German Elections: Andrew Marshall's Live Blog
By Andrew Marshall
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9.30pm Last post of the night (and AfD still at 4.8 percent with ARD and 4.9 per cent with ZDF (and with reports that opening of postals is not producing any big change in that).
So what does it mean for Cameron?
Well probably not that much. Politics is local, and the majority Eurosceptic strand in the Conservative parliamentary party is simply not in a mood to take many lessons from the CDU.
Whether it’s a CDU government or a grand coalition, Merkel’s success probably gives her government more wiggle room in terms of any renegotiation with the UK. She’s an inter-governmentalist, she doesn’t want direct election of the Commission President and such things, wouldn’t mind the Commission having its powers clipped, and will try and be somewhat helpful to Cameron. But there’s a huge gap between CDU and Conservative positions on much of the EU issue. Even with generational change in the CDU, which makes it somewhat different from the Kohl era, this is still Germany’s Europe party. Beyond the emotional aspect, most CDU politicians simply can’t conceive, never mind approve, of the scale of renegotiation that some/many in the Conservative Party would want. Britain didn't come up much in the campaign, and while CDU people would like it to stay, they fear it's gone too far and it's going.
The CDU may feel some concern about Euroscepticism at home with the AfD performance, but only to some extent. The AfD did well, but it depends a bit on how the AfD performs over the coming months. If it makes progress in state elections, then maybe the pressure will mount. More likely it will have difficulty maintaining momentum, and will have problems with infiltration from the extreme right. This is the history of protest parties to the right of the CDU.
The result is certainly a setback for the ultra federalist grouping such as former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt, who might have preferred a stronger SPD in order to push for Eurobonds, stronger banking union and so on.
Merkel does face the domestic challenge a possible third Greek bailout would pose, but she dominates the German and European scene. She will be Chancellor with a very stable majority, or maybe an absolute majority, until 2017, possibly beyond. Cameron might be out in 2015, he has a more troublesome coalition partner than Merkel might have, and crucially for his leverage, if he is defeated, the alternative is not necessarily worse for Merkel in terms of the UK renegotiation issue.
Big questions no doubt to be analysed over coming days. One thing to remember – Merkel does care about the European Parliament and the European People’s Party, not least because many people throughout her party do. She was dismayed, to say the very least, when Cameron withdrew the Conservatives from the EPP in the European Parliament. It looked an opportunist piece of appeasement when Cameron made it one of his leadership pledges. I know some others in this member state of the EU think very differently, but to me it has never looked more foolish than tonight.
8.30pm It’s coming down to the numbers. Assuming that the AfD is not represented (it’s still at 4.9%), then the CDU is very, very close to an overall majority – but might still be a seat or so short.
Merkel has ruled out a minority government, even if she’s only one seat short. There’s such an antipathy to uncertain majorities in Germany, going back to Weimar experience.
If the CDU/CSU have exactly half the seats – I just don’t know. More tomorrow. Probably it could argue that since it would elect the President of the Bundestag, it would have a casting vote, so a stable majority.
If she is a seat or two short, then I suspect she will push for a coalition partner. Neither the SPD nor the Greens will be keen (other than one or two people for whom it’s the last chance to get a cabinet post). But she will put on the pressure, especially on the SPD – she will say Germany needs a stable government, and the SPD is not being responsible if it doesn’t accept government responsibility. A CDU/Green coalition seems less likely, unless the leaders (note plural) of the Greens decide to take a huge leap in the dark to make themselves relevant and interesting. But probably the Green base wouldn’t wear it.
Things to watch:
Merkel didn’t really expect this result. She thought the FDP would make it back, and I suspect thought that the CDU would be at 38-39 per cent, not 42.3 per cent.
There are some “Euro critics” in the CDU parliamentary party (mild by UK standards, and not EU critics really), some of whom voted against the last Euro bailout. She won’t want to be dependent on them, and a grand coalition would make that easier. As previously posted, a single party government would also give the CSU sister party in Bavaria a lot more leverage, and its leader Seehofer is somewhat inconsistent and opportunist, at least in his political style.
If there is a one party government, then it will be a challenge to find experienced CDU faces for the cabinet, and some new people will come through. It will feel more like a generational change from day one.
The CDU won’t have any other coalition partner to blame if it governs alone. It will need to do some serious policy renewal in government, having fought the election without much obvious new policy.
If it is a grand coalition, the CDU will be a lot bigger than the SPD. Last time in 2005 the parties were the same size. That could make a grand coalition good for the CDU, but it will also be seen as principally a CDU government, for good or ill.
8pm Merkel completely rules out a government without a majority in the Bundestag.
One architect of Merkel’s victory is the CDU General Secretary Hermann Groehe. For British Conservatives, his biography feels like a return to YC-grounded figures such as David Hunt. Groehe joined the Junge Union, the youth wing, at school in 1975 and was its national chairman 1989-94, then working his way up in the party. You can argue whether political leaders in the 21st century should all have such a pure party background (and Ursula von der Leyen, a potential Merkel successor doesn’t) but it’s interesting. Especially given that the CDU has about 470,000 members and the CSU sister party in Bavaria 150,000.
Also worth noting that the CSU is already (having got 50 per cent in Bavaria tonight) rattling sabres a little (a single party government would give it more leverage). Seehofer, the party leader and Bavarian state premier called for "better communication" on issues such as the Euro bailout. There is also stalemate on the CSU's call for a motorway lorry toll for foreign lorries only, which Merkel has ruled out and is illegal under EU rules (because discriminatory).
7.30pm Merkel on TV round - very disappointed that FDP not represented in Bundestag, but says she has no direct responsibilty for the FDP result. She doesn't think anyone can reasonably expect her to even indirectly suggest people vote FDP rather than her CDU. Not saying anything today about coalitions, but she says, interestingly, that she assumes she will not have an absolute majority.
Inevitably, quite a lot of politicians of Merkel’s generation won’t be around so much in future, that's elections for you. Four names we might start to hear more about:
Hannelore Kraft, the popular SPD state premier of the biggest state North-Rhein-Westphalia. In her mid 50s, she would, for many, make a more credible “Chancellor candidate” than party leader Sigmar Gabriel, who will be working hard to stabilise the party and his own role.
Christian Lindner, the 34 year wunderkind of the FDP. He declined to stand for the party leadership a couple of years back, and then managed to turn around the FDP in the last North-Rhein-Westphalia elections. If anyone can now rescue the FDP in its death throes, then perhaps Lindner.
The Greens will be deeply disappointed, and most probably they will need to jump to another generation. There are several highly able MPs in the parliamentary group, but big questions about how the Greens now develop. They’ve been used to success – but there seems to be a limit to the market size for their high-tax, highly eco-prescriptive policies. Boris Palmer, the moderate young Green mayor of Tubingen will be one name being talked about.
Ilse Aigner – the outgoing agriculture cabinet minister has gone back, at her choice, to the Bavarian state parliament. Popular in the party and beyond – despite being a single 47 year old woman in Bavaria – she is speculated about as a successor to re-elected state premier Horst Seehofer within the next four years.
7.15pm Hessen party leaders all talking on TV, with difficult coalition discussions in the state after the CDU/FDP government lost its majority. There is a theoretical SPD-Green-Linke majority in the Hessen vote, but the SPD has ruled out working with the Left. Lots of recent history here - in 2008 SPD promised not to rely on the Left, then tried to form a minority state government with "toleration" by the Left. It failed as some SPD right wingers didn't vote for it, and was then punished deeply in the next election.
In federal election, CDU/CSU is a seat or so in range of an absolute majority - but its spokespeople being very careful what we say.
Hermann Otto Solms, one of the FDP's most senior economic/financial thinkers and Vice President of the Bundestag, now talking about how the FDP lost its brand as the party of clear, rational economics in the coalition. Expect the FDP to get a bit more Eurosceptic outside Parliament - but there's already a party for that in the AfD. The FDP was always a top heavy party of MPs, regional MPs etc, without such a deep activist base, and it will be a huge challenge for it to get used to "extra parliamentary campaigning".
7.00pm Noting some of the comments this blog has attracted, it will be interesting to see how the AfD gets on, whether in the Bundestag or not. In particular it is clearly is having some challenges in preventing infiltration from the extreme right, however impressive and honourable Lucke and others in the party are.
While the CDU sits in a different group in the European Parliament, it is worth remembering that it is the Conservative Party's sister party in the International Democrat Union, the big family of broadly centre-right parties worldwide. So no doubt official congratulations will be going over, and hopefully we'll be learning something of how you get to 42.5 per cent as a governing party. Let's hope there is some serious CDU representation at the Conservative conference in Manchester in a week.
6.45pm Just a word on the FDP. Its departure, for now, from the Bundestag, is bad news for Germany and particularly for free market economics in German politics. Although it has different strands, for most of the last 60 years it has been a classic liberal party, with a strong free market emphasis, as well as civic and human rights liberalism. Yes, it was in coalition with Brandt and Schmidt in the 1970s - but in those years it was centre stage in combating far left terrorism, and in backing NATO's policy on cruise missiles, which was so critical in winning the cold war. It made as well as huge contributions to European union. Figures like Theodor Heuss, Germany's first post war President, foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and free market cabinet minister Otto Graf Lambsdorff among others were critical to Germany's peace, security and economic success over the decades. British conservatives, who see the FDP as slippery liberals, ignore the fact that many British conservatives, especially the Cameroons, are a lot closer to the thinking of the average FDP MP or activist than they would be to CDU leaders and members.
6.30pm Some of the percentages in this election are rather closer to 1953 or 1957 than anything else - though clearly the parties then had distinctive class bassed "milieu" in a completely different society. But have a look at this chart of German election results over the last 60 years.
In the moment of Merkel's triumph, it is just worth remembering that a lot of talk in Germany, even within the CDU, is that it has become a fragile construction that might not last well. Too dependent on Merkel, no strong potential successors left, and a shift to the centre with "a social democratisation" that will make right wing voters uneasy. If there is a single party CDU government, a new generation of cabinet members and regional leaders (as important in Germany as most cabinet members) will need to start to come through, and the CDU will need to find ways to reinvigorate itself in government.
6.15pm Leaders across CDU and SPD not saying much at all about coalitions. If the CDU is only a seat or two short, the rationale for grand coalition is more difficult. Some Green and SPD leaders would love to be back in a cabinet, but neither party can imagine that being in a coalition with such a dominant CDU would be helpful with their core voters - especially with the Left party active on their left.
The latest estimate of seats in fact gives the CDU/CSU 304 seats out of 606 (assuming AfD not represented). CDU increase in vote was a stunning 8.5 per cent. The past CDU leader who secured an increase larger than that was one Konrad Adenauer in 1953.
In the Hessen state parliament, it looks like CDU is short of majority, and needs Greens or SPD. At a state level there have been CDU-Green coalitions, with some success, and core voters seem less likely to punish their parties for entering unusual coalitions than at a federal level.
6pm Noting some of the comments below - the 6pm German time exit poll was 50,000 people, and we are now getting estimates which are increasingly based on sampling of actual votes being counted, and increasingly local partial results. The percentages will not change massively.
6pm Merkel on stage at Konrad Adenauer Haus. Can't get the applause to stop. Possible long term successor Ursula von der Leyen standing with others nearby. Merkel now thanks all her colleagues, and mentions her husband standing in the back, who gets a huge cheer. Her speech, like the election campaign, doesn't add much or say anything about coalitions. But she's up there with Adenauer and Kohl.
Latest estimates could give CDU/CSU 303 out of 606 seats - when the AfD doesn't get 5 per cent (it's now 4.9 per cent). FDP is definitely out.
SPD leaders appear in Willy Brandt Haus, seeking to look united. Steinbruck moves off into retirement, party leader Sigmar Gabriel speaks first - he now needs to work out a strategy for the party, and fight off others in the party who question his style and suitablity to be the next chancellor candidate.
The CSU looks to have got 50 per cent in Bavaria. However a grand coalition is never good for influence of CSU in the cabinet - fewer cabinet members to give them.
5.45pm Left leader Gregor Gysi delighted that the Left party is now the third strongest political force in Germany. The fact the Left has become established as a major party in the former DDR is something that the SPD no doubt will feel it has to tackle in the coming period. (Interestingly, the CDU was much more practical in taking in local leaders and activists with history in the old DDR CDU, which was part of the SED power machine - whereas the SPD was in the early 1990s rather more purist in not accepting people with questionable backgrounds. And perhaps now paying the price in that the Left party is deeply established in eastern Germany.)
AfD leader Bernd Lucke speaks to his supporters, telling them they've made a difference and can do more. But fact remains that when a new party doesn't get into the Bundestag, it is difficult to build a base. In the past, parties like the NPD and Republikaner (though different from the AfD) have tried and failed to crack the 5 per cent to secure parliamentary seats. So far the CDU/CSU have fought off any challengers on their right - the next four years will be fascinating.
Exit polls show 22 per cent of AfD voters came from the CDU, with 26 per cent previous non voters, other parties smaller.
5.30pm CDU Saarland Minister President Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer saying party will need to discuss coalition options, not ruling out CDU-Green but stressing differences with Greens. Green general secretary Steffi Lemke not quite ruling out coalition, but also emphasising difficulties.
Estimates looking like they are stabilising, not much hope for either FDP or AfD of getting to 5 per cent.
5.15pm Happy scenes at anti-Euro AfD election party, in a Berlin hotel (no HQ as yet), even though the first estimate keeps it at 4.8 per cent, so just out of the Bundestag.
5.10am SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles puts a brave fact on a 3 per cent increase in the SPD's vote. Still the second worst result for the SPD in the history of the Federal Republic.
Christian Lindner, the 34 year old likely future leader of the FDP, outlining how the party can continue to work for free market economics and a liberal society, after being thrown out of the Bundestag for the first time ever.
5.07pm CDU leader in North Rhein Westphalia Armin Laschet: fantastic result for Merkel and the CDU, much bigger than SPD and Greens together, amazing we are just short of absolute majority. Still hopeful that the FDP might end up at 5 per cent.
5.05pm Hessen state exit poll: FDP also out of state parliament, CDU largest party but will need SPD or Greens in coalition.
5.00pm Exit poll: CDU/CSU 42.5 per cent; SPD 26.5 per cent; Greens 8 per cent; FDP 4.5 per cent; Left 8.6 per cent; AfD 4.8 per cent. Stunning result for Merkel, just short of absolute majority, but with FDP out of Bundestag could be a grand coalition with CDU and SPD. AfD not so far from the 5 per cent to get seats. Very disappointing for Greens, and SPD were hoping for a bit more.
4.40pm Live coverage under way on public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, have got both of those running on internet. ZDF filling in time with interviews of political leaders by school children. Merkel expected momentarily at CDU HQ at Konrad Adenauer Haus in Berlin.
4pm In terms of the constituency seats (the list seats forming the other half) at present the CDU/CSU has 218, the SPD 64, the Left 16 and the Greens 1. The liberal FDP has none, hasn't had any in fact since the early 1950s.
3.30pm The respected weekly Die Zeit reports that 27 per cent of German political journalists are Green supporters, 16 per cent SPD, 9 per cent CDU/CSU, 7 per cent FDP and The Left 4 per cent (36 per cent claim to be non-party). But the publication makes the point that this support didn’t help the Greens one jot in the recent paedophilia controversy surrounding the party.
3p, High turnout reported in many Länder (states) – but that’s a very common thing to hear at this point in an election day, not clear if there’s any firm data on that. Meanwhile just to add - there’s no tactical voting in Germany, but some “strategic” voting, given the known views of the different parties about coalitions. Die Zeit, which is a pretty respected and independent-minded weekly, suggests four iron rules for strategic voters:
- If you want the current CDU/CSU/FDP coalition to continue, you should vote FDP to be really certain.
- If you hope for a “grand coalition” of CDU and SPD (which neither say they want, you should vote SPD (essentially since it is currently weaker).
- If you want a CDU-Green coalition (which again neither say they want), you should vote Green.
- If you want to give Merkel maximum room to manoeuvre in building a coalition, then you should vote CDU.