After national parliamentary elections in Germany on Sept. 24, Chancellor Angela Merkel appears almost certain to continue in office, though through what combination of political parties is not yet clear. Hard bargaining among politicians continues to hammer out a working coalition.
The personalities and political parties involved are interesting, and the stakes are high but definitely do not include the risk of world war. That is the most important fact to keep in mind amid all the media alarmism and speculation following the strong showing of an extremist nationalist party.
Chancellor Merkel has been leading her nation with a Grand Coalition involving her own conservative CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union) and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) on the left. The latter is a party with historic roots in the socialist movement, but today without traditional emphasis on nationalization of industry or economic class struggles. The SPD has made clear that the comprehensive coalition would not continue after the election.
The far-right nationalist AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party has made the most spectacular gains, winning 94 Bundestag seats with over 12 percent of the vote. The Bundestag, the lower house of the national legislature, forms the government. The AfD had no seats in the last parliament. This marks the first time this type of extreme party has had parliamentary representation since World War II. German constitutional law generally requires parties to reach a vote threshold of 5 percent to secure seats in the Bundestag, a damper on extremist groups.
The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) lost all Bundestag seats in the parliamentary elections held in September 2013, a devastating defeat. This time, the party won 80 seats and could be a coalition partner with the CDU/CSU. The left environmentalist Green Party holds 67 seats, a gain of four, and also could join a coalition.
In the 2013 elections, the powerful CDU/CSU elected the most members of parliament, but fell five seats short of a clear majority. Decimation of the FDP, which had been a governing coalition partner, led to the formation of the Grand Coalition.
This was the third time such a major-party coalition government held power since World War II. Weeks of negotiation preceded the Grand Coalition, and a similar time scenario may unfold this time. There is no reason for alarm if the pace is slow. Modern German politics is deliberate and almost consciously pragmatic.
The decline of the major parties reflects a broad long-term trend in European politics. Political parties traditionally strongly reflected economic class, religion and regional interests and sentiments. With the growth of post-World War II economic prosperity, economic class frictions and associated ideologies including socialism have generally declined along with nationalism. Religion is also fading in political importance in secular Europe.
Regional sensibilities have generally grown, in some cases with dramatic public and political impacts. The rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Britain is one example. Political turmoil in Catalonia in Spain illustrates the same trends, including the dangers of violence.
The European Coal and Steel Community, predecessor of the European Union of today, began soon after World War II. Economic integration intentionally became a policy instrument to encourage political stability and peace. In consequence, no single nation dominates Europe today.
Germany led by Chancellor Merkel provides an outstanding example of fiscal discipline and prudence, effective military collaboration in NATO, and humanitarian relief for refugees fleeing wars elsewhere.
— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.