On September 26th, the people of Germany will go to the polls to cast their ballot in the country’s federal election. The number of parliamentarians in the Bundestag is speculated to exceed the current figure of 709 deputies, meaning it will retain its status as the largest lower house in any European country. Coupled with Germany’s status as a leading nation in European affairs, this election is significant beyond the borders of the Federal Republic, possibly the most striking factor of the campaign so far is the resurgence of the Social Democratic Party ( SPD), after years of abysmal polling that seemed to their entire future in jeopardy,this polling renaissance could represent an essential change in the fortunes of centre-left parties across Europe.
Firstly, the background to this election is crucial in understanding it. Retiring from the position of Chancellor after a sixteen-year incumbency is Angela Merkel, who has dominated German politics for a substantial period of time. Vastly popular both domestically and internationally, her electoral success on behalf of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is impossible to deny whatever your opinion of her is. During Merkel’s tenure, the CDU’s winning streak seemed almost invincible and a normal current of German politics, until suddenly, it wasn’t.
Since the Christian Democrats fought off an initial poll rise from the Greens, there has been a significant shift in momentum from the SPD, who have gone from languishing in third place and on the brink of their worst result in history, to regaining the lead for the first time in years. As of September 20th, Poltico’s poll of polls put the gap between the CDU and SPD at three points, as election day draws nearer.If the SPD could finish in first place, it would be a monumental comeback. Prior setbacks have been common: competing against a dominant CDU as well as the Populist right wing Alternative fur Deutschland, and even playing second fiddle to the Greens on the left. Given CDU nominee Armin Laschet’s poor approval ratings, and SPD nominee Olaf Scholz’s lead in preferred Chancellor polling, it is certainly possible for recent trends in opinion to be reflected in the result on Sunday.
So, where would that leave the new government of Germany?
The country’s system of proportional representation allows parties to have their list votes reflected in seats, if they reach a 5% threshold, whilst still being able to win constituency seats. There is currently a so-called ‘grand coalition’ between the CDU and SPD, in which Olaf Schoz is Vice Chancellor and Minister of Finance: it is possible that this could be repeated after the election. ut Scholz has announced certain policies for any government he leads, including raising the highest tax rate from 42% to 45% and implementing a €12 minimum wage, which his current conservative partners may find too radical. A so-called ‘traffic light’ coalition made up of the SPD, Greens, and right-wing libertarian FDP is also on the cards, though Christian Lidner, FDP nominee for Chancellor, has emphasised that winning the popular vote does not give any party a mandate to lead.
One of the most interesting combinations would be the SPD, Greens, and radically- left-wing party Die Linke (The Left), giving rise to one of the most left-wing coalitions in modern German history. However, Die Linke would be forced to give up some of their non-mainstream policies, such as leaving NATO, that would likely ostracise them from any talks in forming a government.
An SPD victory and left-leaning coalition would be significant in a wider resurgence of centre left parties in Northern Europe: with the Norwegian Labour Party finishing in first place along with success from other left bloc parties on September 13th, as well as the return of leftist coalitions in Denmark and Sweden over the last few years.
So, could CDU dominance of German politics come to an end on Sunday? It depends on the ability of the SPD and their fellow left-leaning parties to hold their own in this final stretch But with all the leaders’ debates finished and a very short time frame before the vote actually takes place, there may be a settled consensus amongst the German electorate: one that would mark a phenomenal comeback for the SPD.