Merkel: The Safe Bet for September? By Richard R. Moeller
The rumors about the collapse of the Christian Democrats (CDU), and by extension, Chancellor Angela Merkel, appear to be erroneous. As the September 2017 federal elections creep closer (just three months away), Merkel could be the only rational choice for Germany, despite her track record. This is what she hopes and she is putting her election team to work on creating this impression.
Not long ago, Merkel was seen by surrounding sides as illogical on refugees. In fact, a psychologist maintained she was “completely irrational” which was covered by internet news sources from the Huffington Post to Breitbart News. Along the same lines, one can’t compare the last presidential campaign in the U.S. (re: rational choices, etc.) to the parliamentary campaign in Germany. Political parties control the German political system.
Just a few months ago German political pundits were predicting that her occupancy of German Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt) was nearing an end. In fact, a poll in September of 2016 had a majority of Germans (albeit a small majority) declaring that her run for another (a record-tying fourth) term would be a mistake. While rival political parties like the established Social Democrats (SPD) or the upstart rightist Alternative for Germany (AfD) see an opening, the window is closing according to summertime polls.
It’s true that Merkel and her party are suffering from various policies (especially immigration) as well as a perceived apathy regarding fixing these policies. Moreover, there is hardly a chance for the CDU to gain a majority and not need another party to create government.
That’s the German system though. The urgent goal for the CDU is to get the highest plurality in September, then create a stable government for as long as possible. For all intents and purposes, this means joining with their rivals (SPD) again or finding a party that hurdles the five percent threshold and gives them a majority together. By the way, the Free Democrats (FDP) may complete the majority puzzle piece for the CDU if they can get over five percent nationally (they could not in 2013). A quick examination shows that the FDP window is opening.
What the French did in their election gives the SPD hope; however, their leader/chancellor candidate Martin Schulz is no Emmanuel Macron. Macron's “youthful stardust” is not at all part of Schulz’s appeal. He’s 61 and not youthful like he was when he sought a football career in the mid-70s. Schulz is somewhat a success story having beaten alcohol and thereafter became President of the European Parliament without even a university degree. He’s best well-known outside of Germany for his loathing of Brexit and ill-tempered exchanges with Nigel Farage.
Angela Merkel is not as popular as she once was. Sometimes you still here her referred to as Mutti (Mommy), but not as much. Like many nicknames, it’s become sarcastic fodder for her political enemies. Yet, she is flanked by the Left (with a few parties that would like to form government without her) and the Right (who are socially unacceptable).
It’s safe to say that her position, along with her party, is the Center today. Even her more conservative allies in Bavaria reluctantly accept that. Merkel has been successful at coopting policies usually aligned with others. In 2013, it was from the Greens. This year, she looks to be spoiling the Right by coordinating with the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria.
After the U.S. election swung in one direction and the French in the other, much has been said about Merkel’s aforementioned political position – good and bad. She is still hampered by the refugee crisis, but the alternative (from the Right) is viewed as profoundly unacceptable. The Left is viewed by many as impractical. Surely, after the events of 2016, a large number of Germans will seek “the safe bet” in September.
Richard R. Moeller is an Associate Professor of Political Science at The Metropolitan State University of Denver.