Thoughts of Magnus Ehrenberg, Founder & President of
EHRENBERG SØRENSEN Kommunikation about German Politics
Newsletter on German Politics October
Dear friends, colleagues, customers, and clients,
I hope you`ve had a great summer. Mine was full of interesting experiences, great client meetings and relaxing times with my family.
As Political Germany is back from its summer retreat, I wanted to take the opportunity to inform you about the current developments on the German political landscape.
Last week, on the 3rd of October, Germany celebrated the 33rd anniversary of German reunification. For me the history of German unity is part of my biography. When I came to this country 34 years ago, it was a land of dreams and new beginnings. Positive attitudes were predominant. Currently, I sadly see the opposite being the case. For some time now, I have observed a phenomenon called `German Angst´ (German fear) being on the rise. “German Angst” refers to a very conservative and protectionist view of the status quo, where new ideas and changes are broadly viewed negatively and feared. In the light of the crises of the last few years, I have the impression that this fear has increased again. Controversies about climate protection and asylum policy fuel this fear further.
The summer in Germany was characterized by these controversies, mostly about a heating law and asylum regulations. Surveys show that many citizens are not satisfied with the federal government's handling of both issues. This discontent plays into the hands of the right-wing populist party AfD (Alternative for Germany). Over the summer the party gained strength and all other parties blamed each other for being responsible. The parties agree that something must be done against the AfD, but opinions differ as to what the adequate measures for this will be.
Against this background, state elections in Hesse and Bavaria took place last Sunday (8th of October).
Before the election in Bavaria, the CSU (Christian-conservative) and the Free Voters, a liberal-conservative party, ruled together in a coalition since 2018. The priority for both parties was to continue this coalition after this year’s election. An antisemitic scandal around the Free Voters party chairman Hubert Aiwanger made waves in the run-up to the election. Markus Söder, the CSU-leader and Bavarian minister president held on to Aiwanger despite the scandal. Due to the stir the scandal caused, it was eagerly awaited what impact it would have on the Free Voters and the CSU in the election results. Meany observers thought that it would harm the two parties.
The opposite occurred during the election. The Free Voters did not plummet, they recorded strong gains (4.2%). The CSU under minister president Markus Söder won the election with 37% of the votes (-0,2% compared to 2018). Despite the fact that the CSU has achieved its worst result since 1950, it still has a large lead over all other parties. The Free Voters became the second strongest party with 15.8% of the votes. The biggest upset was caused by the right-wing populist AfD that won 14.6% of the votes, 4.6%more than 2018. The parties of the traffic-light coalition in Berlin (SPD, Greens, FDP) all lost votes compared to 2018. The Greens received 14.4%(-3.2%), the SPD got 8.4% (-1.3%), and the FDP achieved 3% (-2.1%). The FDP thus failed to reach the 5 percent hurdle and was eliminated from the state parliament. Commentators see the main reason for the AfD's good performance, and the losses of the traffic light parties in the controversies over immigration policy in Germany, electricity price themes, and climate topics. In the post-election survey, however, it also became clear that voting for the AfD was not just a protest vote and that many voters do not care that the AfD isconsidered extreme right-wing in some parts. 33 years after the reunification and almost 80 years after the end of World War 2 these developments should be an alarming signal for all democrats.
Besides other themes (almost the same as in Bavaria), the election in Hesse was shaped by one mayor topic: Nancy Faser, the Federal Minister of the Interior, was also the SPD top candidate in Hesse. This dual role was eyed suspiciously by many. Some of the blunders she put her foot in before the election was her undoing. On the one hand, there was a problem with the dismissal of the head of the Federal Office for Information Security, and on the other hand, her handling of the asylum issue was viewed critically by many observers, politicians, and media representatives. They accused her of spending too much time on her role as the SPD's top candidate, time that she should be spending on solving the asylum problem as the Federal Minister of the Interior. All in all, not good conditions for a successful performance by the SPD. In addition, the CDU and the Greens have been governing together in Hesse relatively quietly since 2014. The pre-election polls saw a majority for the incumbent coalition.
The CDU is the great winner of the state election in Hesse. With 34.6% of the votes, the party gained 7.6% in the votes compared to the last election. As in Bavaria, the traffic light parties lost in Hesse too. The SPD achieved 15.1% (-4.7%), The Greens got 14.8% (-5.0%) and the FDP had to tremble for a long time and just barely made it into the new state parliament with 5.0 %. The AfD is the second winner of the election andl ikewise the second strongest party in Hesse. With a result of 18.4% and an increase of the result by 5.3% it is the parties best result in a Western German state so far. Dissatisfaction with the traffic light government and an increase in right-wing extremist positions among the population were primarily responsible for the increase in votes. From this result, party chair woman Alice Weidel has derived a claim to government for her party. A center-right coalition would be the best for them. Fortunately, all other parties refuse the AfD coalition talks and the possibility of cooperation. In Hesse, there is much to be said for the continuation of the Black-Green coalition.
The next few weeks will show what lessons the traffic light coalition will learn from the state elections. CDU and CSU have already offered to work together for a more restrictive asylum policy. The future of the coalition will depend on this. Currently, 57% of Germans are in favor of new elections. It will be also interesting to see, how the FDP will act inside the traffic light coalition in front of the background of her bad results. The fact that the FDP lost in all eight state elections since the traffic light coalition started demands a reaction from the party. The FDP is expected to try to become more visible and position itself as a corrective in the Berlin coalition.
Besides the CDU and the AfD, the state election in Hesse had a third big winner: Boris Rhein, the old and, most likely, also the new minister president of Hesse. There are voices who see him as the next candidate for the 2025 Federal election as Chancellor Candidate for the CDU. CDU chairman Friedrich Merz who is not without controversy in his own party now seems to have strong opponents against him, with Rhein, Daniel Wüst (MP of Nordrhein-Westfalen) and Daniel Günther (MP of Schleswig-Holstein) all being seen as more viable candidates for chancellor.
I wish you all a good autumn.