German elections mark troubled transition to post-Merkel era

Socialists set to lead multicolour German government

Politics

September 23, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

German elections mark troubled transition to post-Merkel era

Germans vote this Sunday to elect a new Parliament, the first one in almost two decades without Angela Merkel

As Germans vote this Sunday to elect a new Parliament, the first one in almost two decades without Angela Merkel, her centre-right CDU/CSU union is struggling to get its act together and Socialists look set to lead new government, perhaps with CDU/CSU and other smaller parties. Germany’s Greens also stand to double their vote share since last polls in 2017, ensuring a significant presence in the Parliament.

No politician has dominated the political landscape not just in post-war Germany but also across the European Union as has German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been setting the tone for her country as well as the EU for nearly two decades now.

But as Merkel hangs up her gloves to hand over the baton to her successor in Reichstag, a political earthquake of sorts is underway. With barely a month to go before the parliamentary elections, Merkel’s centre-right CDU has lost a lot of ground to the traditional rival, the socialist SPD party, mainly due to the lacklustre performance of Merkel’s successor as CDU chief as well as her party’s candidate for Chancellorship, Armin Laschet.

In mid-April, according to opinion polls, support for CDU-CSU stood at a solid 38 pc, more than twice the two key rivals – SPD as well as the Greens, both of which stood at 16 pc. However, Laschet’s bland personality as well as his flat discourse have seen this hefty and winning margin evaporate in a matter of four months. According to latest opinion polls, conducted last week, the SPD is firmly in the lead with over 25.5 pc support, leaving the CDU-CSU stood barely at 22 pc, while the Greens hover at around 16 pc, up from 8.4 pc that they got in 2017.

Laschet is also severely underperforming in terms of who the Germans want to see as the new Chancellor. While the SPD candidate and Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz leads the polls with over 22 pc, Laschet trails way behind at 13 pc, level with the Green party’s candidate Annalena Baerbock.

While the exact composition of the next Reichstag as well as the name of the person who will replace Merkel as the German leader is still a matter of conjecture, one thing that is almost certain is that for the first time in German parliamentary history the Green party will have a presence in the national government and not just as a minor partner, but indeed one of the biggest partners. According to various polls, the chances of that happening are a staggering 81 pc. There are various combinations of which parties would end up in the ruling coalition as an outright win for any party is ruled out. In almost all of these permutations, no government seems possible without Greens being a significant part of it.

With the emergence of the SPD as the largest party in EU’s largest economy after almost 15 years in relative political wilderness, then it would mark a major landmark in the German or European political landscape. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to compare it to a political earthquake that may have long-term implications for Germany and the European Union at the same level as the fall of the Berlin wall and collapse of communism in 1989.

Green revolution underway

In many ways, the timing of this “green revolution” could not have come at a better or more opportune time. The arrival of the Greens as a sizeable partner in Europe’s largest economy will come weeks before the key climate change meet, COP26, slated to be held in Glasgow in November. It will also come weeks after the latest warning on global warming hurtling along, issued by Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a multilateral body of global experts mandated by the United Nations to track climate change.

In the IPCC warning, that was nothing short of code red for the planet’s safety and health, the scientists said that the global temperature is set to breach, within this decade, the limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial era, set by scientists, beyond which climate change would not only be irreversible but also gather pace. The IPCC went on to say that it could even go above 2°C before the end of this century, with catastrophic impact on climate everywhere and severely hurting billions of people.

Thus, the arrival of the Greens in the government may indeed just be what was needed to give a boost to the German, European and global efforts to cut back carbon and methane emissions and for governments to impose severe curbs on businesses to ensure that they not only meet their targets to cut carbon emissions but also do all that is needed to protect the environment.

The Greens have already set the tone for what they would do. Last month, they brought out a 10-point programme outlining their climate commitment. They say that the 2015 Paris Climate Summit accord would be at the heart of all decisions taken by the government. The Greens are proposing a Climate Ministry that will, interestingly and controversially, have a veto over all government decisions that go against the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Other measures proposed by the Greens include a significant increase in share of renewable energy in Germany’s energy mix and a requirement for all new public buildings to have solar roofs. The Greens have also set a target for a faster phase-out of fossil fuels from the German economy, meaning end of burning of coal and sale of combustion engine vehicles by the year 2030, much ahead of all major economies in the world. These measures will help Germany cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 pc by the year 2030, as against 55 pc target set by the current government.

Besides phasing out coal and gas from power production, one of the most controversial measures proposed by the Greens is to impose a speed limit of 130 kph on all highways across Germany. Though many car long Germans are strictly opposed to it, the Greens justify their proposal saying it will save nearly 2 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year.

The German Greens will steer not only Germany towards a clean and green economy, but it is also almost certain to push the EU to take some hard decisions to ensure that the EU shows to the world what it would take to curb carbon emissions and save the world from a certain catastrophe.

Indeed, expectations are that the German Greens would also pressure UNFCCC and other major economies to take steps to ensure that it is not too late yet to save the Earth.

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