2017 German Parliament Elections: A View from Russia


September 25, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by Jafe Arnold – 

On September 24th, elections were held to the German parliament, the Bundestag. According to the preliminary results, the CDU/CSU won 33% of the vote, thus acquiring 246 places in parliament. Second place was taken by the Social Democratic Party of Germany headed by Martin Schulz with 20.8% of the vote. Third place, meanwhile, was taken by Alternative for Germany (AfD), which was established only four years ago and has finally won its first seats in parliament. With 12.6% of votes, AfD has claimed 94 seats in parliament. The five percent barrier was also broken by the Free Democratic Party, with 10.7% or 80 seats, Die Linke (9.2%, 69 seats), and the Greens (8.9%, 67 seats).

The main result of these elections is undoubtedly the relative failure of the three major parties, the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, and Social Democratic Party. The 2017 parliamentary elections are the worst in history for the oldest German party, the Social Democratic Party, and for CDU/CSU the smallest margin since 1949. Although the CDU/CSU bloc has kept its position in parliament as the biggest faction, its leader, Angela Merkel, has not hid her disappointment, admitting that she hoped for a better outcome for her bloc. 

Indeed, compared to the last parliamentary elections in 2013, when the bloc won 41.5% of votes (311 seats), the party has lost a whole eight percent of the vote. Back in the 2013 elections, the Social Democrats claimed 25.7% of votes, as opposed to only 20.8% this year, their worst expectations being 24%. Both of the latter parties made up the “grand coalition” in the previous parliament. The SDP’s collaboration with the German conservatives most likely negatively affected their party’s perception, not to mention the fact that the modern SDP hardly resembles a socialist party at all, but can, and is, increasingly called a liberal bourgeois party. This might explain the increase of votes (0.6%) for Die Linke (“The Left”).

Yet it is only fair to make one important qualification. The Social Democratic Party became very unlucky when it recently came to Washington’s attention that its leader, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (the very same who won Germany the strategically advantage Nord Stream deal), was suspected of too close of rapprochement with Russia and too close of a friendship with Vladimir Putin. On the sidelines of German politics, it is said Schroeder’s victory in the 2005 elections was snatched by the Americans, as a result of which his party’s results were handed over to the devotees of the former GDR Communist Youth Angela Merkel. 

Moreover, the misfortune of the Social Democrats did not end there. The most popular German politician, ex-Foreign Minister and Social Democrat Walter Steinmeier, had while being foreign minister expressed rather healthy ideas of cooperating with Russia for the sake of peace in Europe. Rather unexpectedly, he subsequently resigned and was appointed to the merely symbolic post of President. 

In other words, as soon as the Social Democrats had a popular leader capable of posing serious competition to Madame Merkel, an invisible hand removed this politician from the political race. Thus, the reasons for the SDP’s setbacks should be sought not only in their own mistakes, but also in the non-parliamentary struggle being waged against them by pro-American forces.

Yet the main intrigue of these elections – besides the rise of the Free Democratic Party, which back in 2013 did not even make the five percent threshold – is the victory of Alternative for Germany. On the one hand, the party’s getting into the Bundestag is no surprise. After all, they have boasted very good and sometimes fantastic results to the Landtag, or Germany’s state parliaments, thus confidently demonstrating the young party’s rising political popularity. On the other hand, some sympathetic observers have indeed been shocked, given that AfD has been the main target of uncompromising mainstream media criticism. This party, which is forming its own faction in the Bundestag for the first time (it won just under the five percent barrier, 4.7%, in 2013), is a literal cold shower for Germany’s political establishment.

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Angela Merkel herself has declared fighting against AfD’s influence to be no more nor less than the CDU/CSU’s main goal for the next four years. Madame Chancellor has been quoted as calling AfD’s new breakthrough into the Bundestag an “extraordinary challenge,” and has pledged to “fix mistakes” and “win votes from AfD.” Here one can sense little democracy and a bit too much disrespect for fellow Germans, a significant portion of whom voted for the “wrong” party, i.e., Alternative for Germany. 

Mainstream media have also been far from skimpy with unflattering epithets and labels for AfD. For instance, the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper published a commentary which reads: “The Bundestag is in danger. It could become a springboard for the spread of nationalist ideas and paranoid conspiracy theories.” Moreover, the publication accuses AfD of being a “poisonous nationalism.”

The most amazing thing of all, however, is that AfD, which has repeatedly criticized the anti-Russian sanctions and expressed understanding for the Crimean referendum, has been somewhat negatively characterized in Russian media. Flipping through Russia’s main federal TV channels, I noticed labels such as “ultra-right”, “extremist”, etc. hurled at AfD. In one publication by TASS, it is even argued that “Other parties, not without reason, believe the populists to be a ‘Nazi and racist’ political force and refuse to cooperate with them.” I can only offer an assumption: either Russian journalists have been victims of the very dirty information war led by German mainstream media against Alternative for Germany, or a liberal lobby fighting against Russia’s real allies is operating within Russian media.

Of course, this does not entirely reflect the assessments of Alternative for Germany that one can find in Russian media. Indeed, AfD and Die Linke enjoy certain sympathy among the Russian public, whereas, on the contrary, in Russia Angela Merkel is one of the most unpopular European politicians, save for perhaps some Polish politicians.

For Russia, the results of the Bundestag elections can be considered encouraging, but not revolutionary. A party of right-leaning Eurosceptics, a kind of German analogue of the French National Front, has entered the German parliament, and Die Linke, which has also demonstrated understanding towards Russia’s position, has also somewhat improved its standing. The existence of an opposition consisting of two militant parties – both right and left – will intensify criticism of the pro-American and anti-European vector of the Angela Merkel government’s policies. 

What’s more, a Trojan horse could also be included in the proposed ruling coalition. I have in mind the Free Democratic Party’s leader, Christian Lindner, who recently called for developing relations with Russia, encouraging “positive interim steps”, and regarding the “Crimean issue” as a “temporary resolution” for an “indefinite period”. Then again, however, the example is still fresh of Trump’s unfulfilled campaign promises for smoothing out relations with Russia.

Nevertheless, Germany’s policy towards Russia will on the whole remain the same. Although AfD and Die Linke are popular among the Russian public, Russia’s ruling class has long since established a working relationship with Merkel’s government. Finding a common language could also be aided by the “Trump factor”, which has turned out to mean the weakening American hegemon’s rough pushing of its business interests and military-political issues in the Old World. 

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Objectively, Germany’s (and all of Europe’s) and Russia’s positions are growing closer together. Hence why we should expect obstacles being thrown in the way of this rapprochement. 

SEE ALSO: Alternative for Germany: The Genesis of a New ‘People’s Party’? 

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