German federal elections: are the Greens about to govern?

The German Greens saw their poll count drop in the final weeks of the campaign before the German federal elections on September 26. Yet like Charles lee explains, with the party still in third place, it remains very likely that the Greens could play a major role in the country’s next government.

The German Greens entered 2021 in an optimistic political mood. In the last federal election in 2017, the party beat low expectations, garnering a respectable 8.9% of the vote (up slightly from the 2013 federal election) and winning 67 seats (up four from 2013). ). The 2017 election always left the Greens as the smallest Fraction in the Bundestag, but over the past four years the party has achieved good results in several regional elections and in elections to the European Parliament.

With one week before the federal election of 2021, figures from the Greens’ poll indicate that they are in third place behind the center-left SPD and the center-right CDU / CSU, with support around the mid- adolescence. This level of support is significantly lower than the figures in the party’s polls earlier in the year, but given the areas of potential political agreement with the SPD and CDU / CSU, it gives the Greens a very good chance to play a role. key role in the formation of the new German government after the elections.

Encouraging signs for the Greens

The Greens continue to perform well in the elections in the Länder of the former West Germany, notably in October 2018 in Bavaria where they finished second behind the CSU, and in Hesse where they finished second behind the CDU. They also finished third in May 2019 in Bremen behind the CDU and SPD, second behind the SPD in Hamburg in February 2020, and were the largest party in the regional elections in their electoral stronghold of Baden-Württemberg in March 2021, returning to government. .

Figure 1: Results of the elections of the German Green Länder in the Länder of the former West Germany (2018-21)

To note: Graphic created with Flourish.

However, the party also continues to struggle politically in the former East German states, coming fourth in September 2019 in Brandenburg behind the SPD, right-wing populist AfD and the CDU; fourth again in September 2019 in Saxony behind the CDU, the AfD and the left; fifth in October 2019 in Thuringia behind the left, the AfD, the CDU and the SPD; and sixth in June 2021 in Saxony-Anhalt, where they are the smallest party in the state parliament behind the CDU, AfD, Left, SPD and Liberal FDP.

Figure 2: Results of the elections of the German Green Länder in the Länder of the former East Germany (2019-21)

To note: Graphic created with Flourish.

Nevertheless, despite their weakness in the Eastern States, the Greens were encouraged by their good performance in the European Parliament elections of May 2019, in which they won 20.5% of the national vote, winning 21 seats (in up 10 from the previous election) and becoming the second largest German party delegation to the European Parliament, after the CDU / CSU. The Greens were further encouraged that their good performance was part of a wave of EU-wide support for the Green parties in the European Parliament elections.

The optimism of the Greens was further reinforced by the initial positive impact of their candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock. Baerbock graduated from the London School of Economics and served as a political adviser to the Greens before entering the Bundestag in 2013 and becoming party co-chair in 2018. Earlier in the year, the Greens were voting at levels close to those of the CDU / CSU, giving hope that she might have a realistic chance of becoming chancellor. As Figure 3 below shows, that hope has faded, but with the party still in third place, the question remains: Are the Greens about to rule?

Figure 3: Polls for the German Federal Elections 2021

To note: Chart created with Flourish using data from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen.

We are still a week away from the federal elections, but polls indicate that the SPD, led by its popular candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, appears poised to be the biggest party in the new Bundestag. Such an outcome would run counter to the long-term trend of declining SPD vote share which dates back nearly two decades and is seen as part of the larger “crisis of social democracy”. we have known across Europe. It would also give the SPD the first chance to try to form a viable coalition with the distribution of parties and seats that the election will produce.

Barring any unexpected surprises on election day, there are several different coalition options that are both theoretically possible and politically feasible. It is, firstly, a repetition of the current “Grand” coalition between the CDU / CSU and the SPD; second, a repeat of the 1998-2005 “Red-Green” coalition between the SPD and the Greens; third, a “Black-Green” coalition between the CDU / CSU and the Greens; fourth, a “Black-Yellow” coalition between the CDU / CSU and the FDP; then a number of more complex options such as “traffic light” (SPD, Greens and FDP), “Jamaica” (CDU / CSU, Greens, FDP), “Red-Red-Green” (SPD, Greens, Linke) and even the so-called “Germany” (CDU / CSU, SPD, FDP) and “Kenya” (CDU / CSU, SPD, Greens) options.

Coalition studies postulate that managing coalitions becomes more difficult as the number of parties increases and, all other things being equal, a two-party “Big”, “Red-Green”, “Black Green” coalition or “Black-Yellow” is quite a likely outcome of the coalition’s post-election negotiation process. This means that it is quite possible that the Greens will end up in government.

Look ahead

How well the Greens perform in federal elections remains to be seen. The party obtains most of its support from wealthier socio-economic groups and voters with more progressive values, including among young people. In contrast, the party tends to perform poorly with poorer voters and those with a conservative and / or authoritarian value orientation.

But if the Greens were to enter government, it would be a challenge for both the CDU / CSU and the SPD. The Greens have been (somewhat cruelly) referred to as a “vegetarian subdivision of the Christian Democrats” which means that there is great potential for the CDU / CSU to build a platform of government with them, but it also means that the Greens and the CDU / CSU must compete for much of the same electoral base, which complicates the management of the coalition. For the SPD, the Greens have been a reliable coalition partner in the past, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case in the future and the two parties are not as close culturally as they are ideologically adjacent.

If the Greens enter government, they will try to push back Germany’s highly transactional approach – pursued by governments led by both CDU / CSU and SPD – to authoritarian states with which it has significant commercial ties. . Annalena Baerbock argued that Germany must take the lead within the European Union against human rights violations around the world, including those committed by states that are among the largest markets for export from Germany.

It means among others stand up to China for its treatment of its Muslim citizens and possibly withdraw its support for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia. The coming weeks should reveal whether the Greens will eventually enter government and ensure the fulfillment of the party’s aspirations for Germany.

Note: This article gives the author’s point of view, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Image credit pictured: Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen Nordrhein-Westfalen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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