Germany is gearing up for federal elections on 27 September and the country’s three main left-wing parties – the Greens, SPD and Die Linke – are set for a combined majority, albeit a slim one. Polls have put the Greens on 23 per cent, the SPD on around 18 per cent and Die Linke on 9 per cent.
Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, has led a coalition government since 2005 and was scoring around 40 per cent in polls a year ago, back when Germany seemed to be managing the coronavirus crisis relatively well. Now, largely because of its failings during the pandemic, the CDU has plummeted to between 25 and 29 per cent.
The SPD, formerly a moderate left-wing party, has become increasingly radical in recent years. Until just a few years ago, the SPD ruled out coalitions with the Die Linke at the federal level because the hard-left party was too radical. The SPD’s co-leaders, Saska Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjahns, are now open to the idea.
Die Linke is the latest iteration of the former communist SED party that governed East Germany, having changed its name several times since German reunification. Die Linke is committed to an extensive programme of nationalisations, a top tax rate of 75 per cent and withdrawing from NATO. Until a few months ago, the party’s new leader, Janine Wissler, was a member of a radical Trotskyist group.
The major focus of the left-wing Greens is protecting the environment and fighting climate change. Many in the German media support the Greens and, on Germany’s de facto state television channel, journalists do little to hide their sympathies. Germany’s capital, Berlin, is already governed by a coalition of the SPD, Greens and Die Linke. The Greens and Die Linke have thrown their weight behind a campaign calling for the expropriation of housing companies with more than 3,000 apartments. The Green’s co-leaders, Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, have said they support expropriating real estate companies as a “last resort.” All three leftist parties would reintroduce the wealth tax, which was abolished in Germany in 1997.
The SPD and Greens are now pursuing a policy that many are calling voter deception. The parties are regularly asked whether they are open to a coalition with Die Linke. While they do not rule it out, they are also careful not to openly profess this goal because they know it would lose them votes. The SPD’s top candidate is Olaf Scholz, currently finance minister in Merkel’s government. In many ways, Scholz is to the SPD what Joe Biden is to the Democrats: a relative moderate who, it is hoped, will pick up votes from the country’s incumbent leader. But most members of the SPD have failed to get behind Scholz’s policies, as demonstrated by his loss to two radicals, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans, in elections for party Chair.
A coalition of these three parties would radically change Germany. They are all committed to cutting German defence spending, despite the fact it is already low compared to other NATO partners.
In recent years, Angela Merkel has moved the CDU closer to the Greens and SPD and has launched a programme of radical economic change. The German energy market is no longer a free market, it is a planned economy. All nuclear power and coal-fired power plants are being shut over the next few years. Even the German car industry has lost control over which cars it produces; in effect, such decisions are dictated by the government.
The Greens, SPD and Die Linke want to accelerate this process, by banning combustion engines and domestic flights, for example. They want to amend the constitution so that 50 per cent of parliamentarians are women and cap residential rent increases to the inflation rate. In Berlin, the Greens, SPD, and Die Linke government has gone even further, passing a law that forces private landlords to drastically reduce rents.
Entrepreneurs across Germany are unsettled. Yet if the Left keeps up the momentum, September’s elections will usher in not just a new leader, but a fundamentally different political outlook.
Dr Rainer Zitelmann is a Berlin-based historian, sociologist and author. His most recent books include The Wealth Elite, The Power of Capitalism, and The Rich in Public Opinion: What We Think When We Think About Wealth.