After a widely followed election, Germany voted for a new government in September earlier this year. The outcome of those elections continues to be of special interest for the European Union, as the new chancellor will represent one of Europe’s biggest economic forces and financiers of the EU. However, based on recent political developments, this year’s elections will not bring about major change for fellow members of the European Union.
Within the political system of Germany, the chancellor’s opinions are not of primary importance, as any decision made for the country or regarding the European Union is made by the winning party and the coalition parties. Therefore, the chancellor’s personal opinions are only crucial in the case of a crisis, where the European Council may have to make emergency decisions. Contrary to other large member countries of the EU, Germany has no strong Eurosceptic party or tendencies within the country. Moreover, the outcome of the elections in September indicates that Germany will have a three-party coalition, decreasing the chancellor’s and his party’s influence even more. Furthermore, all parties that are likely to govern agree that the country must remain pro-Europe.
The new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, belongs to the centre-left party SPD (Sozial Demokratische Partei Deutschlands or “Social Democratic Party for Germany”). The SPD has been part of the German government for the past sixteen years alongside Angela Merkel’s CDU, with Scholz being Merkel’s vice chancellor. The party is known for its focus on social and economic equality by attempting to stop the increasingly growing bracket between rich and poor. When it comes to EU politics, the SPD stands behind the further unification of its member countries, supporting ideas such as a European army, and a unified integration policy, in order to take a stand against the current trend of right-wing EU separatism.
In addition to supporting a more extensive European Foreign Policy, the SPD advocates for Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in the European Council for foreign affairs and security matters, which could help achieve better EU military capabilities. However, Scholz has been Germany’s Minister of Finance since March 2018, and his intention to protect German taxpayers when making decisions for the European Union has been well documented. He might be more sympathetic toward European integration, but the EU Projects must be in Germany’s interest for him to grant the country’s financial support. It is safe to say that his attitudes are aligned with those of his predecessor.
As coalition negotiations between the different German parties continue to be narrowed down–a process that will decide which other parties will govern Germany alongside the SPD–it becomes more and more clear that the most likely coalition is between the SPD, the Grünen, and the FDP. This combination might also prove favourable for the European Union, as both possible coalition partners are also pro-Europe and want a united EU.
The Grünen (German for “The Green”) focuses on climate change and tries to implicate policies that will reduce the man-made contribution to the destruction of our ecosystem. They would make the second strongest party within the trio. With this “green” transition in the German government, the country’s position regarding measures needed to achieve the European Union’s ambitious climate agenda should become more solid. In addition to its ecological aims, the Grünen is also known for its advocacy for a foreign and security policy that focuses on democracy, human rights and justice, especially in regard to current events in Russia, Belarus, and China.
Meanwhile, the FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei or “Free Democratic Party”)—the third ruling party—is built on its belief in the foundations of liberalism and social market economy and sees those policies as ways of economic growth and wealth amongst society.
This agenda proves particularly relevant during the economic aftermath of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the higher inflation within Europe. Moreover, the FDP takes a strong stand against autocratic striving for power and the trend of right-wing separatism within the EU. Their goal is to form a European Union that is strong in foreign policy, speaking with one voice to the outside world. Therefore, the FDP, just as the SPD, wants the unanimity vote in the EU Council of Ministers to be converted to a qualified majority vote (QMV), so that the EU can act faster internationally regarding issues such as war and terrorism.
Overall, the ideological differences between the three parties are minimal. It can be expected that the next German government will be more leftist than before and some minor changes in Germany's political position and tone may occur regarding EU climate policies. However, the new government remains pro-Europe, whilst focusing on social, environmental, and economical issues within Germany and the European Union.
by Sarah Sofie Richter