Germany Before the Election 2017: What to Watch

March 29, 2017

Jens Alberts

On March 29, 2017, Jens Alberts (Head of Press Department, Consul, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany) delivered a lecture titled “Germany Before the Election 2017: What to Watch.” Alberts provided an overview of the German federal electoral system in comparison with the American system. He proceeded to address the political circumstances surrounding the upcoming German federal election in September 2017, which will determine the membership of the Bundestag and the chancellorship. Currently the election campaign consists of the following key players: Angela Merkel, the incumbent chancellor and candidate of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Martin Schulz, the candidate for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and former President of the European Parliament. In addition to these main political contenders, the German electorate will also choose between other third-party candidates, including The Left, the Green Party, the Free Democratic Party, and the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

This election is particularly significant, Alberts explained, in light of Brexit and the growth of right-wing populism in European politics. For Alberts, the populist movement is driven by two main forces: (1) growing dissatisfaction with globalization and the internationalism of EU governance, and (2) negative public perceptions of Islam amidst migration from Syria and other Muslim states. In Germany, right-wing populism is commonly represented in the Alternative for Germany party. The AfD platform includes anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic policies, as well as the re-instatement of military conscription. Founded in 2013 and one of the newest political parties, the AfD has since grown in popularity. In the 2016 state elections, this party received double-digit percentages in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony-Anhalt. In Angela Merkel’s home state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the AfD managed to achieve 20% of the vote, outperforming the CDU.

In highlighting the rise of nationalist populism in Europe, Alberts identified the upcoming election as a key moment influencing the future of the European Union. If the AfD performs well in the election and gains seats in the Bundestag, this could have a serious impact on Germany’s policies as the leading power in Europe. The German election could become even more critical, depending on the results of the French presidential election in April. Two Eurosceptic candidates have risen in the polls in recent weeks, Marine Le Pen on the far right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the far left. If their candidacies succeed in upending French politics, Alberts observed, Germany may be the only remaining leader capable of defending centrist European integration. (David Dunham)