Our endorsement for the German federal election

Germans will decide on Sunday if they want to keep Angela Merkel as their chancellor after eight years in power. According to polls, an overwhelming majority of voters – around 60% – prefer Merkel as chancellor rather than her Social Democratic challenger Peer Steinbrück. It is not difficult to see why. Unlike most of its Euro-zone neighbours, the German economy is doing pretty well. Unemployment is at a two-decade low, investor confidence is up and the economy is growing. But these are not the only reasons to favour a continuation of Merkel’s premiership. Ms Merkel has shown real leadership as the de facto leader of the Euro zone, sticking to fiscal austerity despite the French government’s call for more government spending.        

While Ms Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is polling a record high of 40%, it is still to be seen if she can keep her current liberal-conservative coalition with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) – which are polling at record lows and in danger of being below the 5% threshold to enter the Bundestag – or has to go back to a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) as the one she headed from 2005 to 2009. A continuation of the current coalition would be our preferred option. The presence of the FDP in the current government has helped to neutralize the CDU’s –and specially the CSU’s– socially conservative elements, while also influencing the economic agenda in a liberal, pro-market way. On the other hand, a grand coalition of the CDU, its Bavarian sister party the CSU, and the SPD would be anchored in the centre, but not the kind of centre we like –that is, the radical, liberal centre–, but the statist, social democratic centre of German politics. A third option could be a black-green coalition of the CDU and the Greens – which would have appealed to us in the past –, but this looks increasingly unlikely given the Greens’ decision to turn to the left instead of occupying the centre-left ground.

Is a triumph of the left impossible?

It certainly looks like it. Besides Steinbrück’s lacklustre campaign, the SPD appears to be out of new ideas. Moreover, their potential coalition partners, the Greens, are at their worst moment in many years. From polling second nationally and electing their first state premier in Baden-Württemberg in 2011, the Greens made the wrong decision of abandoning the moderate centre-left ground they were increasingly occupying and turned back to the left, losing much of the support they had gained from disillusioned liberal urban voters who had abandoned the FDP and had seen the more moderate Greens as a plausible alternative. Their election campaign proposal of a “Veggie Day” –that is, banning restaurants from offering meat once a week– pretty much sums up this loony-left turn. Neither are they helped by the revelations that their leading candidate, former Communist sympathizer Jürgen Trittin, sponsored a policy paper advocating paedophilia back in the early 80s.

Whatever happened to the FDP?

Just like the Greens, the Free Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for their dismal standing in the polls. While the Greens have decided to turn to the left, the FDP has followed the exact same course although in the opposite direction. Their almost dogmatic and single stress on tax cuts and deregulation and their disregard for renewable energy have made them an unappealing choice for urban, liberal-minded professionals –the segment of the electorate from where they used to get most of their votes. Make no mistake, we like tax cuts and deregulation, but not when they become the single purpose of a political party. Yes, they are necessary components of individual freedom – which should be the aim of any liberal –, but a clean environment and personal liberties are also essential for an individual to be truly free. We still want to see the FDP back in the Bundestag and – hopefully – in government, but they should think very carefully after the election whether they want to become a small club for tax-cut worshipers or a pragmatic – and thus effective – centrist classical liberal party. All in all, Germany needs a liberal voice in Parliament and the FDP is still the closest thing to it. Thus, we would still give the FDP our first and second votes on Sunday’s election and urge liberal and centrist conservative voters to give their second votes to the FDP so it remains in parliament and in government with the CDU.  

On Sunday, the choice is clear. Angela Merkel should remain Germany’s chancellor. During the last eight years, she has demonstrated to be an effective and pragmatic leader both at home and in Europe. Europe needs her firm determination to stick to fiscal prudence as the best path to economic recovery. Europe also needs her pragmatism at the negotiating table – which will be especially valuable if Britain decides to change its relationship with the EU. This is no time for change in Germany.