9 October 2017

Is the EU doomed after the result of the German elections?

There is a chance that Germany’s stance will become more Eurosceptic in the upcoming months. To understand why it’s not the Liberals, nor the Greens we need to look at. It’s Munich and the Christian Social Union (CSU).

After the elections of September 24, Germany found itself stuck in an unusual environment of political and institutional instability. A radical right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany (AFD), entered the Bundestag winning more than 90 seats, and become the third force in the country.

Yet, one month after the electoral night, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), the Liberal party (FDP) and the Greens are poised to kick-off official coalition talks to form a new Government.

49 percent of Germans want Merkel to stay as Chancellor

The potential alliance between the three forces has been labelled “Jamaica” as a result of the traditional colours attached to the parties. Recent polls suggest that German citizens eye with favour the coalition. So do a majority of the party bases, with the exception of CSU voters who are understood to be sceptical of the coalition.

As a consequence of “Jamaica”, the ruling Grand coalition between the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the centre-right CDU/CSU will come to an end. As a matter of fact, the perils of the so-called “GroKo” (short for “Grand Coalition” in German) became manifest already during the electoral night, as Martin Schulz declared early on that the SPD would move to the opposition bench in the Bundestag.

Nevertheless, in the early days after the vote, some MPs from the SPD claimed GroKo could still be an option if … Angela Merkel gave away the Chancellery. Which obviously sounded like waiting for rain in the desert: 49 percent of Germans want Merkel to stay.

Is Europe doomed under Jamaica?

Yet, across Europe question number one reads: what does a Jamaican coalition imply for the rest of the EU?

During the electoral campaign, FDP leader Christian Linder overtly criticised the politics of “solidarity”, the bailout process in Greece and Macron’s European visions. As such, one could expect an even less “solidaristic” Germany than before to take the lead in the Old Continent.

71 percent of voters who backed at least one of the parties that are engaging in the “Jamaican talks” hold integrationist views

Yet, a poll from the research project REScEU.eu points into a different direction and reveals a less deterministic scenario.

Questioned about their views on the European Union, citizens across Europe were asked to choose among 4 options in describing their “imaginary” of the EU: a common house, a multi-apartment building, a playground, or a sinking ship.

The results show (unexpectedly) that a majority of Germans share hold an “integrationist” view of the EU. An absolute majority of German citizens (54.6 percent) claim that the EU matches the image of a multi-apartment building. If coupled with those who compare the EU to a unique house shared by different nations, we end up with a strong 62 percent. On the other hand, only 11 percent think of the Union as a sinking boat.

Any “Europe is doomed” view fails to weight the influence of the Greens, a hard-rock integrationist party, in the negotiations

But what does this tell us about the prospects of the Jamaican coalition and its EU stance? Arguably not much.

However, if we bundle together the two “integrationist options” (EU as a “shared house” or a “multi-apartment building”), on the one hand, and the other two more “pessimistic views”, on the other one, and timely check for voting intentions of respondents, it is possible to sketch the proportion of the “Jamaican party” base that holds integrationist views on Europe.

The results are staggering. 71 percent of voters who backed at least one of the parties that are engaging in the “Jamaican” talks holds integrationist views. All the more important, the party base of “Jamaica” is even scoring higher than the former “GroKo” (70 percent).

Obviously, in order for these numbers to translate into effective policymaking, we have to assume that parties somehow care about the preferences of their base.

But why then again is there so much talking about the “Liberal threat” in a future German Government? Besides, any “Europe is doomed under Jamaica” view fails to weight the influence of the Greens, a hard-rock integrationist party, in the negotiations.

Yet, the devil is in the details.

The Bavarian factor

It is often forgotten that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) represents just one shade of the black in the “Jamaican” mosaic.

Indeed, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), a long-lasting ally of Merkel’s CDU at the national level, holds little Europeanism in its veins: coming back to the above mentioned “imaginary” question, one of out of four in its party base thinks of “Titanic” when discussing the EU.

On the morning after the elections, the CSU force woke up squeezed between the comeback of the FDP, on the one side, and the AFD, on the other one

What is more important to grasp about the upcoming months of negotiations, is that the surge of the AFD represents an existential threat to the CSU, a party which has always thought of itself as the right-wing extreme of the (institutional) political spectrum.

On the morning after the elections, the Bavarian force woke up squeezed between the comeback of the FDP, on the one side, and the AFD, on the other one.

As of now, the AFD seems happy enough to enter the Bundestag and campaign on the migratory issue. The latter was the ultimate reason for the CSU to make out of the “Obergraenze” (An “upper limit” to be set on incoming refugees) an absolute red line that couldn’t be crossed. At the end of the day, Merkel decided to give in on that policy issue.

Yet, more generally, it seems fair to assume that any political claim raised by the AFD in the future will turn into a competitive challenge for the CSU. So what if the AFD turns its look towards the European reform proposals of Emmanuel Macron?

There is a chance that Germany’s stance will become more Eurosceptic in the upcoming months. But it’s not the Liberals, nor the Greens we need to look at. It’s Munich and the CSU.


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This article was previously published on CorrieredellaSera-Economia.

Photo Credits CC: Eduardo Fonseca Arraes

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