Merkel Set to Win Fourth Term; Policy Direction Could Depend on Coalition Makeup

By James Carstensen | September 20, 2017 | 12:41 AM EDT

Angela Merkel is on track to win a fourth term as chancellor. (Photo: German Chancellery)

Berlin ( – Despite a year of turmoil over migration policy, Islamist terrorism and the rise of right wing populism across Europe, Angela Merkel looks almost certain to secure a fourth term as chancellor in the German elections on Sunday.

Even so, a number of uncertainties threaten to shake up the political landscape in Germany. To secure a ruling majority, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and sister Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) will likely need support from diverse smaller parties who hold equally diverse views.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, meanwhile, is set to become the first nationalistic party to enter the federal parliament since World War II. Its support has declined in recent months but it still polls well above the five percent threshold needed to win seats in the Bundestag.

An Emnid poll published by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed the CDU/CSU leading with 36 percent of the vote, and the center-left Social Democratic party (SPD) with 22 percent.

The poll placed AfD in third place with 11 percent of the vote, followed by the far-left Linke (Left) party at 10 percent, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) at nine percent, and the Greens at eight percent.

Early in the campaign, the SPD’s selection of former European Parliament president Martin Schulz as its flagbearer suggested a shake-up was on its way, but the so-called “Schulz Effect” quickly waned.

Should she serve a fourth term Merkel, who has labelled America as no longer being a reliable partner, rallying Europeans to “take our fate into our own hands,” is likely to work towards furthering E.U. integration.

Her success has been attributed to an image of “stability,” leading a country that is enjoying a strong economy and the second lowest unemployment rate in the E.U. At a time of volatility characterized by events such as the Brexit and uncertainties about President Trump’s foreign policies, that image appears to have helped her re-election bid.

Local media here refer to “the Trump Effekt,” suggesting voters are reacting to Trump’s views on immigration and the E.U. A Pew Research Center survey in June found only 11 percent of Germans consider the president to be trustworthy.

Christina Tillmann, a political analyst at the Bertelsmann Institute think tank, told Bloomberg that the rise of populists like Trump has scared German voters away from such candidates at home, where the appeal of nationalism does not “resonate very well.”

While Merkel’s victory seems assured, understanding how the resulting German government will look is a more complicated matter.

Based on the poll, the six parties expected to be represented in the next parliament are the CDU/CSU, SPD, AfD, the leftist Greens and Left, and the liberal FDP. 

How Germany handles its free trade policies with Europe and the U.S. and its NATO commitments may depend on the nature of the next coalition.

The only party wanting Germany out of both the E.U. and the eurozone is the AfD, although the FDP has views about the bloc and single currency that differ with those of Merkel and others.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who could become vice-chancellor in a CDU/CSU/FDP coalition, wants to kick Greece out of the euro currency scheme, and opposes bailouts for the economically stricken country.

International trade agreements are also a mixed bag. The CDU/CSU, the SPD and the FDP support continuing working toward international trade agreements like Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the U.S. and Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.

The AfD, Left Party and Greens oppose the trade deals.

NATO is another complicated issue. Like Merkel’s party, the SPD and the Greens both support the military alliance, and are critical of Russian policies in the region, in particular its annexation of Crimea.

However, the SPD has been critical of Merkel’s support for working towards a NATO-wide target of devoting two percent of GDP to defense spending, and has accused her bloc of bending to U.S. pressure.

The Left Party, which has its origins in formerly communist East Germany, is anti-NATO and supports ties with Russia. The AfD also wants to reduce Germany’s involvement in NATO and appears more sympathetic toward Moscow than the mainstream parties, calling on Germany to become a “friend” to Russia.

Whatever coalition is formed, it will take a while to take shape: Post-election negotiations are expected to take up to three months to conclude.

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