Why Americans Should Care About The German Election

The German election; where the dreams of political journalists go to die. With pretty much all observers agreed on the likelihood of a fourth victory for long-running Chancellor Angela Merkel and a respectful tenor of debate that makes even ordinary American elections look unhinged (let alone 2016), it’s not a white-knuckle, ratings-boosting thrill ride.

But forget that; even all the way over in America you should still care about the outcome of this vote, which kicks off on Sunday.

Here’s three reasons why…

There might be a nasty surprise

If Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) don’t end up the largest party in the Bundestag (federal parliament), it will be a shock on a scale that would dwarf Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

But that doesn’t mean there can’t be smaller-scale surprises in store. The hard-right, anti-Muslim Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is set to enter the parliament for the first time. You just need more than 5 percent of the vote to do so, but they could significantly outperform that.

German pollsters have little experience with the AfD, a new party, and its hardline anti-immigrant views make it taboo in some social circles, meaning some of its voters could be hiding their support to pollsters.

So while it is riding at 10 percent in the Financial Times’s polling aggregate, it could do even better. A YouGov projection, for example, puts it at 12 percent, winning 85 seats and placing third after the CDU and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the other main party of government.

If there is a significant surge for the hard-right in Germany, where people are relatively happy with their lives, the press is comparatively pro-immigrant, and Merkel has done much to neutralise the AfD’s appeal, mainstream parties would take notice, and potentially push for even more concessions on issues like immigration and the place of Islam in Germany.

What happens next will affect the rest of the world

Even though the CDU/CSU are very likely to come first, as is normal in Germany, it’s very unlikely they or anyone else will win an outright majority. They’ll probably need to form a coalition with one or more other parties to form a government.

The most likely partners are a return to sharing power with the SPD, or a combination or one-on-one deal with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) or the environmentalist Greens.

The precise shape of such a coalition, and the consequent policy agreements, will shape the future of Europe; Germany is the most powerful country in the EU, all the more so now that Britain is leaving.

In particular, the FDP may oppose plans put forward by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to deepen ties between the countries that use the euro currency; the classical liberal party wants different countries to be able to go at their own pace without being forced into deeper EU integration.

It will probably be a blow for Donald Trump

Of the all the foreign allies Trump has laid into during last year’s presidential campaign and his first months in office (and lord knows there have been a few), Merkel is probably his favorite target.

Trump has attacked the chancellor personally for the liberal refugee policy she adopted during the 2015 migrant crisis, and he has laid into Germany for allegedly seeking to undercut American car markets.

Meanwhile his fans among the “alt-right” and associated online communities often hold Merkel up as the ultimate “globalist,” accusing her of “betraying” her citizens by “Islamizing” Europe.

So if you’re not a fan of Trump or the alt-right, you might take some satisfaction in watching a woman they pronounced doomed storming to a fourth consecutive victory.

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