German Federal election causes upset in Bundestag

Brian Messing, Section Editor


Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, prevailed in Germany’s federal election on Sept. 24. Merkel was successfully elected to a fourth term as Germany’s head of government. It may seem that the story of Germany’s 2017 election is over, but it is far from over as Merkel must now negotiate her coalition agreement to formally establish power. Under Germany’s parliamentary system of government, the chancellor must have the backing of more than half of the members of the Bundestag (the German Parliament). If the largest party in the Bundestag does not have a majority, they must work to convince the smaller parties to support their government in exchange for cabinet positions and concessions on policy.

Since Germany uses a proportional representation system, meaning that percentage of the vote won is equal to percentage of the seats won (five percent of the popular vote equals five percent the seats in parliament), there are many parties that are represented and no single party has a majority on its own. In the last parliament, Angela Merkel’s CDU (Christian Democratic Union)-CSU (Christian Social Union) center-right alliance ruled in coalition with the center-left Social Deomcratic Party (SPD). This was known as a grand coalition since the CDU-CSU and the SPD were the two largest parties in the Bundestag respectively and they joined forces between left and right.

As Merkel shops for potential coalition partners, she will not be able to consider a deal with the SPD again. The SPD has been reinvigorated by its new leader Martin Schulz. Schulz had previously represented the party in the European Union and also served as president of the European Parliament. When Schulz became leader of the SPD, and their candidate for chancellor, he even led Merkel for a short-lived period in the polls. Schulz believes that the SPD needs a “spell in opposition” before it can be a credible party to lead the government. Therefore, Merkel must look in other places to find potential coalition partners.

The third largest party in the Bundestag following the election is the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD is seen as a more Eurosceptic party that has been particularly critical of Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis. The AfD won 94 seats in the most recent election, which marks their first ever entry to the Bundestag. This comes after the AfD won approximately 12.6 percent of the popular vote. The AfD is unlikely to join any sort of Merkel coalition, so their voice in the Bundestag will be primarily through opposition.

With the SPD and AfD unlikely to join a Merkel-led coalition, Merkel has started to negotiate a coalition with the Free Democratic Party and the Greens, dubbed as the “Jamaica Coalition” according to Reuters. The “Jamaica Coalition” title is colloquially given because of the colors of the parties involved in the coalition. The CDU’s primary color is black, the FDP’s color is yellow and the Green’s color is green. This coalition is broader than before, bringing together the CDU-CSU on the center-right, the FDP in the center and the Greens on the center-left. Still, it is the most realistic option for any government to be formed given the unusual election results.

The FDP just re-entered the Bundestag after falling below the minimum five percent threshold to receive representation in the 2013 election. The FDP is considered a “pro-business” party, with its many policies that support free enterprise and privatization. Additionally, the part takes a libertarian view on civil liberties, supporting gay marriage and marijuana legalization, and human rights. The FDP is considered generally compatible with Merkel and joining the government upon their re-entry to the Bundestag is a great way to make an impact for them.

The Greens are the other party that will be necessary to join the “Jamaica Coalition.” The Greens are on the center-left and are therefore farther apart from the CDU-CSU and the FDP on certain issues. The most obvious issues separating the parties is refugees. Just last week, Angela Merkel indicated that she would be capping the number of refugees who could enter Germany to satisfy members of the CSU, her sister party in Germany. This move was met with criticism from the Greens who take a more Pro-European outlook on the refugee crisis.

The negotiation process will take months according to some. It is also likely that the “Jamaica Coalition” agreement will be much more detailed than previous coalition agreements. This is largely because there are three parties involved rather than two (leading to more potential disagreements if two parties agree on something but the other one doesn’t), and a more turbulent political environment following the populist uprisings across the world including the AfD within Germany itself.


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