Ideas Monitor #31/2017
A “quiet” German electoral campaign?
The German electoral campaign has been at the centre of many op-eds in think tank blogs, magazines and newspapers over the past few weeks. In particular, several commentators focused on the “quietness” of the German national debate and the high stakes of next September election.
On The New York Times, Jochen Bittner argues that despite the key role Germany plays on the European and international stage, the general public as well as national media seem to have little interest in the forthcoming elections.
As polls have confirmed all summer long, in September Chancellor Angela Merkel could easily win her fourth term in office, condemning the Social Democrats (SPD), now led by Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament, to the opposition. According to Bittner, Germans “have accepted the fact that the country’s national politics are locked in place by a centrist consensus that gives them little choice at the ballot box”. Bittner argues that in the eyes of the citizens, Angela Merkel looks like a rock in a time of international crisis. The Chancellor can thus easily play down any attempt by Martin Schulz to grasp a victory on the sole basis of her long incumbency. On the other hand, Bittner writes that the main opposition parties are anxious to play the only card they have, namely questioning the immigration policy of the Government and tackling the issue of integration. At this time, anyone seems to fear more than ever opening up the Pandora’s box of a public debate on immigration.
In a similar vein, on Carnegie Europe Judy Dempsey writes that Merkel is not presenting bold ideas for the future of the country or Europe. Dempsey argues that the Chancellor is hinging upon a sort of personality cult and the mantra of stability. Instead, the Social Democratic Party has not been able to distinguish itself from Merkel. Moreover, according to Dempsey, Schulz made a mistake in attempting to play the card of anti-Americanism The opposition leader criticised the NATO decision to invest at least 2% of members’ GDP on defence. Unfortunately, it was the SPD to agree on that measure during the past legislature. In any case, Dempsey warns that the complacency of the leaders of the largest European country could easily become Germany’s Achilles’ heel.
On EurActiv, Samuel White writes that the electoral campaign for the legislative elections “is failing to shake the political landscape”. Nevertheless, White argues that on one specific topic the differences between the two main parties becomes relevant, namely the future of Europe. If the Christian Democrats propose a rather “unambitious vision for the EU’s future” based upon a slight development of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the SPD shows more ambition: the opposition party pledged to foster the integration project and advocates a more developed economic governance for the Eurozone, as well as a proper Eurozone budget.
Writing for The Guardian, Mary Dejevsky seems to be the only voice taking a different position on the matter. Although the CDU leads the polls, Dejevsky reminds the readers that some 46% of German voters are still undecided. According to Dejevsky, Merkel is playing the electoral campaign on a rather high moral ground, focusing on abstract principles rather than on concrete policies. The communication campaign of her party seems to be in line with this strategy. According to the author, such a strategy might backfire eventually, especially in relation to sensitive issues, such as the refugee crisis.