The countdown to election day is finally drawing to a close; on Sunday, the 25th, the long-winded and spectacularly unspectacular “Wahlkampf” will end. Some 70 percent of eligible voters, many of which undecided to this day, will be flocking to the urns across Germany and tick their respective boxes of choice on the ballot papers.
In short, things look pretty decent for the Christian Democrats of Chancellor Merkel, which will likely accumulate some 37 percent of the vote, and, well, slightly more complicated for Merkel’s contender Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats, who is lingering at the 23 percent mark. Given a quasi non-existent Merkellian election campaign, complemented by a sobering lack of vision for the future of Germany and Europe, this might come as a surprise for attentive observers of the matter; in fact, for anybody who might have hoped for a powerful election campaign, where charismatic leaders unapologetically compete for the hearts and minds of the people.
Sure enough, it was strategically smart by Merkel to refuse any such genuine political battle, as she could only have lost against a more charismatic and eloquent Schulz. After all, she had only to defend a rather comfortable pole position, so any type of noise was strictly to be avoided. Don’t get me wrong, the reasons for the crisis of the Social Democrats are myriad and well worth analysing on a separate note; and if Schulz can be accused of anything, it probably is his lack of aggression during these past campaign months. Six months ago, hopes on the left were still high that Schulz would fight like a terrier and not let go of Merkel’s uninspired ankles until election day. Unfortunately, however, no such terrier properties were seen in Schulz. The televised debate earlier this month marked the premature anticlimax of this disappointment.
What is truly upsetting though, is that these federal elections should have been the occasion for a great political debate – a debate that would have shown candidates campaigning with blood, sweat and tears for their vision, their project of a 21st-century-Germany in Europe; their ambitious plans for the European Union and its place in the world. No such epic battle of ideas was had. Schulz, weakened – after a powerful start – by the SPD’s losing of three regional elections (through no fault of his own), was never quite able to pull the ever-evasive Chancellor into the ring, and so ends a somewhat disappointing campaign race.
Even so, while the left-wing “Die Linke”, the liberal “FDP”, and the Green Party, as well as the abominable nationalist-populist “AfD”, will shoot for results somewhere between 7 and 12 percent, indecision amongst voters may yet hold for a surprise on Sunday. Post-election coalition building will – in any scenario – prove incredibly complicated: the Christian Democrats could attempt to forge a somewhat unholy alliance with the Liberals and the Green Party (also referred to as the Jamaica option, in reference to the respective party colours). This coalition type already exists on the state level in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, however, coalition talks at the federal level will by all standards be a completely different ball game. The “Grand Coalition” between SPD and CDU, as in place today, should be a non-option for the Social Democrats, but remains a daunting possibility. A third variant, the so-called “Ampel” coalition of SPD, Green Party and FDP will probably lack an absolute majority in the Bundestag, but might be the only straw that a Schulz chancellorship can cling to at this point – and indeed, might represent a genuine option for Germany.
In the end, undecided German voters will have to ask themselves the following question: In the face of unprecedented global challenges, are four more static and visionless years under Chancellor Merkel disconcerting at all? If the answer is yes, it might just be worth contemplating the Schulz vote. A Social-liberal-green coalition, the “Ampel” (traffic light), as the nom de guerre of this would-be coalition goes, is the only genuine alternative to the Merkel dilemma.
Just what is at stake though? In a nutshell: pretty much everything.
The global community is faced with a plethora of challenges: the rise of authoritarianism; a multilateral escalation of war-mongering; the precursors of cataclysmic climate change looming large; international terrorism; unpredictable technological change (AI, anybody?); globally destabilising civil wars; a refugee crisis of unseen proportions. No single country by itself, and certainly no loosely attached, toothless European Union will master these challenges. Europe needs a daring leap forward, because only a strong and tightly knit EU will have a voice in the global sphere. Inevitably, France and Germany will need to lead the way for change, unite a strong coalition of the willing in Europe, and push for the further integration of the Union. Angel Merkel, while well-intentioned, does not have the vision and willpower to move Germany forward in this direction. While Martin Schulz can and would drive these changes, with Emmanuel Macron as a strong ally on the other side of the Rhine, his boldness would be adequately balanced by Christian Lindner’s FDP as the liberal conscience of the coalition.
In the grand scheme of things, beyond VAT rates, retirement ages and other domestic skirmishes, a Schulz chancellorship needs, deserves our trust.