German elections: best result for renewables
Germany has voted, and the new Chancellor is the old one. But although there is no change at the helm, the situation has greatly improved for renewables.
Supporters of renewables have reason to rejoice this week, for the FDP has failed to get 5% of the vote, the limit required to enter parliament. It is the first time in the history of the German Republic that the FDP, a libertarian party, has not been represented in the Bundestag.
The FDP does not, however, properly represent citizen liberties, but rather big business. Thus, it was possible for the Pirate Party to get several percentage points of the vote based largely on a platform of internet user rights. Had the FDP correctly understood what liberal politics is, there would have been no need for the Pirates at all.
In the case of renewables, the FDP wanted to put an immediate end to the citizens movement that is the Energiewende – not just a transition to renewables, but a challenge to the oligopoly in the energy sector. The FDP never represented the personal right to make your own energy. Now, community ownership can continue.
The other big news about small parties is the new AfD (Alternative for Germany) party, which just missed the 5% threshold in its first attempt; it took the Greens a decade to reach that level. The AfD brings together EU critics and is a scary development for all existing parties. Germany has long been a pillar of the EU, and now Germany has a party whose entire platform is anti-euro and anti-bailout. And in the upcoming EU elections, the threshold is only 3%, so it is likely that Germany will be sending this anti-EU party to Brüssels.
Merkel could now serve for 12 years
Chancellor Merkel increasingly looks like a political genius. She called on her voters not to switch to the FDP, her coalition partner, in order to protect the coalition – a clear sign that she had had enough of the FDP herself. But in doing so, she ran the risk of allowing the Social Democrats to form a three-party coalition with the Greens and the Left Party.
The outcome was an even clearer victory for Merkel’s party, which nearly managed to get a majority itself. But while my readers in North American and the UK might think Merkel would prefer to govern without a coalition partner, in fact there are good reasons why she might not. First, her party would have only managed a slight majority, requiring an unrealistic level of party coherence; if any politician defected, her government would fall apart. Practically every vote would be a vote of no confidence.
Second, Merkel’s Christian Democrats would have lacked support in the Bundesrat, the chamber of parliament that represents states’ rights. It blocked changes to solar policy several times during the previous coalition and has a veto right on important tax issues. A coalition partner brings the Bundesrat into line by adding that party support there.
Finally, the CDU only exists outside of Bavaria, where the CSU reigns. (For the US, imagine the Republicans being established in every state but Texas, where a state party agrees to partner with the Republicans outside of Texas.) A majority for the CDU/CSU would make the CSU Merkel’s coalition partner, a prospect she might not relish. At the EU level, any other coalition would open doors (for instance, the SPD could help improve communications with socialist French leader Hollande).
For the energy transition, a CDU/CSU majority (i.e. no actual coalition) would not have been an ideal outcome for the energy transition. Although the CSU has good people (such as MP Göppel, a big supporter of energy democracy), the party as a whole is too pro-solar and too anti-wind at a time when wind needs to grow faster than solar.
The Greens conducted an impressively ill-advised campaign. They communicated their platform poorly and lost voters. There were also revelations that the party had, up to the late 1980s, provided a platform for some who would have decriminalized “consensual” sex with minors (now known as pedophilia). Such prominent Green politicians as Volker Beck and Daniel Cohn-Bendit were openly part of the campaign at the time, and current party leader Jürgen Trittin turned out to have at least tacitly allowed such discussions back then. Amazingly, the investigations into the Green Party’s past were contracted by the Greens themselves during the election campaign, not by their opponents. CDU politicians have been especially critical of this aspect of German history, though the FDP also had pro-pedophilia members at the time. But for such reasons, the Greens received less than 9% of the vote.
It’s too early to tell what coalition Merkel will choose, but a grand coalition at least offers the prospect of a new energy policy with wide popular support, which will be important. But the SPD could also form a coalition with the Greens and the Left Party; it simply refuses to do so because it does not wish to form a coalition with the Left, which came out of the former communist East Germany. In a grand coalition, however, the SPD would always be able to block the CDU with votes from the Greens and the Left, a prospect Merkel will want to prevent.
Others wonder whether she might want to join forces with the Greens. It would be a first at the federal level, though such coalitions exist elsewhere. During the TV debate with her challenger, she wore a black-red-gold necklace – the colors of Germany. On the night of the elections, she was seen wearing a black and green necklace – the colors of the CDU and the Greens. Did Merkel tell the Greens that their past tolerance and support of pedophilia would be an obstacle to a coalition with the CDU? (Craig Morris)