I thought we might take a look at the outcome of the German elections on Sunday, partly because of how the results played out in the electoral system and partly because Angela Merkel is one of the more influential politicians in the world.
When Merkel came to power in 2005 France and Germany caucused regularly before EU meetings. Now Merkel almost stands alone. She may not always get her way, but on important matters you wouldn’t bet against her and if she doesn’t like something then it won’t have legs.
This is how the vote percentage ended up:
The CDU subsumes the CSU, their southern Germany partners, in the graphic. On this site, which gives more detail, they are separate.
The big loser was the Free Democratic Party (FKP), a right wing business-oriented party which had been in coalition with the CDU. They went from best ever vote to out of parliament for the first time, falling below the 5% threshold.
The Left Party and the Greens both lost ground. The new kid on the block, the Eurosceptic AfD looked good, but didn’t make the threshold.
Crikey reports that Merkel nearly won an outright majority with 301 out of 606 seats. How can this be when she only got 41.5% of the vote in a chamber that nominally has 598 seats, 299 by direct election and 299 on the party list?
The voting system is a bit complicated. I gather each voter gets two votes, one to directly elect a candidate and the other to elect a party. With minor parties it would be possible for them to get more than 5% of the vote, but have no candidates elected directly. Once the 5% threshold is gained then party seats are added so that the percentage in the total parliament reflects the party percentage. This can mean having to add extra seats to the main parties also. Theoretically the parliament could end up with up to 800 seats.
In 2013 it can readily be seen that 15.8% of the vote drops out, and had no effect on the parliament at all. So to begin with 41.5 becomes out of 84.2 rather than 100.
I think that’s roughly the deal, though there could be other fine detail I’ve missed. Before the election commnentators were saying Merkel needed about 44% to govern alone.
There was no vote for the senate, as senators are delegates of the states. The senate composition can change every time there is a state election, which have their own cycles. The CDU does not control the senate and in any case party discipline would not be as tight as we are used to. The Bundesrat (the senate) is a states’ house.
Believe it or not, there was little campaigning or talk of policies before the election. Merkel, known as “Mutti” (mum), had a 70% approval rating and projected herself as the pragmatic problem-solver, rather than as the ideologue, the safe pair of hands. The victory has seen to be hers rather than the party’s, which raises the question as to what happens when she goes.
The story is that prior to 2005 Germany had been known as ‘the sick man of Europe’. Gerhardt Schröder (SPD) together with the Greens introduced ‘reforms’ to the industrial relations and social welfare regimes which were said to make Germany competitive. Merkel has reaped the rewards but has done nothing to change anything. Many Germans are happy with their precarious lot when they see the chaos around them.
The main policy difference I heard about was whether there should be a minimum wage. Seems there isn’t, but supplementary government transfers make low incomes more or less liveable. The SPD are strongly in favour of a minimum wage and will make it a condition of a coalition.
If you look at the press coverage here the left-wing Die Tageszeitung calls her “the worst chancellor in the country’s postwar history”. The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
“Whatever alliance Angela Merkel will end up leading, whether it’s with the SPD or the Greens, her policies will have to change radically from those of the last four years. The German chancellor has focused on foreign policy since the start of the international financial crisis and the euro crisis. She has been the leading voice in Europe and played a not insignificant role in questions of global finance. But not much happened on the domestic policy front, because nothing goes on without her. Important tasks need to be addressed: reform of old-age nursing insurance, the pension system, education. Things can’t stay as they are for another four years.
A coalition with the Greens would surprise and I understand the SPD are distinctly unwilling. After 2005 to 2009 they got badly burnt at the 2009 election. It seems likely that they will want a strong domestic agenda and be seen to be responsible for it.
On Europe, a policy favouring austerity with Germans paying the minimum necessary will probably prevail.
However, many see greater fiscal and political integration as the only alternative to a break-up of the Euro economic zone. I understand this can’t happen unless the Germans change their constitution, which requires a 75% vote in the senate. A grand coalition with a consensus position hammered out could be the best chance they’ll get.
This would no doubt form part of the formal coalition treaty, which may take as long as two months to sort out. That’s the way adults go about minority government.
I’ve gleaned most of the above from Der Spiegel, the BBC via NewsRadio and some from the AFR. If anyone has any good commentary links would be appreciated.