Results of the German Election 2017

by Lars Dudeck
Analysis of the results of the German election 2017

Merkel makes it once again – potential three party government will offer policy opportunities

According to the official preliminary result issued by the Federal Election Commissioner, the Christian Democrats (alliance of CDU and CSU) have won the election with 33% of votes, followed by the Social Democrats (SPD) with 20,5%. Third strongest party is the Alternative for Germany (AfD)* with 12,6%, Liberals (FDP) got 10,7% and the left party (Die Linke) got 9,2% of votes, with the Green Party (Grüne, Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen) coming last with 8,9%. Whereas the current "grand coalition" parties show clear losses, all other small parties represented in the 19th Bundestag have better results than 2013. As predicted, the AfD – far right populist party already present in 13 State parliaments – now made it to the German Bundestag in which for the first time since 1961 more than five parliamentary groups are represented. Also, due to particularities of German electoral law, the German parliament is now bigger than ever with 709 seats, compared to currently 631. With 76,2% the voter turnout was higher than in 2013 (71,5%). The result allows for only two majorities: besides the “grand coalition” (CDU/CSU and SPD) with 399 seats only the so-called Jamaica coalition of CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens (395 seats, Jamaica referring to colors attributed to parties in the German political system) exceeds the necessary number of 355 seats majority.

Reactions to the federal elections:

Despite considerable losses, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) said she was satisfied with the result as CDU/CSU had achieved their strategic objectives, being strongest party in parliament and indispensable for future government building in which she remaines Chancellor. Moreover, she welcomed the openness of both FDP and Greens for coalition talks.

Horst Seehofer, CSU party leader and Joachim Herrmann, CSU top candidate were disappointed about the CSU’s worst results ever in Bavaria with only 38% share of votes. Interestingly, top candidate Herrmann did not make it to the Bundestag himself. In view of about 1 million voters that have moved from CDU/CSU to AfD and State election in Bavaria in autumn 2018, both announced to pay more attention to their right wing whose concerns regarding migration and security issues had been neglected by CDU/CSU recently.

SPD top candidate Martin Schulz stated that the "grand coalition" had been deselected and announced that the SPD therefore will not be available for another term of government with CDU/CSU. He attacked Chancellor Merkel personally and blamed her for her campaign lacking content which had prepared grounds for the AfD gains. Schulz defended his decision to refuse another grand coalition as otherwise the AfD would lead the opposition in the German Bundestag.

Alexander Gauland, one of AfD’s top candidates, proclaimed directly after the publication of results that the AfD will “chase” Chancellor Merkel in the next four years. Meanwhile, the AfD has already revealed its internal quarrels with Frauke Petry having announced her leaving the parliamentary group.

Most observers stated that with AfD moving into the German Bundestag as third strongest party, this election considerably pushed the parliament towards right. All other parties were concerned about the AfD’s result, many speaking of a political caesura as a party with right-wing extremists has been elected into federal parliament.

FDP top candidate Christian Lindner was celebrated for his party’s comeback with 10,7%. In the TV debate with leading party representatives of all parties, he was open to coalition talks with CDU/CSU and Greens, as long as their core liberal demands such as focusing on education and digitalization were considered. Moreover, Lindner criticized Schulz for SPD’s decision not to engage for building a stable government.

Similarly, Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Cem Özdemir from Bündnis 90 / Die Grünensaid their party would be a constructive partner in potential coalition talks, also pointing out that crucial Green concerns such as climate protection needed to be part of an agreement.        

Lastly, Katja Kipping, one of two party leaders from Die LINKE, was disappointed that social fairness had not received the necessary attention in this election. Likewise, with regards to the fact that the AfD has attracted many protesters formerly voting for Die LINKE, top candidate Sahra Wagenknecht pointed to the fact that the AfD after all did not provide valuable concepts in the area of social affairs. Also, she expressed her hope that the SPD will stick to their decision to go into the opposition. 

Possible coalitions in government building process

“Jamaica Coalition” (CDU/CSU-FDP-Bündnis 90/Die Grünen)

After the immediate dismissal of a continuation of the "grand coalition" by several leading figures of the Social Democrats including chairman and top candidate Martin Schulz, the SPD has increased pressure on the Liberals, Greens and the Christian Democrats to form a government as this coalition remains the only realistic viable option for a stable government.

A so-called Jamaica coalition would be the peak of an ongoing process over the past years which produced a number of coalitions between the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and the Christian Democrats as well as two Jamaica coalitions on State level. Influential politicians of the reigning CDU/CSU such as Health minister Hermann Gröhe or Chancellery Minister Peter Altmeier are said to support a coalition which involves the Greens.

However, since policy-related differences between the three parties are quite big there will be a lot to discuss during possible coalition talks between the four parties involved. In this connection, it is also of decisive importance to which political direction the CSU will head for the state elections in Bavaria next year. Yesterday evening’s post-election analysis of CSU chairman Horst Seehofer has already indicated a possible slip to the right of the CSU in the coming months. Seehofer said that the party would have to close its “right flank” in order to win back votes from the far right AfD. Although he did not go into details, a perceived turn to the right could be a major hindrance for the upcoming coalition talks since the Liberals and the Greens are not likely to tolerate a much tougher stance on immigration or domestic security.

Aside from the risk of the CSU de facto ending the talks before they even start, from an issue point of view, the disputed areas of energy, economy, tax and domestic security also have a high potential to derail coalition talks right from the start. Even in the field of healthcare – playing probably no major role in coalition talks – the opinions of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, FDP and CDU/CSU are considerably different: Whereas Liberals and Christian Democrats want to keep the current healthcare system and its way of financing, the Green Party has vowed to completely remodel it by introducing “Bürgerversicherung” similar to claims of SPD and Die LINKE. On the other hand, there is also room for consensus, e.g. the strengthening of care, e-health and health research are shared goals. Nonetheless, since huge differences in many policy areas exist, coalition talks – if taking place – will be long and complicated.

“Grand Coalition” (CDU/CSU-SPD)

Considering the election results of yesterday’s federal election, the continuation of a grand coalition between the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) would be a viable option for a stable government, too.

However, the SPD has already refused to join a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU again. Martin Schulz, party leader and top candidate, has made clear that there will be no coalition with the CDU/CSU with him being in the driver seat of the SPD. Schulz added that the place of the SPD would now be within the opposition to prevent the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) from gaining the spot of the opposition leader. Other leading figures of the party joined his statement, although less firm.

Taking the statements of yesterday into account, another grand coalition between CDU/CSU and SPD does not seem very likely at the moment. However, if the only other viable option, a tripartite alliance between CDU/CSU, the Liberals, the Greens, fails there could be a change of view within the SPD provided that Schulz would step down from his chairman position. Having said this, it is highly questionable if such a course would find a majority within the party in the first place because during the run-up to the elections many leading MPs as well as parts of board members of the SPD have numerously expressed their desire to avoid another four years as junior partner of the CDU/CSU. In the unlikely event of a grand coalition coming together, there would probably be lot more topical differences between the parties than during the last legislative period.

In the past legislative period though, CDU/CSU and SPD have nearly seamlessly worked together. With a view to the exceptionally high number of legislations approved in the past four years, this is also true in the field of healthcare. Still, a short glance at their party manifestos already reveals that both parties have substantially different visions for the further development of the public healthcare sector in Germany: Whereas the Christian Democrats want to keep the current twofold system consisting of private and statutory health insurances, the Social Democrats have vowed to abolish the private health insurance in favor of a so-called “Bürgerversicherung”, an insurance which would be mandatory for every citizen. However, as these differences already existed four years ago, the CDU/CSU could most probably retain the status quo. On the other hand, there are also common positions, such as a need for investments into inpatient care structures and a better funding of care in general, as well as a further development of e-health applications and better interconnectedness of inpatient and outpatient care.

Next Steps

After the final results of the federal election have been confirmed by the Federal Election Commissioner the CDU/CSU as strongest political group will announce to hold talks with selected parties to explore possible government coalitions, most likely first with the FDP and the Greens. However, due to the upcoming state election in Lower Saxony on 15 October where SPD and CDU struggle for power in quite a close race, Chancellor Merkel has already said that real coalition negotiations on federal level will not start in advance. At the same time, one date is legally required: The first constituent meeting of the newly elected Bundestag must take place no later than four weeks after the election, that is before 24th of October. Structural and staff decisions such as the scope and lead of ministries, appointments of parliamentary committees as well as political group leadership and rapporteurships will only take place after the conclusion of the coalition negotiations. In view of the difficult content-related and strategic constellations, it can be assumed that the government formation may last until December this year, if not January next year.

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 * RPP Group statement: The RPP Group excludes any collaboration with the AfD.