Episode 40: National Bellwethers for the German Federal Election?

Eric Langenbacher

Senior Fellow; Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program

Dr. Eric Langenbacher is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Society, Culture & Politics Program at AICGS.

Dr. Langenbacher studied in Canada before completing his PhD in Georgetown University’s Government Department in 2002. His research interests include collective memory, political culture, and electoral politics in Germany and Europe. Recent publications include the edited volumes Twilight of the Merkel Era: Power and Politics in Germany after the 2017 Bundestag Election (2019), The Merkel Republic: The 2013 Bundestag Election and its Consequences (2015), Dynamics of Memory and Identity in Contemporary Europe (co-edited with Ruth Wittlinger and Bill Niven, 2013), Power and the Past: Collective Memory and International Relations (co-edited with Yossi Shain, 2010), and From the Bonn to the Berlin Republic: Germany at the Twentieth Anniversary of Unification (co-edited with Jeffrey J. Anderson, 2010). With David Conradt, he is also the author of The German Polity, 10th and 11th edition (2013, 2017).

Dr. Langenbacher remains affiliated with Georgetown University as Teaching Professor and Director of the Honors Program in the Department of Government. He has also taught at George Washington University, Washington College, The University of Navarre, and the Universidad Nacional de General San Martin in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has given talks across the world. He was selected Faculty Member of the Year by the School of Foreign Service in 2009 and was awarded a Fulbright grant in 1999-2000 and the Hopper Memorial Fellowship at Georgetown in 2000-2001. Since 2005, he has also been Managing Editor of German Politics and Society, which is housed in Georgetown’s BMW Center for German and European Studies. Dr. Langenbacher has also planned and run dozens of short programs for groups from abroad, as well as for the U.S. Departments of State and Defense on a variety of topics pertaining to American and comparative politics, business, culture, and public policy.



Jeffrey Rathke

Jeff Rathke

President of AGI

Jeffrey Rathke is the President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.

Prior to joining AICGS, Jeff was a senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe Program at CSIS, where his work focused on transatlantic relations and U.S. security and defense policy. Jeff joined CSIS in 2015 from the State Department, after a 24-year career as a Foreign Service Officer, dedicated primarily to U.S. relations with Europe. He was director of the State Department Press Office from 2014 to 2015, briefing the State Department press corps and managing the Department's engagement with U.S. print and electronic media. Jeff led the political section of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur from 2011 to 2014. Prior to that, he was deputy chief of staff to the NATO Secretary General in Brussels. He also served in Berlin as minister-counselor for political affairs (2006–2009), his second tour of duty in Germany. His Washington assignments have included deputy director of the Office of European Security and Political Affairs and duty officer in the White House Situation Room and State Department Operations Center.

Mr. Rathke was a Weinberg Fellow at Princeton University (2003–2004), winning the Master’s in Public Policy Prize. He also served at U.S. Embassies in Dublin, Moscow, and Riga, which he helped open after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Rathke has been awarded national honors by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as several State Department awards. He holds an M.P.P. degree from Princeton University and B.A. and B.S. degrees from Cornell University. He speaks German, Russian, and Latvian.



The March 14 elections for state legislatures in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate kicked off an electoral marathon that will culminate in the September 26 German federal election, the end of Chancellor Merkel’s 16-year tenure at the helm of Europe’s most influential country. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received a drubbing and posted in each state their worst post-war result, complicating the impending choice of who will lead the CDU/CSU ticket in the federal election: CDU Chairman Armin Laschet, or Chairman of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, Markus Söder. In either case it is a harbinger that a tough campaign lies ahead for Germany and its longest-ruling party.

In Baden-Wuerttemberg, the Green party won convincingly, and in Rhineland-Palatinate, the Social Democrats (SPD) retained control by a surprising margin. In both states, the CDU suffered significant losses and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) saw its support decline. The left-wing “Die Linke” finds itself out in the cold, failing to meet the 5-percent threshold for entering either legislature.

After initial success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDU-led national government is dogged by criticism. Following the CDU’s heavy election losses, a governing coalition without the CDU may be increasingly conceivable. Without Merkel on the ballot, will German voters associate her positive legacy with CDU’s new leadership? And what do these trends mean for the direction of German politics beyond September?

On this episode of the Zeitgeist, AGI President Jeff Rathke and Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director of the Society, Culture & Politics Program, discuss the results of the elections and their impact on the upcoming federal election.


Jeff Rathke, President, AGI


Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.