Monday, November 29

Germany’s Election Result Could Soon Inspire Europe’s Center-Left | Martin kettle


GRAMErmany’s general elections signal much more than the end of the Angela Merkel era. Although it will eventually produce another centrist coalition government, this should not be simply dismissed as business as usual. Because the new government will represent several steps into the unknown. There will be important lessons and lasting political consequences, for Germany above all, but also for the continent of which, despite everything, Britain remains a part.

Even without Merkel at the helm, Germany remains Europe’s economic powerhouse and the main regional player. That will not change. However, with no party exceeding 26% of the vote after last Sunday’s contest, German voters have ushered in a new and more fragmented political order. For the first time they face the government of a three-party coalition, not the two most familiar.

The new government is likely to eventually be led by the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz. But the parties it would rely on – the Greens and the economically liberal Free Democrats – will push for tough negotiations. In the short term, this may indicate weeks of paralysis in Berlin, just as Germany takes over the G7 presidency. On the larger stage, it raises questions about Germany’s familiar role under Merkel as the top anchor and arbiter of the European Union. France may envision a window of opportunity to assert itself as Europe’s leader.

Some will seize the resurgence of the Social Democrats (SPD) as the most striking aspect of the elections. After all, Scholz has reversed the seemingly inexorable electoral decline of the main center-left party in Germany and Europe. The SPD had fallen from 41% in support in 1998 to 21% in 2017. This week’s 26% vote showed notable improvements in every part of former East Germany.

Does this mean that those reports on the death of Social Democratic politics have been confused? Up to a point, yes. If Scholz becomes chancellor, he will join the center-left heads of government in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Portugal, possibly France, and possibly soon Norway. Her own track record, both as an SPD leader and, before that, as a generally successful mayor of Hamburg, suggests that Scholz should not be dismissed as a continuity Merkel.

However, winning just over a quarter of the vote shouldn’t be anyone’s idea of ​​winning. It is the direct result of the continued diffusion of electoral support and the less entrenched nature of political identity that characterizes many post-industrial democracies, especially under proportional voting systems. However, the British “first-past-the-post” system does not hide the fact that a similar levity of political identity is established here as well. This is an issue Labor’s Keir Starmer has also been grappling with this week.

In many ways, the most extraordinary aspect of the German election result was the eclipse of the Christian Democrats from the CDU-CSU. Merkel’s party recorded an all-time low percentage of votes of 24%. It lost support in all parts of Germany. The CDU and its ally the Bavarian CSU have been clearly stunned.

Merkel’s own Baltic seat was won by the SPD. On the other side of Saarland, so was her original successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Economy Minister Peter Altmaier also fell. So did Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun. The CDU candidate to succeed Merkel, Armin Laschet, is urged to resign his leadership in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Given the CDU-CSU’s dominance in postwar German politics, reinforced after reunification under Helmut Kohl in 1990, this rejection is truly remarkable. However, it echoes that of other seemingly impregnable center-right parties in other parts of Europe, such as the French Gaullists and the Italian Christian Democrats.

However, the dynamics of the collapse of the CDU-CSU should not be misunderstood. It has become common to claim that the decline of the center-left and right-wing parties is the result of shared political failures that have triggered the rise of the far-right nativist. But this did not happen at all in Germany.

Far from rising when the CDU-CSU fell, the right-wing AfD vote was down 2.3%. The left-wing Die Linke party fared worse, losing nearly half of its votes and seats to become even more marginal. Instead, disillusioned center-right voters migrated to the center, to the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, not to the extremes.

The bottom line appears to be that German voters are looking for better and more progressive centrist solutions than those offered by Merkel’s successors. This is not irrational or perverse, and Germany is far from alone.

Europe is full of countries with latent or real majorities in favor of a less hegemonic progressivism than the one that the mass parties of the industrial past tried to defend. Great Britain, like Gordon brown argued persuasively this month, he’s one of them. If Scholz proves himself the skilled political sculptor who can bring to life and shape the majority emerging from within his country’s electoral marble bloc, he will find that he has many eager imitators.


www.theguardian.com

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