One of the most civilised traditions of modern German elections is the post-election leaders televised debate. Britain’s leaders struggle to be in the same room before an election, never mind sitting down calmly on election night to dissect the campaign and the implications of the results in front of the cameras for the benefit of the voters.
There was a lot to talk about, and it is worth watching back. Merkel has won a fourth term but it is a tarnished victory. The exit polls suggest that her CDU-CSU has won just 33% of the vote. The SPD had a miserable election, with Jean Claude Juncker’s pal Martin Schulz only managing to get his party to 20.7%. The classically liberal free market FDP are on track for 11.2%, the Left (Die Linke) 9%, the Greens 8.9%.
But the far-right, nationalist AfD made the big breakthrough. The exit poll suggests they will score 13% of the vote and end up with more than 90 seats in the Bundestag.
Here are a few quick observations about the implications:
- A so-called Jamaica coalition (dubbed that thanks to the colours of the three parties looking like the Jamaican flag) is the only option. That’s Merkel’s CDU-CSU, the Greens, and the FDP governing together. What a mix. The negotiations will take weeks, and maybe even months. Merkel in the post-election debate urged everyone to sleep on it for a night.
- It’ll no doubt become fashionable to say that at least 86% of Germany did not vote for the AfD, but its surge is transgressive and troubling, if understandable after the massive gamble taken on admitting such large numbers of refugees and making a mess of integration. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Central Council of Germany’s Jewish community has condemned the far-right Alternative for Germany’s entry into the Bundestag. The council’s president, Josef Schuster, declared: “Unfortunately our fears have come true. A party that tolerates extreme right-wing thoughts and agitates against minorities is now not only in nearly all state parliaments, but also in the federal parliament.” There are already protests against the AfD taking place in several German cities.
- Merkel is the dominant figure in Europe, but at the height of her dominance she gets merely a third of the vote. I repeat my usual observation that other than winning (not an insubstantial achievement) it is difficult to work out what any of it is for. Will she leave any legacy? Her supporters respond that she governs calmly without ego and drama, believing in public service and stewardship. Fair enough.
- The discussion in the TV debate about Brexit was pretty unenlightening. Schulz claimed that Michel Barnier has done a good job and argued there was nothing more to give the Brits. Everyone else looked a bit baffled or embarrassed. Once the new German government is formed though the British government must look for a relatively quick answer on whether a deal can be done, or is possible, and if the answer from Berlin is nein, Germany doesn’t want a deal done by Barnier, then that’s that.
- What happens to German policy on the EU and the eurozone now? As Professor Marcel Fratzscher – @MFratzscher – observed: “Schaueble unlikely to be next German FinMin. Who will take his job could have major impact on Germany’s policy towards Europe?” President Macron wants a shift, with a Eurozone finance ministry and more German flexibility on policy.
- The AfD chap on the TV debate made an attempt to claim that his party is entirely free of racism. The other leaders laughed. Who says the Germans lack a sense of humour?