GERMANY AT A CROSSROADS

 

The potential impact of the future German government coalition on the EU

 


On September 26th, Germans headed to the ballot box in the 2021 Federal Elections. This year’s election was a special one, as long-time serving chancellor Angela Merkel decided not to run for office again. Although these elections took place on a national level, the impact of a new government across Europe cannot be underestimated. Germany is the EU’s biggest economy and most populous state, and it influences the direction of European politics and legislation immensely.

A new coalition after most competitive elections in years

Some parties rose to new highs, and others fell to new lows in this year’s hard-fought elections.

The social-democrat SPD, one of the election winners, saw a surge to 25,7 % after being at around 15 % in the polls only a few months ago. Having been the most voted party in the last four elections, the conservative CDU/CSU fell 8,9 % to 24,1 % marking their worst result in history. Another winner of the elections was the Green party that increased its vote share from 8,9 % in 2017 to 14,8 % in 2021. Also, the liberal FDP got a slightly better result with 11,5 % compared to 10,8 % four years ago. The extreme-right AfD lost its status as the biggest opposition party, losing 2,3 % compared to 2017 and ending up at 10,3 %. One of the main losers of the night was the left party Die LINKE, which almost lost half of its voters and dropped to 4,9 %. Even though they did not surpass the election threshold of 5 %, they entered the parliament by getting three direct mandates.

A “traffic light” coalition with social-democrats, liberals and greens is now the almost certain basis for the new government.

What do the new governing parties want for the future of Europe?

The different parties have their own visions for the European Union in several aspects. Looking at the electoral programs, some areas stand out for either being unanimously agreed on or for showing more significant differences.

Internal policies

One big topic is Europe’s economy and fiscal policy. While the Greens advocate for a more solidary Europe, aiming at a social union with a permanent investment and stabilisation instrument under supervision of the EU Parliament, the FDP rejects a mutualisation of debts. Quite on the contrary, the liberal party requires to enforce the fiscal rules again and to hold on to the Maastricht criteria. They assert that the issuing of common debt for the Next-Gen programme shall be the exception.

Concerning climate, all relevant parties want to strengthen protection policies and support the European Green Deal. The social-democrats want to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. They also propose to reform agricultural subsidies that are, as of today, mainly awarded based on the farms’ size in hectare. Unsurprisingly, for the Green party climate protection is the main programmatic point. Not only does the party support the efforts made in the Green Deal, but it also aims for more ambitious goals by investing more money in climate change policy.

The three prospective coalition partners are also aligned on EU institutional matters. The social-democrats, liberals and Greens urge to strengthen the European Parliament by giving it the power to initiate legislation. Moreover, a common wish is to establish a European electoral law with a special focus on the Spitzenkandidat procedure to enhance transparency. Furthermore, majority voting in the Council shall be generalised. Unlike the Greens and the SPD, the FDP included a reduction of the number of Commissioners in their electoral program, supporting a maximum of 16 Commissioners.     

A pressing current issue regarding recent events in Poland and Hungary is the rule of law in the European Union. In this context, the SPD, the Greens as well as the FDP push for a strong European Union that acts consequently in case of violations. The social-democrats, for instance, commend the use of existing mechanisms to sanction breaches of EU principles and advocate the tightening of sanctions. Not convinced by the current system of mutual control between the member states as regards compliance with the rule of law, the FDP pushes for new mechanisms to react more assertively to breaches. The liberals support the withdrawal of financial resources as one of the possible punitive measures. The Greens go the furthest, supporting not only stronger sanctions for violations of European law and the review of Article 7 TEU, but they are also pushing for member states to lay open how awarded subsidies are spent. Moreover, the party supports the reinforcement of the rule of law by making European fundamental rights justiciable and by extending the rights of minorities.

Foreign and Security Policy

All parties favour majority voting in decisions on foreign policy. Furthermore, FDP, SPD and Greens aim to strengthen the EEAS and support the transformation of the High Representative into a European Foreign Minister.

However, regarding trade and development policies, the opinions are further apart. The liberals press for fast ratification of CETA and the MERCOSUR agreements, whereas the Greens reject CETA in its current version and only agree to a MERCOSUR treaty comprising binding rules on climate and human rights. Although the SPD aligns with the Greens concerning MERCOSUR, they are siding with the FDP concerning the fast ratification of CETA. Nevertheless, there is a cross-party consensus among the likely coalition partners concerning the importance of the extension and the deepening of Africa’s and Europe’s cooperation in trade and development. This includes better coordination inside the EU regarding its Africa Policy. Additionally, the Greens and the FDP argue for policies that protect the African market, for instance, ending EU subsidies harming the local economy.

The topics that the “traffic-light” parties are mostly aligned on are the importance of good transatlantic relations with the USA and the fast accession of the Western Balkan states to the EU. However, there are also differences concerning the relations towards several other countries. On the one hand, the Greens and the FDP are very critical towards Russia, determined to hold onto sanctions; on the other hand, they advocate for cooperation with them on topics like climate change and energy. The SPD plans to follow a different approach and suggests new politics towards the east, including more cooperation but also pointing out violations of international law and human rights. When it comes to China, the social-democrats acknowledge that the country is an important partner in trade and climate, whereas Greens and FDP are more assertively focussing on the need to counter human rights violations and to support Taiwan and Hong Kong. Regarding Turkey, the FDP rejects its accession to the EU. On the contrary, the SPD and Greens want to intensify the dialogue with Turkey again without discarding its future membership of the EU.

A clear commitment to NATO and the strategic sovereignty of the EU is a topic on which the parties are mostly on the same page. There shall be more cooperation in the defence industry sector and enhanced cooperation between the EU Member States in military affairs to achieve strategic independence. Furthermore, the SPD, the liberals as well as the Greens are in favour of a common EU command structure and the creation of a European Army.

One of the most controversial topics is migration policy. All parties support a refugee distribution mechanism and more solidarity. However, while Greens and social-democrats are more liberal with immigration, the FDP is more conservative in that regard. The SPD and the Greens propose EU organised and financed sea rescue and the provision of legal migration routes. In addition to that, the Greens reject refugee camps outside the EU like in Libya and require the renegotiation of the migration deal with Turkey.

Results of the exploratory negotiations between SPD, FDP and Greens

In the parties’ conclusion paper (“Sondierungspapier”) produced at the end of their exploratory talks, some bigger tendencies can be already noticed. Strengthening the European Union by adopting a value-based and more pro-European approach than before is the overarching goal of the likely coalition partners. This shall be achieved with the help of a solid Franco-German partnership.

The possible “traffic-light” coalition is willing to promote Europe’s strong economic re-emergence from the pandemic based on sound and sustainable public finances. In their conclusions, they point out that climate neutrality shall be achieved, and the Green Deal implemented completely.  The parties express their support for measures like the Stability and Growth mechanism to boost competitiveness in all EU member states. Furthermore, Europe shall be modernised in the digital, transportation and energy sector.

Concerning foreign policy, the social-democrats, greens, and liberals agree on supporting NATO, while aiming to create a European Army to gain strategic independence. Moreover, according to the paper, there shall be EU-wide cooperation on migration, including efforts to end the dire situation in the Mediterranean Sea and the EU’s external borders.  Therefore, legal channels of migration shall be created, and procedures accelerated. Also, the parties agreed on supporting a restrictive arms export policy with an EU arms export regulation made in cooperation with the European partners.

Outlook

The new government will most likely try to strengthen European integration on different levels. Although there are several issues, like trade policy or the economic and fiscal union, on which SPD, Greens and FDP disagree, there are a lot of areas in which the three prospective partners are already aligned. For instance, a push for strengthened European institutions and the rule of law is almost certain. Furthermore, the reinforcement of military and strategic cooperation including the possible creation of a European army is agreed upon. Moreover, the general unity on issues of digital and climate modernisation will also be reflected in Germany’s positions at the European level. Hence, even though many compromises have still to be found, the possible “traffic light” coalition will aim for an innovative pro-European approach and will support reforms inside the EU, but also regarding its external relations.


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