Germans to the ballots – the impact on the EU

Posted on 24. January 2013

by Heidi Beha

Heidi BehaThe election year in Germany is on: The parliamentary elections in the northwestern Bundesland (federal state) Niedersachsen marked a thrilling start on Sunday. The opposition coalition won only one deputy ahead. The result reminds a basketball score. 69:68 seats for the Social Democrats and the Green Party. Angela Merkel’s CDU which was in power together with the Liberal Democrats, FDP, lost 6.5 percentage points. Despite expectations that the FDP will not even manage the five per cent hurdle they performed very well. Achieving almost ten per cent they got 1.7 percentage points more than five years ago.

In May local government elections in Schleswig-Holstein catch up and in September the German Bundestag (federal parliament) with the Merkel-government awaits elections. Also in September the ever-conservatively-governed Bundesland Bayern faces elections and in Hessen the CDU/FDP coalition will try to stay in power. This year challenges the Merkel party on its fundamentals. Merkel’s government coalition made up of CDU/CSU and FDP only rule three out of 16 Länder after the Sunday elections. The opposite situation was true in 2005 when Merkel came into power. What comes on top: Of those three Länder, two face elections in September (Bayern) and December (Hessen).

What impact will this have on the EU?

Being involved in campaigning and taking care that there will be as little possibilities as possible to attack her, Merkel might not go for big decisions this year unless she has to. This can mean a downtime for the European project in 2013. Or, more positively, time for consolidation and the chance for other politicians to shape Europe their way. François Hollande or David Cameron (“This morning I want to talk about the future of Europe.”) could take the opportunity to shape Europe.

In 2013 after a seemingly everlasting period of crisis and a big focus on European issues could become a year when German politicians focus on domestic questions. Even if something crucial happens it is questionable if Merkel takes the initiative rather than to wait and remain silent.

Tranquility seems to be one of the Merkel strategies, another one could be distraction. While the media focused on the regional elections on Sunday, Merkel only spoke to the press on Monday. Meanwhile her press staff was busy to tweet, talk and stage the theme German-French relationship with the 50th anniversary of the Elysée treaty – quite successfully. A journalist writes that Merkel will continue her policy of calmness as long as possible following a German saying in the following sense: One who doesn’t do anything doesn’t do mistakes.

In case Merkel will be reelected for a third period, her freedom of acting and her wish to continue filling history books’ chapters might be a plus for everyone waiting for new steps of shaping a clearer future of the European Union. On the other hand a new social democratic chancellor will have the chance and the energy to rebuild the European house after the passed shaking years. Both scenarios are possible and the situation in Germany reminds a bit on last year’s election in France when the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy was challenged by the social democrat Hollande. No one knew what to expect from the ‘newbie’.

The opposition’s candidate, Peer Steinbrück, made the most notable headlines about his claims to increase the chancellor’s salary so far. So in Germany it doesn’t feel like change now to be honest. The alternatives of Merkel seem to be limited. Many forecasts prove that different election results in September lead mainly to the same chancellor – Merkel. A grand coalition seems likely, so do four more years with the CDU/FDP government or the attempt of a first CDU/Green Party coalition on the federal level.

On the other hand: The regional elections in Niedersachsen showed that election forecasts don’t mean anything and everything. The FDP was expected to drop out of the parliament with only two per cent. In fact they made almost ten.