German and European Elections: Issues and Foreign Policy Implications

August 14, 2013

On August 14, AGI hosted a roundtable discussion with Thomas Matussek, Managing Director of the Alfred Herrhausen Society in Berlin. The discussion touched on key issues for the upcoming German federal elections and its implications for Europe, the transatlantic relationship, and the economy.

Commencing with an outlook on the 2013 elections, participants discussed polls that indicated a vast majority for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). While these polls have consistently predicted an electoral success for the union parties, statistics of past elections show that many voters make a decision within the last four weeks before the election. Additionally, the CDU has largely benefitted from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity — a factor that may carry the party through the course of the election campaign. Chancellor Merkel’s strategy of asymmetric demobilization has helped maintain the public’s calm regarding issues, such as European integration, the economy, or even the U.S. National Security Agency scandal. Criticized by Chancellor Merkel’s own party, this strategy may backfire if the opposition were to mobilize its voters.

A possible successful outcome for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) implies a coalition with either the CDU or the Free Democratic Party (FDP) along with other parties. A coalition with the FDP, the Greens, and The Left would especially interest higher-ranking officials within the party ― with this election marking one of their last. In the case of this coalition taking place, certain critical issues, such as taxation, will not be of much importance — the leadership of the SPD and the FDP would be the most influential in the decision-making of the administration.

In Europe, many are awaiting the result of the German election. In Germany, however, European integration has not played a major role in the campaigns of any major party. Most party leaders hesitate to tackle the issue before the election. While Germany’s stable position at the moment derives from its economy, it will need stronger leadership for Europe to ensure sustainable growth in the future.

The NSA scandal has received quite a lot of attention in the past weeks. Despite ongoing debates, the speaker noted that other issues stand out as more relevant to the German public: long-term care insurance, pensions, and education. It appears that the more uncomfortable, broader issues have been pushed into the background.

The audience raised concern about implications for the transatlantic relationship. Despite ongoing negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the focus of both Germany and the United States has shifted towards Asia. Even though the traditional relationship may not be characterized by the same historical, mutual dependence, especially in foreign policy and security issues, the current shift of focus may highlight the stability Germany and Europe bring to the relationship. The participants concluded that a power shift in Germany would not affect German-American relations as the current SPD leadership also has strong ties to the United States.

Photos from the Event:

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