The recent German elections have had many surprises in store: the CDU obtained the worst result since World War II and the Greens obtained their best result ever; AFD, which was believed to be on the rise in 2017, has lost part of its base. While normally the chancellor is usually nominated by the winner, in this election two parties hope to be able to do so. However, this election also has lessons for non-Germans, especially Americans. Here are four.
The shorter, the better
Even before this election, when Angela Merkel in 2018 announced that she was stepping down, it caused panic in Germany and Europe: what will be the future of Germany? how will Europe move forward? How can France run Europe without Merkel? What will be the fate of Brexit and relations with the United Kingdom? The problem is, Merkel held power for 16 years, and much of Europe’s dynamism has formed around her. When she decides to step aside, the others don’t know how to move on. Therefore, the first lesson is that to hold power for a long time, even if the holder is as competent as a person like Merkel, is harmful because at the time of departure it causes unrest. Normally it is the system that dominates the person, but if someone has the power for a long time, then the balance changes and the person dominates the system.
This is all the more crucial for foreign policy because most foreign agreements are guaranteed by those in power and when they withdraw, the fate of these agreements will be uncertain. We have all seen what happened to some of the US bilateral and multilateral agreements when Donald Trump took office. Thus, foreign negotiators will remain cautious when negotiating with the United States and take this short-term mandate into account. We all know that upon the death of the 78-year-old American president, his 56-year-old vice president will replace him easily and smoothly and without much drama in American foreign relations. But what happens when Vladimir Putin dies. What will be the fate of Russia without him, or the fate of Turkey without Erdogan? Likewise, what will the future of Germany or of Europe be without Merkel?
Climate change is not like the earthquake
Another surprise came from the Greens and the fact that the Germans are sensitive to climate change, as the result of 15% of the Greens shows. A few months ago, they were ahead of the big parties and said they wanted to appoint the next chancellor when normally the big parties do. This result will undoubtedly reverberate across Europe, as some observers now predict that the Greens will have a surprising result in the French elections next April. What is mind boggling is the fact that they were planning to raise energy prices. This shows how enlightened voters are about climate change, and they are willing to pay the price for it. Analysts believe that spring flooding in parts of Germany that killed 180 people contributed to its result, meaning voters are aware that such events are preventable with the right policies. The importance of such awareness can be best realized when compared to the scale of the Trump base in the United States. They believe that climate change is similar to an earthquake and that the government is only responsible for mitigating its consequences because its causes are beyond their control, just like the earthquake which is not of human origin.
Eat little and eat long
After the election results were announced, with the exception of the radical left and the radical right, no one felt defeated. Even De Linke could have formed a coalition with the SPD if they got a few more votes. Although the CDU had its worst result since World War II, it still has the option of forming a government. On election night, when the first results were announced, CDU supporters were dejected, but when he later announced that the SPD didn’t get much more than them, they started dancing and drinking. . Now Olaf Sholz of the SPD and Armin Laschet of the CDU hope to be the next chancellor. They entered into negotiations with other parties on the basis of their voting results.
This is totally different from the US election where the winner seizes power for four years and the loser loses everything, even though he got 46% of the vote like what the Republicans did last year. Therefore, it is to be expected that the loser will experience major emotional trauma which is almost insurmountable in highly polarized situations. The Capitol riot last January in the United States was an example of this phenomenon.
But in Germany, most parties hope they can at least put some of their plans on the next government’s agenda. This is an example of the proverb “Eat little and eat long” which means that instead of the winner takes everything and the losers lose everything, they can implement some of their policies during each parliamentary period. This shows that in highly polarized societies, parliamentary democracy and the idea of coalition governments work better than presidential democracy.
Criticism from within acts as a buffer against extremism
The last lesson that can be drawn from this election is that, unlike Hungary, Austria or Italy where extreme right-wing groups have succeeded in coming to power, in Germany they do not ‘could not do so, because two small centrist parties, namely the Greens and FDP, managed to take the fallen votes of the two large centrist parties so that these votes were not added to the two extremist parties. So, while two major centrist parties lost part of their base, at the same time, the votes of two radical parties also fell. When the factions inside the center start to castigate other factions, if the last factions fail, the base goes to the first and, therefore, the company does not fall back into radicalism. It was a significant victory for centrists in Germany and a great lesson for liberals and moderates in the United States.
*Issa Adeli, policy researcher, Center for International Cooperation and Strategic Studies, Ministry of ICT,