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Germany General Elections - September 2021

The German government has reached an agreement on when to hold the country's next general election, government spokeswoman Martina Fietz announced. September 26, 2021 was the chosen date, as it falls between August 25 and October 24 — the window of time determined by the German Constitution. General elections in Germany must take place every four years according German law. The date also coincides with school holidays, which played a role in the decision. The date still needed to be confirmed by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

In recent decades the Federal Republic's political system was marked by cyclical oscilation between a center-right and a center-left block, usually consisting of one major "people's party" and one smaller partner. But the Merkel era was characterized by the arithmetic inability to form such coalitions. Three of the past four governments had been 'Grand Coalitions' between Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). With this constellation unlikely to be revived in September, a number of alternatives were already being discussed in Berlin.

The Federal President is elected by indirect vote to serve a 5-year term. Chancellor is elected by parliament to serve a 4-year term. In the Federal Council (Bundesrat) 69 members are filled by regional legislatures. There are 16 multi-member districts (magnitude ranging from 3 to 6), each of which corresponds to one of the 16 Lander (states). Each state elects a regional assembly, which elects a regional government, a delegation of which represents the Land in the Federal Council.

In the Federal Diet (Bundestag), 299 members are elected by plurality vote in single-member constituencies to serve 4-year terms and 299 members are allocated by popular vote through a mixed-member proportional system to serve 4-year terms. Each voter has two votes. In each single-member district, the first vote counts toward the election of a plurality winner. Each Land also represents a multi-member district. The second vote determines outcomes in the MMDs. Within each Land, a party is entitled to a share of seats proportional to its share of second votes. Seats at the MMD/compensatory level are allocated to parties from closed lists to make each party's overall seat share (compensatory seats + SMD seats) is proportional to its Land-wide vote share.

Populism in German politics is on the decline after peaking in 2018, according to a study released 03 September 2020 by the Bertelsmann Foundation. Around 20% of registered voters in Germany are considered to have a "populist mindset," which is a drop from the 2018 figure of 33% of voters who had such a view, according to researchers. "The trend toward an increasingly populist political climate in Germany has been turned around," said co-author Robert Vehrkamp in a statement.

Bertelsmann's "Populism Barometer," developed in cooperation with YouGov Germany, asked 10,000 voters in June whether they agreed with eight populist statements about the function of state and society. Populist attitudes in the study include viewing politicians as part of a self-interested "corrupt elite," rejecting compromise or supporting direct sovereignty through referendums. The study also analyzed populist attitudes "within the dimensions of anti-pluralism, anti-establishment and homogeneity of the people."

The wave of populism in German politics in recent years had corresponded with the rise of anti-establishment parties like the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). Traditional political camps, including parties like the center-right union of Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), were shedding voters to the AfD, and in response partially adapted their platforms toward populist sentiment.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany / Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) is Germany's oldest political party and the main center-left rival of the CDU/CSU. It shares the CDU/CSU support for the EU and NATO, but it takes a more progressive stance on social issues and welfare policies. The SPD decided on its top candidate for the 2021 general election. Plumbing new depths with each election, the SPD decided to run a realist rather than a radical as their top candidate in 2021. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, a former mayor of Hamburg, is seen as dry and technocratic. Opinion polls show Scholz as the most popular Social Democrat, but he is a divisive figure within the party itself. Many in his party say the 62-year-old is unlikely to energize party activists and win their hearts. He made an unsuccessful bid to become SPD leader in 2019, with the party choosing Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans instead. He is known as a mild-mannered, business-friendly centrist who is comfortable working with Merkel.

The SPD is hoping for a rebound after falling in public opinion polls. Its support has dropped from 20.5% in the 2017 election to around 15% in recent opinion polls. The party has been overtaken on the left by the environmentalist Green Party, which is now the second most popular party in Germany behind the CDU/CSU.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has traditionally been the main center-right party across Germany, but it shifted toward the center under Chancellor Angela Merkel. The party remains more fiscally and socially conservative compared to parties on the left. It supports membership of the EU and NATO, budgetary discipline at home and abroad and generally likes the status quo. It is the largest party in the Bundestag.

In Angela Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU bloc the positioning continued in mid-2020. The CDU and CSU, also known as the Union parties, are Germany's two main conservative parties. The CSU only contests elections in Bavaria, whereas the CDU contests elections in all other German states. Bavaria's 53-year-old state premier from the CDU's more conservative Bavarian sister party, the CSU, has profited in opinion polls from his tough line in the fight against the coronavirus. "Bavaria is strong. Bavaria will grow. Bavaria is solid. Bavaria is safe. Here the world is still in order, and it will stay that way," the former journalist said at the beginning of his tenure in 2018. Armin Laschet, a supporter of Angela Merkel, heads Germany's most populous state. A staunch conservatives who is routinely underestimated, the jovial 58-year-old is famous for his belief in integration and compromise. But recently, his liberal non-interventionist instincts have led to him eating his words more than once during the coronavirus crisis. Health Minister Jens Spahn, the Christian Democrats' rising star, has benefitted from the publicity he gained during the coronavirus pandemic. Openly gay, married, still only 40, with unusually strong English skills, Spahn is a more modern Catholic CDU politician than one could have imagined even a few years ago.

And the Greens are tiptoeing around a difficult decision. Once a motley crew of peace activists, Germany's Green party is now a firm pillar of mainstream politics. Many observers predict that the Green party has a good chance of once again co-governing the country from the seat of power in Berlin after the next parliamentary elections in 2021. That's an outlook that few could have imagined all those years ago when the party first formed in 1980.

At not yet 40, Annalena Baerbock has been a Green Party co-chair since 2018. A jurist with a degree in public international law from the London School of Economics, her supporters see her as a safe pair of hands with a better grasp of detail than Habeck. Her opponents point to her lack of governing or ministerial experience and her occasional gaffes in interviews. The 50-year-old Robert Habeck, an enthused and passionate speaker, can match the tone and energy of the climate movement in a way many German politicians cannot. But like so many with the gift of the gab, his speeches tend to meander off-topic. Habeck has a Ph.D. in philosophy and was a novelist and children’s author before entering politics almost 20 years ago. He has disowned the moralising tendencies of the environmental movement and said that people should be free to make their own choices in their private lives.

The Free Democrats (FDP) has traditionally been the kingmaker of German politics. Although it has never received more than 15 percent of the vote, it has formed multiple coalition governments with both the CDU/CSU and SPD. The FDP, led by Christian Lindner, supports less government spending and lower taxes, but takes a progressive stance on social issues such as gay marriage or religion.

The Left / Die Linke, led by Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, is the most left-wing party in the Bundestag. It supports major redistribution of wealth at home and a pacifist stance abroad, including withdrawing Germany from NATO. It emerged from the successor party to the Socialist Unity Party (SED) that ruled communist East Germany until 1989. Today, it still enjoys most of its support in eastern Germany.

Deutschlandtrend, which gauges political opinions on a monthly basis, put the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) at a mere 33% approval rating in early 2021. And recent revelations that lawmakers from both parties capitalized on mask sales for personal financial gain will surely exacerbate this downward trend.

But it alone does not account for the party's poor performance. Malu Dreyer, the popular Social Democratic (SPD) state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate, would have surely triumphed again even without the CDU's miserable performance. The same applies for Baden-Württemberg's equally popular premier, Winfried Kretschmann from the Green Party. The CDU is not even needed to form stable coalition governments in either state.

The Greens are eager to be part of the federal government after September's general elections. And that is something they are only likely to achieve with the CDU/CSU bloc, because, despite its current failing ratings, there seems (so far) to be mathematically no alternative to a conservative-Green government in the post-Merkel era.

Conservatives derived some comfort from the fact that the latest opinion polls gave them sufficient support to retain control of the chancellery, provided both parties take immediate strategic steps to this end. CDU leader Armin Laschet and Bavarian state premier Markus Söder (CSU) are hot contenders. One of them will be nominated as lead candidate. The sooner the conservatives make their pick, the sooner they can make voters forget about prior scandals.

By April 2021 the race to succeed Angela Merkel as the 2021 candidate for Germany's biggest political bloc has come down to two men, who happen to be the two most powerful state premiers in Germany: North Rhine-Westphalia's Armin Laschet and Bavaria's Markus Söder. The stakes could not be higher, since whoever won would likely become the favorite to be Germany's next chancellor in September. Both are the current leaders of the two parts of the conservative alliance that had dominated German politics since the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949: Laschet headed the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), while Söder ran its Bavarian-only sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Their personalities are different: Laschet, much like Merkel, built a reputation on careful compromise in his premiership of North Rhine-Westphalia, a huge state that is home to almost a quarter of the German population. Söder's political career, meanwhile, had largely been defined by his bitter rivalry with his predecessor as Bavarian state premier, Horst Seehofer.

North Rhine-Westphalia's State Premier Armin Laschet was set to be the conservative bloc's candidate for chancellor in September's election. The head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was confirmed after over a week of tortuous wrangling with the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Markus Söder. Opinion polls and recent regional elections have shown that the CDU/CSU, which has for so long represented traditional German centrist conservatism, is at its lowest ebb ever. The conservatives had been leaking voters in all directions, but especially to a surging and confident Green party.

Laschet has more political experience than Merkel did before she became chancellor. Beyond his legal and journalistic background, he has been elected at the - local, state, and federal levels; - and even to the European parliament. And having grown up in the border region to Belgium, he is a true European. He has family roots in Belgium and speaks fluent French. Since 2019, Laschet has also been Germany's representative for Franco-German cultural relations and has long maintained close ties with political leadership in Paris.

Germany's Green party was more popular than German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc, according to a new opinion poll published on Sunday 25 April 2021. The Greens polled at 28%, up 6 percentage points, according to the Kantar research group's Sunday trend poll carried out on behalf of tabloid Bild am Sonntag. The newspaper reported that this was the Green's highest-ever poll rating in the history of the Sunday trend polls. Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) fell two percentage points to 27%. The Social Democrats (SPD), who share power in a coalition government with the conservatives, also lost two points, slipping to 13%. This was their lowest result since August 2019. The socialist Left party polled at 7%, and the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) recorded 10% — both down one point. The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) remained at 9%.

Once the campaign dust has settled on every German election, either at a state or national level, the political parties, who have spent the previous months pulling apart each other's policies and casting aspersions on the credentials of each other's candidates, have to find a way to make friends. These tortuous negotiations can take several weeks and culminate in a "coalition contract" that sets out the political agenda, including specific legislative goals, that will determine the next few years. The most common options face a few caveats regarding coalition-willingness : the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is currently seen as a pariah for all the other parties, both at state and national level, while the other parties have so far only found the stomach to accommodate the socialist Left Party [successor to the East German Communist Party] in some states. The coalitions are denomiated by the colors associated with the parties, sometimes named after the color combiations of the flags of other countires.

'Grand' Black-Red: Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD)
Grand coalition usually means the standard alliance of Germany's two biggest, centrist parties — the two parties that most Germans consider safe options for a competent government. It's the coalition that Chancellor Angela Merkel has headed at a federal level for three of her four tenures. Almost all the German states have seen this combination in charge in their history. The problem that the grand coalition usually represents for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), however, is that it then also struggles to present itself as a viable alternative when election campaigns come around. The old argument: "What can you offer? You've been in power all this time!" always stings.

Black-Yellow: CDU and the Free Democratic Party (FDP)
Germany's natural center-right coalition has governed Germany at a federal level for the bulk of its post-war history. The last time was under Merkel from 2009 to 2013, but before then, CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl led no fewer than five black-yellow cabinets from 1982 to 1998. It's easy to see why the combination appeals to so many Germans: the CDU stands up for Germany's Christian white conservative middle classes, while the FDP brings in the young business-friendly, free-market entrepreneurs that populate the cities. The CDU/CSU candidate for chancellor, Armin Laschet, has been heading a coalition government with the FDP in Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia since 2017, and has stressed the advantages of this combination.

Red-Green: SPD and Green party
This is the standard make-up for a center-left government in Germany — most successfully led by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005. But it has fallen out of favor since the charismatic duo of Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was around. Nevertheless, they have made very happy bedfellows in the past: the SPD is traditionally supposed to catch the "old-left" supporters, the working classes, and trade unions, while the Greens are the natural party for the progressive leftist metropolitan voters. But Red-Green ditched its leftist roots in 2003 and embraced neo-liberal labor reforms ("Agenda 2010") in order to catch the business-centric center — and has forfeited some of its bases to the Left Party.

"Jamaica" (Black-Yellow-Green): CDU, FDP, and Green party'
Of Germany's major leftist parties, the Greens are the most likely to appeal to Germany's conservative center — or at least the party least likely to disturb their center-right pro-business plans, since its traditional electorate does not comprise working-class voters. It almost came about on the federal level in 2017, before the FDP surprisingly dropped out. Though it has never made up a national government, Jamaica coalitions have on the state level in the Saarland from 2009 to 2012 and currently in Schleswig-Holstein. But on the federal level this option may well turn out to be the most likely combination if the CDU/CSU continues its slump and the Green party's high turns out to be not so long-lived.

'Kenya' (Red-Black-Green): SPD-CDU-Greens
As ideas go, a Kenya coalition would definitely manage to get an absolute majority. But it's rarely an option that is called upon. So far, it has only come to pass on state levels in following elections in eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony in 2019 in response to a rise of the far-right AfD which took a quarter of the votes. It turns out that uncooperative electorates sometimes force parties to improvise.

Red-Red-Green: SPD, Left Party, and Green party
If and when a center-left option is not possible, the SPD and the Green have on state-level been able to hold their noses and offer a berth to the socialist Left party. Until now, that option has not been mooted at a national level, partly because of the lingering connection of the Left Party with the East German dictatorship (though time is gradually removing this from the list of concerns), and partly because of the Left's occasionally populist rhetoric about leaving NATO — which the other parties fear will scare of Germany's middle-class base. There is also some personal animosity, since former SPD chairman and then Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine surprisingly defected in 1999. However, the combination has been in power under Left Party leadership in the eastern state of Thuringia since 2014, in the small city-state of Bremen since 2019, and in the city-state of Berlin, with its old-school leftist eastern districts, which probably have more stomach for this combo than Germany at large.

'Traffic light' (Red-Yellow-Green): SPD, FDP, and Green party
While the SPD and the Greens are usually willing to accommodate a junior partner who is unlikely to cross their main plans and yet still put them in power, the FDP generally rules this one out. Indeed, former FDP leader Guido Westerwelle consistently refused to entertain the notion at a national level, on the grounds that their platforms were too different. Traffic light negotiations have often fallen apart. The only successful such government, however, has just been returned to power in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

In a Deutschlandtrend opinion poll released 02 September 2021, the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), together with their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, came in at just 20%. The clear number one were the conservatives' current coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). If these numbers turn out correct, come election day, the SPD candidate Olaf Scholz could form a coalition with the Greens (16%) and the socialist Left Party (6%).

The center-right Christian Democrat CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU are symbolized by the color black. The center-left Social Democrat SPD is red, as is the communist Left Party. The pro-free market Free Democrats' (FDP) color is yellow. And the Greens are self-explanatory. German media refer to the color combinations and national flags using them as shorthand for political combinations.

The Left party wants to abolish NATO, put an end to all Bundeswehr missions abroad, and ban all weapons exports. Their election program states: "We call for the dissolution of NATO and its replacement by a collective security system with Russia's participation." However, Germany's withdrawal from NATO is an absolute no-go for the SPD and the Greens. For both parties, the transatlantic partnership is a pillar of their foreign policy. So a red-red-green alliance is only conceivable if the Left party were to give in on this point. But there were no signs of that.

The overlap between the three parties on foreign and security policy is small. But in many other important areas, it should be easier for them to come together. Whether combatting climate change, education, finance, or health — programmatically they are relatively close.

It did not take long after the polls closed 26 September 2021 for the two leading candidates to claim they could be Germany’s next chancellor. Olaf Scholz, of the social-democratic SDP, and Armin Laschet, of the conservative CDU, both say they are in a strong position to head up the country’s next governing coalition even as the final votes were still being counted. What is more, both of them could be right. Preliminary results show Germany’s two major parties are locked in a close race, with the SPD ahead by just over one percentage point. With support from the Greens and the liberal FDP, either one of them could secure a majority in the Bundestag.

The environmentalist Greens are set to be kingmakers in coalition talks following the election, alongside the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) after coming third and fourth in the elections, preliminary results showed. Both center-left SPD leader Olaf Scholz and conservative CDU leader Armin Laschet said they hoped to have coalition talks wrapped up by the end of the year. The SPD had won an even stronger mandate to form a government than the CDU/CSU. Scholz had a very clear advantage here with regards to forming a coalition government — with regard to also being used to talk to the different parties at the national level.

The SPD's Olaf Scholz said his party will likely enter coalition talks with the Greens and the FDP. But with the conservatives also trying to form a government, Merkel's successor was still unclear. The CDU still had a potential to lead or participate in the next government, possibly as coalition partners with the FDP and Greens. Norbert Röttgen, a member of the CDU and chair of the Bundestag's Committee on Foreign Affairs, told DW that his party shares similar views with the FDP and Greens on global challenges. The CDU is looking to possibly form a coalition government with those two parties.

"There is a high consensus between the CDU, the Liberals and the Greens, particularly when it comes to how to deal with Russia, how to deal with China, that we have to shift to the new role China is practicing in international relations, the bullying policy in the region," he said Monday. "So a more robust foreign policy against the authoritarian regimes and countries in Russia, in China and elsewhere."

Hessen State Premier and CDU member Volker Bouffier said his party is not entitled to participate in a coalition government after finishing second place behind the SPD. "It was a defeat," Bouffier said, while calling the election a "bitter day" for the party. "We are not entitled to government responsibility." Bouffier is a strong supporter of CDU chancellor candidate Armin Laschet.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said moderate increases in defense spending would likely continue and "that will not please the Americans because we're not getting to two percent in a couple of years," referring to the 2% of GDP that the US would like European NATO members to contribute towards defense spending.

The leaders of Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD), climate-friendly Greens and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are to recommend to their parties that they should begin formal coalition negotiations. "We are convinced that we can conclude an ambitious and viable coalition agreement," the parties said 15 October 2021 in a 12-page exploratory paper.

The three parties about to form the next German government presented in Berlin its plans on 24 November 2021 under the title "Risk More Progress," aiming to set itself off from the Merkel era by serving as an "alliance for freedom, justice, and sustainability," as the parties taglined their cooperation deal. The key deal appeared to be between the two junior partners in the coalition: The Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP). While the environmentalists were able to secure the target of ending Germany's coal industry "ideally" by 2030 (eight years ahead of the German government's current target), the FDP got their hands on the second most powerful office in the land: their party leader, Christian Lindner, is now poised to take over the Finance Ministry. Green co-leader Robert Habeck is set to take over the Economy and Energy Ministry, whose portfolio is to be expanded into climate as well.

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