Germany’s Super Election Year – What comes after Merkel?

Simon Varwell, Flickr

The pandemic might have eclipsed some important upcoming political events, but with only six months left until the parliamentary elections to the German Bundestag, tension is mounting in Germany and amongst curious onlookers. The parliamentary elections on September 26th, 2021 will not only lead to a new parliament, but Germany will also get a new chancellor. 

Angela Merkel declared last year that she would not stand as a candidate in the upcoming elections, after four terms and almost 16 years in office. Merkel has been seen as the most influential woman on earth and politics will certainly change with her departure. As the first female chancellor of Germany, she has faced challenging leaders and fast-paced politics. She prevented EU countries from diverging when the Euro-zone debt crisis hit, but also saw the need to implement greater austerity. Another major achievement of hers was her rather liberal approach towards the refugee crisis in 2015, when she called for solidarity and unity.

Therefore, there is intense anticipation and speculation over the question of  who will be the one to succeed her in 2021, and how that will change the German government. As of now, the outcome of this years’ elections is of course still highly unclear. This article is not aiming to deliver predictions, but to provide an introduction into the German parties and possible candidates for the position as chancellor. This election spells a significant moment in European domestic politics.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, September 2013 (Photo by: Jan Maximilian Gerlach/Flickr)

Which party currently seems to be the frontrunner?

The party that sticks out in the German political landscape at present is the Green Party. In recent years, it has gained trust from the public, particularly amongst younger voters due to their campaigning for greater attention on topics such as climate protection, social equality and their  pro-European stance. With most parties losing trust, the Green Party has been able to gain a significant proportion of votes in opinion polls; from 8.9% in the 2017 election result to 19.0% in March 2021. With these high projections, the party could even overtake the SPD. For a long time, the latter was called one of Germany’s Volksparteien (“People’s Party”) – meaning parties that serve for all stratas of society. It is looking as if the SPD has lost its spirit to this revitalised green party.

With weak Social Democrats (SPD) and also a Christian Democratic political alliance (CDU / CSU) that will most likely not receive a majority in the elections, the question is what possible coalitions would look like. According to recent surveys, there are many possible election coalitions between the Union and possible partners, such as SPD, FDP or the Green Party. 

Who is in the race for Chancellor?

When it comes to the candidate for the Chancellor position, there is no clear front-runner so far. Only the SPD has presented their candidate in summer last year, Olaf Scholz, currently Federal Minister of Finance and Vice Chancellor. The Union does not have a candidate yet, but it will probably be Armin Laschet or Markus Söder as they are the leading figures of the CDU and CSU respectively. The Green party does not have a candidate either, but it will most likely become one of the leading figures Annalena Baerbock or Robert Habeck. Christian Lindner will most certainly become the FDP’s candidate and neither the Left Party or the AfD have presented a candidate. In April, the CDU / CSU will present its candidate, and all party manifestos should be published at some point between March and June 2021.

Bundestagswahl (Image by: Tim Reckmann/Flickr)

What has happened recently?

On March 14th, 2021 the state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate marked the beginning of Germany’s packed election year. What the electorate demonstrated once again in those two states is that the most popular electoral questions are the climate and the environment. The Green Party gained in both states and ended up with 32,4% in Baden-Württemberg and 8,3% in Rhineland-Palatinate. The CDU on the other hand lost and ended up with 23,4% in Baden-Württemberg and 26,9% in Rhineland-Palatinate. As Baden-Württemberg is one of the biggest and most important federal states, this outcome tells the populus and wider community a lot about the preferences of the German people.

An election with impact

Crucially, the outcome of the federal election does not only affect Germany as a country. In recent years, we have seen how actions from the German chancellor impact the EU as a whole. 

Whatever outcome Germany  will face, Angela Merkel and her legacy will certainly leave a mark on European politics. From her stance on refugees, to how she handled the economic crisis with Greece, Merkel has shown a unique, personal style of governance that has left an indelible impression on the European stage. Whoever her successor will be, he or she will have to work hard as her legacy will definitely not vanish for some more years.

Sanja Pfister

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