Foreigner’s guide to the German election

So many things to write about at the moment, but since today is election day in Germany, it wasn’t a hard choice. The British papers are full of Brexit news and opinion at the moment especially after Theresa May’s slightly frustrating speech in Florence, but in Germany, Brexit is hardly mentioned.

At 7pm today (polls close at 6pm), the relatively accurate exit polls are going to be released and we will have a pretty good idea of the final vote. Most commentators are pretty confident that Merkel is going to be Chancellor for another 4 years, but after the misjudgments with Trump and Brexit, I think I am going to hold my breath just a little longer.

At the moment, the decision is between Merkel’s CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Socialist Union) and Martin Schulz’s SPD (Social Democratic Party). The party names are frustratingly similar and meaningless – welcome to German politics.

The key difference between the choices is that Merkel is saying ‘I’m safe, I’m not going to change, and I’m not going to do anything dangerously innovative or new’. Schulz on the other hand has just come back from years working in the EU and wants to have greater European integration and (importantly for the UK) he wants to punish Britain for leaving the EU. Given that he was President of the European parliament this is more a personal vendetta than anything. Nigel Farage has been winding him up for years…

The result is likely to be yet another coalition between the CDU/CSU and someone. Boring right?

I’m not going to explain how the elections work as Business Insider have a great summary for you if you are interested. Suffice to say that depending on the actual share of votes, this election could have a dramatic impact both on the future shape of the EU and on the results of Brexit negotiations. Merkel is predicted to get about 36% of the vote and Schulz about 22% so depending on how much more or less he gets it will be that much harder for Brexit negotiations. And it is bad enough already.

Contrary to many outside opinions though, Germany is far from a homogeneous voting population. There are wide variations across the country and across different demographics. The East which is high in unemployment and low on immigrants and actually highly in favour of the extreme AfD party and will probably get them in to parliament with about 10% of the vote. They are anti-gay-marriage, anti-immigration and anti-EU. Frankfurt on the other hand with its very high immigrant population is far more liberal/conservative. Liberal and open in terms of immigration and the EU, but conservative when it comes to business and the economy. Generally support is high here for Merkel, if only because of the fear/frustration that extreme parties like AfD are getting voted in by the East.


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