How did German politics become so fragmented?


For Angela Merkel, the result of the German elections was nothing less than a “”nightmare victory. “Or at least that’s how the German newspaper Bild and other local media described the performance of the longtime chancellor, whose re-election for a fourth term was overshadowed by the better-than-expected performance of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.

The result is certainly not ideal for Merkel. It now faces the challenge of forming a new government with less parliamentary representation – its center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have lost 65 seats together – and without the support of the center-left Social Democratic Party, a former partner of the “grand coalition” who swore to join the opposition after his own dismal performance. This leaves Merkel’s CDU / CSU with a viable option to retain a majority government: a three-way coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, two smaller parties that both enjoyed electoral gains.

Many have lamented the AfD’s parliamentary debut and the apparent loss of Merkel’s grand coalition as a sign of Germany’s turn to the right, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. While the inclusion of the AfD in the German parliament will certainly have an impact, albeit a marginal one, on the country’s politics as we know it, so will the rise of other small parties: although they do not. not getting as many seats as the AfD, they have reappeared as important players on a political scene long dominated by the same center-left and center-right parties. It is a reconfiguration of German policy that Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia and co-author of Populism: a very brief introduction, describe as the “misalignment of traditional parties, rather than realignment with the AfD”.

“We have never had so many small parties in the Bundestag and we have never had any at such high levels,” Mudde told me. Sunday’s election saw the arrival of two new parties to the Bundestag: the AfD, which won 94 parliamentary seats, and the FDP, which returned with 80 seats after losing its parliamentary seat in the last elections of 2013 (during which he failed to reach the 5% threshold to be included in the Bundestag). These parties now join the Greens (who won five seats) and the left-wing populist Die Linke (who won four), in addition to the CDU / CSU and the SPD. This Seven-party Bundestag is the largest that Germany has known in decades, both in terms of number of parties and number of members.

“In the 1970s and 1980s we called Germany a two-and-a-half-party system,” Mudde said, referring to the long-standing presence of the CDU / CSU and the SPD, in addition to the more marginal FDP. “Right now we have this ‘established parties lose, right-wing populists win’ talk, but there are actually three other parties that also have 10% – they didn’t win, but they exist.”

Dr Tarik Abou-Chadi, a researcher in comparative politics at the Humboldt University in Berlin, told me that this re-emergence of small parties is not surprising considering Merkel’s long-standing reign, as well. than its grand coalition. “When there isn’t a lot of change and there are back-to-back governments that look alike, it strengthens those challengers,” Abou-Chadi said, adding that “one of their calls is this promise that “We’re going to shake things up, we’re going to change things.

Alexander Hensel, an AfD expert, told me that this resurgence of small parties was partly fueled by losses within the big parties. “In the case of the SPD, the party lost a lot of voters to the Greens, Die Linke, the FDP and the AfD as well,” he said. The CDU / CSU suffered similar losses, losing around 1 million voters to the AfD, as well as 1.4 million voters to the FDP.

This hemorrhage of voters among the traditional political parties – for the benefit of the smallest – is not exclusive to Germany. The Dutch elections saw a similar outcome earlier this year, with its 150 parliamentary seats split between the center-right VVD and the far-right PVV, along with nearly a dozen others. Although the results are in part due to the nature of the Netherlands’ proportional system, Mudde said it was a trend that EU leaders should start to accept as a new political reality.

“The post-election rhetoric is that this is a problem – that we failed on immigration, so we’re going to adapt and go back to the good old days of the ’70s and’ 80s… but it’s not coming back to that, ”he said. “These changes are structural and German politics, like in most European countries, is going to be much more fragmented, which means there will be larger coalitions. If we don’t accept this as the new standard, we’re going to be frustrated. “


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