What the German election will mean for the rest of the world

Experts explain which outcomes would most benefit Russia, the US, China, and the EU.

The result of the upcoming German election is unlikely be a surprise – the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and Angela Merkel look set to win by a solid margin. However, working out which outcome is most beneficial to Russia, the US, or China is a little trickier. Who is best to ensure a stable EU, for example? We talk to political science and international relations experts to find out.

Which outcome would be the most beneficial for the US?

Curd Knüpfer, Postdoctoral Scientist at George Washington University and Berlin’s JFK Institute: The best thing that could happen to the Trump administration also happens to be the most likely outcome of the upcoming German elections: Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor.

Merkel's party, the CDU, has traditionally been the champion of close transatlantic relations. It was Merkel who stood by the Bush administration's ill-fated foreign policy decisions, who brushed aside the NSA-wiretapping affair under Obama and who found clear but ultimately reconciliatory words after Trump's tirades against her stance on the refugee crisis during the US election campaigns. Strained as the relationship might currently seem, it is not at all difficult to imagine how a less pragmatic and more impulsive head of state would not have missed the opportunity to cater to public sentiment and take a much stronger stance against the immensely unpopular Trump administration.

Nevertheless, polls show that the CDU and Social Democratic Party (SPD) will lose seats on Sunday, while smaller parties stand to gain votes. Merkel must therefore seek to renew the current grand coalition with two weakened parties or enter into talks with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens. The latter option will require a balancing act between neoliberal trade policies and an environmentalist agenda. The future nature of Germany's relationship the United States might very well come to be co-determined by these two factors.

Meanwhile, some of the same forces that helped get Trump elected, including xenophobia and a frustration with the perceived mainstream, have also fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is poised to not only make it into the Bundestag for the first time, but to do so as the third largest faction. However, none of the other parties are officially willing to cooperate with the AfD, nor does one nationalist movement in one country necessarily spell cooperation with nationalist movements in other places. Much like the reach of Trump's tweets and his persistent popularity among his core voters, the AfD's presence will still serve as a constant reminder of the potential groundswell fueled by frustration and fatigue with liberal institutions among parts of the American and German electorates. As such, they will remain a thorn in Merkel's side.

Which outcome would be the most beneficial for Russia?

Dr Roland Götz, formerly of the Osteuropa Insitut at Freie Universität Berlin: The Kremlin would possibly prefer a coalition which includes the socialist party, the Left Party, in part because this party rejects NATO and does not condemn the annexation of Crimea. However, they are prepared to collaborate with any new government.

Which outcome would be the most beneficial for the EU?

Dr. Veit Bachmann, Project Leader in the Department of Human Geography at Goethe University Frankfurt: The best outcome of the German election from both a European and German perspective would be for the Social Democratic Party to win and build a coalition with the Greens. As a long-time president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz understands the views and national sensitives of all EU member states and has more expertise in European politics than any other top-ranking German politician. This knowledge can help him to build trust, especially considering that many parts of Europe already have widespread concerns over Germany’s economic strength. However, it is far more likely that the Grand Coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and Social Democratic Party will continue under Angela Merkel.

One highly problematic result of this election is the probable chance that the radical right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) will enter the Bundestag, and the possibility it may become the third strongest power and hence the largest opposition party to the Grand Coalition. The AfD would not have any executive power as no other party would be willing to form a coalition with them. Symbolically, however, this would be a disaster for German democracy.”

Kai Arzheimer, Professor of Politics at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz: In all likelihood, Chancellor Merkel will be returned to a fourth term. Another Grand Coalition will mean more of the same policies, including incremental EU reforms that are centered on German interest. A coalition with the FDP could imply a push for the Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone and tough reforms.  A coalition with the Greens would be the most Europhile, but is nonetheless unlikely to win a majority.

Which outcome would be most beneficial for China?

Pascal Abb, Research Fellow at the GIGA Institute of Asian Studies: From what I’ve seen, this election has attracted much less attention in China than, for example, the recent French presidential election or the 2016 Brexit vote. I also don’t think there’s a specific outcome here that would be particularly good or bad for China. There are two reasons for this: first, the major parties in Germany don’t differ much in their approach to Sino-German relations. There’s a general consensus to continue the long-term strategy of intensifying economic contacts, urging further market reforms and continuing the human rights dialogue.

Second, there’s also relatively little uncertainty over the outcome, considering that German election polling has usually been highly accurate. Nobody really doubts that Angela Merkel will serve another term, the question is which partner(s) will get her to a majority. She’s been in office for twelve years and has stuck to her centrist course no matter who her previous coalition partners were, and she’s unlikely to deviate from it now.

Image courtesy of  Markus Spieske.