What German Elections mean for Central Europe?

Central Europeans can expect tougher German position on all issues that have budgetary implications

Marcin Zaborowski
3 października 2017

Although the German elections returned Angela Merkel to power for the 4th consecutive term, the overall results of these elections show more rapture than continuity. Clearly the biggest electoral upset is the better than predicted result for the far right-right Alternative for Germany party, which managed to attract voters from all the other parties and came up as the third force in the Bundestag. In the area encompassing the former GDR, the AfD attracted the second largest share of votes, and regarding regional elections, it took first place in Saxony. As long as the AfD will not weaken itself through internal divisions – which is likely to be the case – it could emerge as a serious force in German politics.

As of now, however, Germany will be ruled by mainstream parties, most likely by a coalition of the Christian-Democrats with the liberal FDP and the Green party. This will be a considerably weaker coalition than the CDU-SPD government that ruled Germany for the last four years. The FDP and the Greens agree with each other on practically nothing, and they both should be worried about being eclipsed by the CDU and possibly sharing the fate that befell the SPD, ending in their worst result since 1945. There is also no doubt that the SPD will lead a strong opposition; it will be emboldened by its defeat that it blames on its co-operation with Merkel’s CDU.

What does this rather confusing result mean for Central Europe? Several things are already clear. First and foremost, by voting for the AfD the electorate showed a yellow card to Merkel’s European and immigration policy. She will have to reckon now with an existence of a violently Eurosceptic force inside the Bundestag, which no German chancellor has had to contend with since the mid-1960s. Merkel has never been bold in her approach towards European integration but she will be forced to be even more cautious now. In particular, Merkel will have to counter the perception of the EU as a ‘transfer union’, which has been the impetus behind AfD’s momentum. Central Europeans can therefore expect a far tougher German position on all issues that have budgetary implications.

Perhaps even more significantly, the drop in Merkel’s popularity is attributed to her stance on the migration crisis when she declared that Germany would be able to accommodate the flood of refugees in the summer of 2015. Central European governments were always critical of this statement, seen as an encouragement for further migration and then refused to accept the quotas of refugees in the system agreed by most member states. Following the elections, right-wing politicians and commentators in Central Europe did not hide their glee at the success of anti-immigration AfD.

This may seem contradictory since the resentments stirred up by German Eurosceptics have also referred to negative stereotypes about Central Europeans, in particular about the Poles. The AfD has also been known for questioning Germany’s responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War. It is at best rather odd that the Central European political factions that have called for Germany to pay war reparations to Poland are also seemingly pleased about the good performance of the revisionist AfD.

However, the pro-AfD sentiments that were expressed by right-wingers in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere in the region are first and foremost the expression of their disdain for the European mainstream, which clearly runs deeper than their views on history or their attachment to national interests.

From Central Europe’s point of view, it is difficult to see a better outcome than the so-called Jamaica coalition of CDU/CSU-FDP-Greens taking the reins of the government. Such a coalition would be more Atlanticist and firmer on Russia. The participation of the Greens would bring into the coalition a force sceptical about Russia and hostile towards the NordStream2 project. All three parties are clearly pro-European and have in the past supported the Eastern enlargement of the EU. None of them have yet supported the notions that would split the EU around various speeds of integration.

Whilst such a coalition would be most beneficial for Central Europe, there is no denying that a considerable part of ruling elites in Hungary and Poland do not wish to see it coming into fruition.

Marcin Zaborowski is Senior Associate at Visegrad Insight.