Federal elections in Germany – A first analysis

by RPP Berlin

 

On the 26th September 2021, Germany held elections for a new parliament, the Bundestag. For a long time during the election campaign, three parties expected that it would be their candidate who would end up moving into the chancellery. But in the weeks before the election, the Greens fell behind in the polls. The Unions parties (CDU and CSU) were several percentage points behind the Social Democrats of the SPD.

 

On the evening of the election, a much closer race between the CDU/CSU and the SPD unfolded than initially expected. According to the preliminary results, the SPD received 25.7% of the second votes (party votes) (+5.5%), while the CDU/CSU received 24.1% (-8.9%) combined, their worst result in the history of the Federal Republic. The third strongest party were the Greens with 14.8%. Although the party was able to improve their rating significantly compared to the last federal election (+5.9%), it fell short of the previously astounding poll results in spring. The Liberals of the FDP reached 11.5% (+0.8%), the right-wing populist´s AfD lost votes compared to 2017 and reached 10.3% (-2.3%). After the CDU/CSU, the Left Party lost the most votes, narrowly missing the 5% hurdle with 4.9% (-4.3%). However, the Left will be part of the Bundestag due to a special provision in the constitution, which allows a party to enter the Bundestag as a parliamentary party if it wins at least three direct mandates, even if it misses the 5%hurdle. The Südschleswigsche Wählerverband (SSW), a party of the Danish minority in the north of Germany, will also enter the Bundestag as a party of national minorities within the meaning of the Federal Election Act with one Member of Parliament, even though it only managed to gather 0.1% of the votes nationwide.

Voter turnout was 76.6%, the same level as in the last Bundestag election in 2017. Due to the peculiarities of the German electoral system with overhang and compensatory mandates, the new Bundestag will be even larger than the previous one. According to the preliminary results, it will be comprised of 735 MPs, 26 more MPs than currently.

From a demographic perspective, younger eligible voters have increasingly voted for the Greens and the FDP, while older voters have tended to vote for the SPD and the CDU/CSU. Remarkably, the so called candidate bonus, through which a party obtains a vote “merely” through the front runner of the party, played into the hands of the two chancellor candidates of the Union and the SPD very differently, although both individuals have relatively much executive experience. While as many as 37% of SPD voters chose their party because of the candidate Olaf Scholz, only 19% chose the CDU because of Armin Laschet.

 

Coalition options

According to the preliminary results, there are several possible options of coalitions. The only two-party coalition that could secure a majority would be the “Grand Coalition” of the SPD and the CDU/CSU. This time led by the SPD instead of the CDU/CSU, which had led the previous Grand Coalition. However, such an alliance is not favored by either party currently and thus almost not discussed at all.  Rather, it is likely that the new government will be based on a three-party alliance, for the first time since the 1950s. Two options are possible: A so-called "Jamaica alliance" of the Union parties, the Greens and the FDP, and a "traffic light coalition" of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP. For the parties, the coalitions would each have different, massive implications:

For the CDU, which would like to remain in power, the “Jamaica-Coalition” would be the best-case scenario. The party would lead such a coalition and potentially to able to establish the chancellor. Both the Greens and the FDP, with their big gains in this election, might demand relatively much from the larger party in order to enter into a coalition. In such a scenario, the SPD would become the strongest opposition party and could, through strong opposition work, fight for the chancellorship again in four years.

A "traffic light coalition" would mean the worst-case scenario for the Union parties. They would not be involved in the government and would play the role of the strong opposition. For both the SPD, which would provide the chancellor, and the Greens, such a coalition would be the clear preference. The two parties have relatively large overlaps in their political content and would quickly be able to agree on an alliance. A special role would be played by the FDP, which as a "bourgeois" party, would be flanked by two left-wing parties and would represent the "odd man out". Accordingly, the SPD and the Greens would have to approach the FDP and make corresponding offers.

 

First tendencies on election night

Already on election night, the Greens and the FDP hinted at initial talks among themselves to stake out possible common grounds. This demonstrates the self-confidence of these two “smaller” parties and indicates that the two stronger parties, who would lead the respective coalitions and establish the chancellor, will initially have to wait their talks out. The election results give both “smaller” parties a strong leverage vis-à-vis the SPD and the CDU/CSU to gain a stronger foothold in the legislative apparatus of the federation. While the Greens tend to favour a "traffic light alliance" led by the SPD, the FDP clearly favours a Union-led "Jamaica coalition". The Greens, unlike the FDP, are dependent on their party´s base first agreeing to join a coalition. Since the party´s base is considered to be significantly more "left-wing" than the party leadership, the latter has to negotiate a very good deal in order to satisfy the base. This would be easier in a "traffic light coalition" than in a "Jamaica coalition". The FDP, on the other hand, only needs the party leadership to agree, which would supposedly be easier to achieve.

The Federal President (Bundespräsident), the German head of state, hardly plays a role in the formation of a new government. The parties are entitled to start coalition negotiations as they see fit. At the end of the probing and coalition negotiations, the president proposes the new chancellor for election in the Bundestag.

The newly elected Bundestag must, according to the constitution, constitute itself 30 days after the election. The parliamentary chair will be held by a representative of the strongest parliamentary group, the Social Democrats. The central positions in the parliamentary groups are usually filled on an interim basis. On the day after the election, the first differences arose in the Union presidium regarding these positions. According to a report, Armin Laschet had asked the current parliamentary party leader Ralph Brinkhaus to continue in office "provisionally" for the time being and to postpone the election of the post. However, Brinkhaus rejected this and stressed that he wanted to be re-elected. This illustrates the tensions within the party and its leadership.

 

The health policy perspective

In principle, long and tough exploratory and coalition talks are to be expected. From a health policy perspective, however, there do not seem to be any serious red lines on which a coalition would fail. Such red lines would be more likely to be found among the Greens on the issue of climate and environmental protection. Liberal leaders had already expressed their understanding for the Greens' positions on the night of the election. For the Liberals, such red lines are rather found in the areas of innovation and economic liberties.

Many of the MPs, who were involved in health policy during the last legislative period, were re-elected. For the SPD, this applies to Martina Stamm-Fibich, Sabine Dittmar, Dr. Edgar Franke and Dirk Heidenblut. For the Union parties, Tino Sorge, Erich Irlstorfer and Dr Georg Kippels remain in their positions. For the Greens, there is also a reunion with "familiar faces", e.g. Dr. Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, Janosch Dahmen, Maria Klein-Schmeink and Kordula Schulz-Asche. For the Liberals, Prof Andrew Ullmann, Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus, Katrin Helling-Plahr and Nicole Westig re-entered the Bundestag. 

Newly elected members of the Bundestag who focus on health policy issues are Christoph Schmid (SPD, Bavaria), Christina Stumpp (CDU, Baden-Württemberg), Johannes Wagner (Greens, Bavaria), Saskia Weißhaupt (Greens, Bavaria) and Kristine Lütke (FDP, Bavaria).

As RPP we will be closely monitoring and analyzing the coalition talks and the set up of all relevant committees. Stay tuned! 

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