The election results for Germany in September saw the current Bundeskanzkerin (Chancellor) Angela Merkel remain in power. This will be her third four year term- meaning that she has been in power longer than a two- term US President, or long enough to rival some Russian and Italian leaders.
The political party she leads, the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (Christian Democratic Union, or CDU) and its coalition partners and sister party the Christlich Soziale Union in Bayern (Christian Social Union in Bavaria, or CSU) has had its share of ups and downs, has had its fair share of both public praise and public criticism. However, Merkel herself remains incredibly popular.
Her leadership style has won a great many supporters throughout Germany. Indeed, German newspaper Die Welt sardonically quipped prior to the election that Germans could vote for any party with their first vote, but ‘mit dem zweiten Stimmen immer Merkel’ (with the second [vote] always Merkel’). This refers to the idiosyncrasies of the German electoral system, where voters actually vote twice, once for a party and once for a candidate.
The results were both positive and disappointing for the CDU. Although they won a comfortable 255 majority of seats in the German Bundestag (Parliament), the CDU/CSU bloc between them only gained 41.5% of the votes. A super majority and decisive victory for Merkel and the CDU, such results overall meant that there was no outright majority in the Bundestag.
The election results meant that there was need for a new coalition government, similar as in the UK in 2010. Unlike the UK, unused to Coalition politics, a Coalition is a relatively usual part of German politics. Negotiations are ongoing as regards forming potentially a grand coalition between the CDU and their former opponents, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democratic Party of Germany, or SPD). Despite losses in its share of voters recently (from 34.2% to 23%), Germany’s oldest political party ended up with 193 seats, giving the socialist party the second largest share of the votes. An alternate option is to form a majority government with another party who between them would end up with a Bundestag majority, such as as the Greens.
For a country that has supported, protected, and even bailed out nations where necessary in support of the Euro, the Euro was hardly a big campaign issue. However, dealing with Eurozone finances will be a headache for Frau Merkel now. Although such matters are only part of a larger set of economic issues for German politicians, and must be placed in perspective with longer term national issues such as energy and defence, an inevitably major part of Merkel’s new government will be concerned with supporting the EU.
Eurosceptics gave up a collective groan as Europe’s most dedicated pro- EU politician was re- elected as Chancellor. However, it is potentially not all gloomy for Eurosceptics; Chancellor Merkel wants to reconsider aspects of the EU, and above all to reinforce and strengthen the Eurozone. As such, Germany’s role and relations concerning the EU will be scrutinized; it is likely, however, that in proud political tradition, nothing much will be done except a series of reports produced after several years recommending a few subtle changes, if anything. It must be noted, though, that her EU policies and agenda have also gained her critics, both domestically and in the wider EU.
This can only be good news for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has vowed to hold a referendum on Britain and the EU if the Conservatives are returned to power in 2015. For both leaders and administrations, it is a case of much the same policies and politics- but also much different. The Conservatives, for example, have been talking heatedly about European integration and referendums for a great many years; this is the first time that a party leader has been firm and decisive in this particular issue. As with many long term politicians and democratic governments-in reality, little actually changes over several terms in power.
Although any alterations in the EU, either in the short term or long term, whether resulting from increasing economic crisis or stability whether from the UK’s desire to leave the EU, or Germany’s desire to reinforce the Union, what will such a change do to other aspects of the EU? For example, what about human rights?
Human rights are clearly set out in the European Conventions on Human Rights (ECHR). All of the (mostly European) nation state signatories have worked towards upholding the principles behind ECHR over the last few decades, and in promoting human rights in accordance with the Convention. For many European nations, human rights is now in national legislation (such as the UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act), and part of international treaty, such as ECHR itself.
National governments’ local administrations, employers, etc, across the continent now have to abide by such legislation, and to act in accordance with human rights (e.g. employers have to consider anti- discrimination regulations). Admittedly, sometimes the rules and restrictions imposed can be overly excessive, or abused (such as asylum seekers using the principle of a ‘right to a home and family life’ to make a claim for asylum), but those protections concerning human rights are now firmly in place, where they were not before.
A lot of those protected human rights are largely attributable to the EU. Nor only because of the ECHR, but because the central European courts and legal system has been able to promote, impose and enforce such principles across the EU. Whereas previously there was great human rights abuses in the 19th and 20th Century European past, and great tension and conflict, and great oppression (the former Soviet satellite states are good examples), the now politically unified European continent prevents such abuses happening, and enables both the central EU apparatus and other member states to enforce such principles of peace and freedom. Indeed, the EU itself strengthens the cause of universal human rights as it brings together a whole continent in a political, legal and economic union that prevents conflict and human rights abuses.
Consequently, in the long term, a Germany determined to strengthen and advance the EU can work towards repairing the damage (not just practical and physical damage) of previous conflicts and human and reinforce message of human rights by a stronger Europe, both economically, and politically. A stronger Europe means a greater adherence and greater store set on human rights- and a triumph over past continental conflicts.
The re-elected Chancellor Merkel, in seeking to strengthen the European Union, is standing up (admittedly indirectly) for human rights by preventing tension and conflict throughout the region. Being re-elected allows Frau Merkel, who herself witnessed the lack of human rights in the former East Germany, to ensure that peace remains throughout Europe, and to carry on her ceaseless endeavours to promote the EU, despite economic crisis and considerable opposition to the EU throughout the member states (notably in the UK).
Re-elected Bundeskanzkerin Angela Merkel