Germany votes: European dilemmas in the Federal Election

Press release

Germany’s European vision
In the federal election year, Germans are ready to give new European solutions a strong boost and take more risks


Angela Merkel’s call for Europe to “take fate into (its) own hands” at a campaign event in Bavaria on Sunday created quite a stir. But the sentiment is not new. It reflects a political shift that has been under way in Germany since the United Kingdom’s Brexit Vote in June 2016 and which accelerated after the election of Donald Trump in the United States. These changing attitudes in Germany are described in a new study by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Germany votes: European Dilemmas in the Federal Election. The report concludes that, despite the many internal and external threats to the European Union, Germans are ramping up their ambitions for the bloc.

Germans will go to the polls on September 24 in a federal election. Economic prosperity, security and migration are going to dominate election campaigns. The current and upcoming German government will face a three-fold challenge: Can it manage to keep the German public happy, strengthen the EU, and maintain a favourable international environment – all at the same time? New research by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) suggests a shift towards Germany becoming more of a risk-taker and push for flexible European solutions.

In the policy brief ‘Germany votes: European Dilemmas in the federal election’, Almut Möller, head of ECFR’s Berlin office, shows the subtle change of tone within the leading political class, from external border control and management, over Eurozone governance through to EU treaty change.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Germany, led by Angela Merkel, and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), headed by the former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, as well as almost all other parties of the political spectrum, are strongly committed to keep Germany engaged in the EU, not least to use the Union to leverage German power. This commitment is not jeopardized by Eurosceptic sentiments within the German public that the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party tries to capitalize on.

Despite a certain dissatisfaction among the German public with the current state of the EU, different polls presented in the paper point at a hidden reservoir of support among the German public for deeper European cooperation and integration that campaigners can take advantage of. But certain concrete policy challenges still create domestic tensions.

Three case studies trace out the thorniest foreign policy questions currently debated in the country: Germany’s trade surplus and US-President Trump’s challenge against international trade, the love-hate relationship with Turkey and the uncertain German-Russia relations. For all these issues, German policy makers will need to find a viable middle ground between defending German and European interest and dialogue.

Confronted with Brexit and Trump, German policy makers show an unprecedented confident attitude of ‘taking the bull by the horns’ and push for new coalitions within the EU,” says Almut Möller. “But Germany needs to be open to compromise on core policies, for instance Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the Eurozone, and it needs the German people to commit to that, too.

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