The clock is ticking down on political campaigns in Germany, as the general elections are scheduled for September 26. In a little over a week, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reign comes to an end after 16 years.
Germans are presented with a very simple choice. One option is a so-called moderate government led by the conservatives (CDU/CSU) in alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP). The other option is an administration headed by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) in coalition with the Greens and the Left Party.
After a weeklong battle in April between Markus Söder, the leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), and Armin Laschet, the head of the Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s conservatives placed their bet on Laschet, a Merkel-like left-leaning centrist, as their candidate for chancellor, instead of on his more popular Bavarian rival. The coalition’s establishment, which strongly pushed for Laschet, ignored the dramatically grim polls and prevailed over the conservatives’ base, which overwhelmingly favored Söder.
Now they are paying the price for this decision on Election Day, likely resulting in the worst CDU result since the Second World War, as the CDU has fallen dramatically in the polls in recent weeks.
The most recent polls show only 19 percent of voters planning to back the CDU, with the SPD in first place at 25 percent, followed by the Greens at 17 percent, Free Democratic Liberals at 13 percent, Alternative for Germany at 11 percent, and the Left Party at 7 percent.
If indeed the SPD wins this election, it would have three options to form a government, but only two are viable. First, the SPD could form another “grand coalition” with Merkel’s successors in the CDU. However, the SPD leadership has effectively ruled out renewing this partnership after eight long years. Another option would be a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats: mathematically possible but not realistic. FDP leader Christian Lindner and his party made the pledge not to raise taxes but to lower them significantly, a key issue of their program, especially for middle-income voters. The last and most likely scenario for the SPD to form a new government would be an alliance with the Greens and the Left. It’s also the most dangerous option for Germany and the European Union.
The Left Party is the direct descendant of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), the Marxist-Leninist ruling party of the former East Germany. Even today, some of its most prominent political figures were active in the SED regime or particularly in the Stasi, the former Ministry for State Security, the most feared institution of the East German Communist country.
The Left Party calls for an end to all Bundeswehr (German army) missions abroad, a stop to all German weapons exports, a shutdown of the NATO alliance, and a replacement of NATO with a new system that includes Russia and China.
In addition, the Left Party aims to impose a wealth tax of 5 percent on assets over 1 million euros, as well as a “wealth fee” of 10 to 30 percent on assets over 2 million euros, to pay for more government spending and relief related to the coronavirus pandemic. The party promises a minimum income of 1,200 euros per month and a child-support payment of 630 euros.
Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s candidate for chancellor, is doing so well because he is a very likable person and perfected Merkel’s way of doing politics. He never mentions hard facts or touches on controversial topics and says a lot without really saying anything. “The guy everyone likes best is the most boring guy in the election — maybe in the country,” according to a recent report in the New York Times. Scholz “makes watching water boil seem exciting.”
But it’s crucial to shine a light on the SPD leadership in candidate Scholz’s shadow to understand the party’s left-wing tendencies: Kevin Kühnert, Saskia Esken, and Norbert Walter-Borjans. They were elected as party leaders in 2019 and are currently hiding so as not to endanger the good polls and upcoming elections. Kühnert publicly questioned the concept of property rights, saying that “without collectivization, an overcoming of capitalism is unthinkable,” and asking, “With what right does someone have to have more than twenty apartments?” He also advocated nationalizing BMW, one of Germany’s largest car manufacturers.
Esken and Walter-Borjans support Kühnert’s position and also want to introduce a wealth tax similar to that proposed by the Left Party. In her last speech to the German Parliament before the election, even Merkel warned of a leftist coalition — a very unusual move for her. She has not campaigned for the CDU until recently.
During the 16 years of a so-called conservative lead government, Merkel repositioned her CDU from being a center-right party under chancellor Helmut Kohl to a center-left force in German politics, scooping up ideas and strategic issues from other parties, including the Greens. During the euro crisis, she sacrificed Germany’s financial independence and stability to support the failing economies of Greece, Portugal, and other southern European countries.
After the catastrophe in Fukushima, Merkel decided to end nuclear-energy production in Germany and started the “Energiewende” (energy transition), relying exclusively on renewable sources for energy. This non-strategy has lead to the highest energy prices in Europe and is not workable for a highly industrialized nation such as Germany.
Lastly, since 2015 Merkel has allowed more than 1 million refugees to enter and permanently stay in Germany, a highly controversial decision that has not only changed the social structure and security situation in Germany but is extremely expensive, given the massive promises of the German welfare state. It has also led to the rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany.
The global and European implications of a far-left government in Germany would be severe. A new government of SPD, Greens, and the Left Party would support a waiver of intellectual-property rights protections for COVID-19 vaccines, hurting the innovative pharmaceutical industries in Germany. A far-left government would not object to higher debt nationally or in the European Union. In a move similar to the French model, the government would likely introduce harmful trade barriers, including digital-services taxes on American companies.
Russia and China would gain more influence in Europe, and the special transatlantic friendship Germany currently has with the United States would be at risk.
The current situation is dire, and Germany desperately needs a conservative-led government in a coalition with the Free Democrats to meet challenges posed by past polices and to focus on current problems, including the coronavirus pandemic. It needs far-reaching reforms to enable the country to compete with China effectively. Germany needs to advocate for fiscal stability and sovereignty within the European Union, especially now that the United Kingdom has left.
Current polls show that to be an unlikely outcome. Given that an entire generation of Germans has come of age with no living memory of the Communist period, one might wonder: Do things really have to get much worse before they get better?