putting forward two joint candidates for the position of Chancellor: Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla. Weidel, 42 years-old, joined the Bundestag in 2017 as the AfD leader. She is deemed as being from the AfD’s more ‘moderate’ camp, but is conservative in her policies, nevertheless. She supports Germany’s membership of the EU but wants Germany to withdraw from the Eurozone and believes weaker EU states should be removed from the union. She has long been a critic of the German government’s immigration policies, preferring the idea of basing immigration on the skills of an immigrant (skilled versus unskilled).Like her party, she is opposed to same-sex marriage, as well as teaching children about sexuality in school. She also believes that Germany should withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord and should focus on rebuilding their army (the Bundeswehr).Weidel has been involved in many controversies, particularly for her political ‘incorrectness’. In 2017 a German newspaper claimed that Weidel had been illegally employing a Syrian refugee as a housekeeper at her Swiss home but Weidel disputes these claims.
46 -year-old Chrupalla, a former tradesman, is the AfD’s other candidate. Having joined the party in 2015, Chrupalla has won the support of middle-class voters as he appeals to the “blue collars”, something which many other German parties struggle to do. Chrupalla wants increased security at Germany’s borders and has called for an end to Germany’s sanctions for Russia. An outspoken critic of Germany’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Chrupalla is against mask mandates and deemed the lockdown in spring 2020 to be “excessive”. He has previously compared the politics of the Western Allies post World War II to being like that of Nazi propaganda.
Die Linke & Janine Wissler + Dietmar Bartsch
Die Linke is a democratic socialist party, founded in 2007, and is descended from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) who were the ruling party of East Germany. In line with Keynesian economics, they aim to increase public spending in the areas of education, culture and infrastructure. Die Linke renounce privatisation and have advocated for a federal minimum wage. Their politicians are against international armament and have called for the removal of American Army bases in the EU. They strongly oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and are also opposed to the Lisbon Treaty and Russia’s actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Die Linke hopes to support developing countries by cancelling debt and increasing aid. The party has been surveilled by the government department responsible for upholding the constitution and they found that although some party factions and affiliates are extremist, the overall party is not. The party has previously come under fire for its links to the SED and has been accused of supporting the former state of East Germany. Die Linke has never been in government in the Bundestag to date and received the fifth highest number of party votes in the 2017 elections. Current opinion polls are placing Die Linke around sixth place.
Like the AfD, Die Linke is also putting forward two joint candidates for the position of chancellor. Janine Wissler, 40-years-old, joined the party in 2007 after it merged with WASG (a former left-wing party) and just recently became chairwoman of Die Linke. Wissler is considered extremely left, resolutely anti-capitalist and deems herself pro-revolution. She supports Germany’s withdrawal from NATO and wants to fight for justice and the environment. She has been associated with Marx21, a faction within Die Linke that is deemed extremist in nature. Die Linke’s other candidate is Dietmar Bartsch, a 63-year-old who has been involved in German politics since before some of his chancellor opponents were even born. He joined the SED, East Germany’s ruling party in 1977 and entered the Bundestag for the first time in 1998. He too merged with Die Linke in 2007 and has been chairman of the party since 2015. Deemed moderate within his own party, Bartsch has previously stated that he would be willing to go into coalition with the SPD, but the SPD have outright refused. He is considered a strong pacifist and supports disarmament and the halting of Germany arms exports. He has long called for a stronger stance against Turkey, particularly after the Turkish purges in 2016 which were carried out by the Turkish government. Bartsch has been accused of being sympathetic to Russia and the former East German state, having previously disputed claims that East Germany was an unjust state. However, Bartsch has been accused of disloyalty by his own party members and has been exposed for having privately asked another politician for a detailed report of the views and positions of the 44 members of Die Linke’s executive committee.
Having discussed Germany’s main six parties, there are a few smaller parties of note which are hoping to gain more seats in this year’s election.
Die Partei (the Party), founded in 2004, are a satirical, populist political party who made history by becoming the first satire party to win a seat in the European party elections in 2014. Die Partei claims to stand for those who have been let down by other major parties and in general stand for environmentalism, anti-authoritarianism and are pro-Europe. Some of their aims include “rebuilding the Berlin wall”, improving the health insurance system, reducing working hours and developing a new constitution. Die Partei have tried to get the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution to put them under surveillance but the government department has refused due to the satirical nature of the party. Die Partei received 1% of the vote in the 2017 elections and are hoping to build on this in the upcoming elections.
The Free Voters (Freie Wähler) were founded in 1965 as a federal group but only became a recognised political party in 2009. A centre-right, conservative party, they are comprised of people who partake in an election without being registered to a political party. The Free Voters have never received more than 1% of the federal election votes, and most of their votes come from rural areas, particularly in southern Germany, mainly due to their conservative viewpoints.
Another party that seems to be on the rise is VOLT Germany, which was founded in 2017. Volt Germany is part of a wider pro-EU movement called Volt Europe which aims to introduce a European federation. The party are considered to be centre/centre-left and are focused on digitalisation, human rights, the empowerment of citizens and reforming the EU.