In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Merkel’s Steady Hands

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party have taken 311 seats in the Bundestag, out of 630 seats. The Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CDU-CSU) had their best result since 1990 – the year of re-unification – with 42% of the vote.

Germany has strengthened under Merkel's rhombus. (Photo: al-Jazeera)

Germany has strengthened under Merkel’s rhombus. (Photo: al-Jazeera)

Their outgoing coalition partners, the liberal and classical liberal Free Democrat Party (FDP), have been annihilated in the Bundestag, after failing to attain the 5% threshold. The Social Democrat Party (SPD), led by Peer Steinbrück, failed to gain significant ground against Chancellor Merkel, lagging behind by 119 seats. Labour MEP candidate and SPD campaigner Hadleigh Roberts said of the election:

Merkel managed to make the election about her personal popularity, avoiding any talk of policy. The SPD had the policies but we were encumbered by a few media-manufactured gaffes.

The anti-capitalist Die Linke – literally translating as The Left – bled votes and seats, as did the centre-left environmentalist Grüne. An anti-Euro and Eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD), narrowly missed out on representation, achieving 4.7% of list votes.

Angela Merkel's CDU-CSU nearly achieved a majority in the Bundestag. (Visualisation: Datawrapper)

Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU nearly achieved a majority in the Bundestag. (Visualisation: Datawrapper)

The German electoral system is a mixed member proportional system. Each voter casts two ballots: one for their local representative in their constituency; the second for a party. Half of the Bundestag is elected through constituency ballots, whilst the other half is determined by the proportions of the second vote. A party must receive 5% of votes to achieve list representation in the Bundestag, which both the FDP and AfD did not.

The liberal Free Democrats have lost all their seats in the Bundestag. (Visualisation: Datawrapper)

The liberal Free Democrats have lost all their seats in the Bundestag. (Visualisation: Datawrapper)

The election campaign has been noted for its terrible banality. The Economist reported on the campaign’s priorities: “The euro crisis ranks low, mentioned only briefly. Ditto the possibility of a military intervention in Syria, in which both candidates agreed Germany would play no part.” Chancellor Merkel has said she is open to ideas such as rent control and minimum wages, which used to find shelter in the SPD. The arithmetic of today’s Bundestag means the current coalition – a fusion of the CDU-CSU and the FDP – is impossible. Merkel’s first term was built upon a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD, which is the likely outcome of party talks and the Chancellor’s positioning.

There is another possibility: Merkel joins with the Greens. A ‘red-red-green’ coalition between the SPD, Die Linke and Grüne has been rejected by Mr Steinbrück. The ideological differences between these three parties would make this coalition fissile.

A Dusty Mirror

Finally, it is common for commentators to look into another country’s election and see only a reflection of their own nation. In particular, the FDP’s fate is being treated as a precursor for the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 British General Election. There are too many differences. It is unlikely, but not infeasible, that the Liberal Democrats will lose two-thirds of their 2010 support. The German electoral system means a particular threshold must hit, but incumbent Liberal Democrats could dig their claws in to retain their seats. Lastly, the FDP lost most their votes to the conservative CDU-CSU, whilst the fear is that the Liberal Democrats will lose votes leftwards to Labour.

These are the parties that the FDP lost their votes to. (Photo:

These are the parties that the FDP lost their votes to. Here, nichtwahler means ‘non-voter’.  (Photo:



This entry was posted on September 23, 2013 by in European Politics and tagged , .
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