Germany must create a stable government that can lead Europe

It will not be easy to build a structure to succeed the one led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in office for 16 years and is highly regarded by the people.

Expectations are high for Germany to establish a stable government so it can continue to bear the heavy responsibility of leading the European Union as Europe’s largest economy.

An election has been held for Germany’s Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), a center-left party that is part of the ruling coalition, became the leading party, securing about 26% of the votes. The center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) bloc, to which Merkel belongs, was defeated by a narrow margin.

It is extremely unusual that neither of the two major parties (the CDU/CSU and the SPD) could win 30% of the votes. This appears to show that no political party had sufficiently strong appeal for voters, who desire the stability and prosperity of the Merkel era to continue.

There is growing public interest in climate change in Germany, partly in the wake of this summer’s massive floods. The pledges made by the different parties did not vary much, and included the promotion of the use of renewable energy and other measures. The key point of contention was the character and competency of the candidates for chancellor.

Although the SPD had earlier been expected to fall behind, it turned the tables after its candidate, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, promoted his practical experience.

In contrast, Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU came under fire for his inappropriate behavior during a visit to flood-ravaged areas, causing public distrust in the political alliance.

The new administration is likely to shift from the current grand coalition of the two major parties to a three-party coalition. The SPD believes that the party’s presence had been lost in the grand coalition.

The SPD plans to draw the Greens, which leaped to the third most-popular party in the latest election, into the coalition government, as they have overlapping policies in such areas as reducing social disparities. The center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP) is also expected to be invited to join.

There is, however, a wide gap between the Greens and the FDP, as the Greens have set out a policy of raising taxes on the wealthy and the FDP aims to reduce taxes.

The focus will be whether the parties can present unified policies and build a foundation for a stable government. In coalition negotiations, which are expected to take several months, Scholz’s ability to take the initiative in the talks will be put to the test.

Merkel, who has played a coordinating role among EU member countries by tenaciously urging them to reach a consensus, will leave office when the new government is established.

A number of issues remain in the EU that require Germany’s leadership and coordination ability to address them, such as reducing economic disparities, promoting cooperation on security and implementing policies regarding China. While attending to domestic affairs such as implementing measures against the novel coronavirus, the new German government must not forget its responsibilities for all of Europe as well.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 28, 2021.