German Elections Results: Impact on Foreign Policy

04 Oct, 2017    ·   5375

Dr Kai Fürstenberg assesses the outcome of the German federal elections and its potential impact on Berlin's overall foreign policy and its policies towards South Asia

The 2017 German federal election produced results partly anticipated by analysts but were shocking nevertheless. For the past five decades, the Bundestag (federal parliament) was dominated by the two major parties, the Christian democrats Christian Democratic Union of Germany/CDU, and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria/ CSU) on the conservative side and the social democrats (Social Democratic Party of Germany/SPD) on the left, with both parties overlapping in the middle, the liberal spectrum. Since re-unification in 1990, there were also three smaller parties from the liberal-left (Free Democratic Party/FDP, and the the Greens/green party) to the radical left spectrum The Left/Left party) in the Bundestag. Up until now, the bundesrepublikanische Konsens (federal republican consensus) was that there are not to be any parties to the right of the CDU/CSU at the federal level. 

The 2017 elections have made this consensus obsolete. The two major parties, which usually commanded a two-thirds majority of seats between them, shrank down to just a little over half the parliamentary seats. And with the Alternative für Deutschland (alternative for Germany/AfD), a right-wing party has entered the Bundestag for the first time in fifty years; and with a stunning, if not completely unexpected result of almost 13 per cent of the votes.

With the worst electoral result in the history of federal elections, the SPD had almost no choice than to become an opposition party to find its own way away from the consensus-seeking grand coalition. That, however, limits the CDU/CSU’s options to form a government. The party also achieved the worst result in their history, but remained the strongest party with about a third of the seats. Without the SPD as an option, the CDU/CSU under Chancellor Angela Merkel can only form a coalition with the FDP and the Green Party. That will be a difficult task, however, since the FDP and the Green Party have fundamental differences and both are strongly opposing many policies proposed by the CSU. The only consensus so far is not to include the AfD in any coalition talks. 

The AfD’s success is the second major fallout of the elections. The party, originally built around the rejection of the Euro, has steered to the right, trying to cash-in on the protest against immigration policies. Since then, the party stood for increasingly right-extremist positions, being anti-Islam, anti-immigration, anti-remembrance  and anti-liberal. The party was able to mobilise voters who were dissatisfied with the grand-coalition politics, had irrational fears of migrants (the party was especially strong in areas with a low percentage of migrants) and feared economic and social decline. While their success is certainly very worrying, their position is already unstable. Party leader Frauke Petry has already announced quitting the AfD parliamentary group and some of her allies of the national-conservative wing of the party are likely to follow suit. Many of the more than 90 representatives belong to the extreme right and, often openly, despise parliamentary proceedings. Most of them have little political experience. The likely outcome for the AfD faction will be an unproductive fundamental-opposition if not a complete breakdown and separation in at least two competing factions. 

How will this impact Germany's foreign policy, especially towards South Asia and India?

The exact impact is difficult to estimate. The next German government, likely a coalition of CDU/CSU, the FDP and the Green Party will have to deal with the unusual situation of having a right-wing party in the Bundestag. That is already a challenge that will take away a lot of attention from other topics. 

On the foreign politics level, the next German government faces huge challenges in Europe itself. The ongoing Brexit negotiations are a source of anxiety, especially with a British government unable to present clear and realistic options for the Brexit and half a year of the two year negotiation period already gone. The next battlefield is the European Union itself, with institutional challenges, like the proposed reforms by French President Emmanuel Macron, and the challenge of European integration of nationalist governments in Poland, Hungary and other eastern European states. The third major challenge will be the immigration from Africa, especially with a government participation of the Green Party. The Greens are likely to oppose solutions like refugee-camps in Libya and military support for states like Chad and Mali that are currently involved in immigration strategies by European governments.

All this would mean that South Asia in general and India in particular will not be a top priority of the next German government. That might not be such a bad thing for the Indian government, since the internal European problems take attention away from the negative consequences of demonetisation and the shrinking economic growth that might deter economic involvement by Germany. Also it might be politically advantageous if the German government does not look too closely into human rights issues in India. India might come into focus, however, when Brexit is actually finalised and the German government is pushing for trade agreements with India. The pro-business FDP might play an important role in pushing for such agreements.