The next German federal elections will be on 24 September 2017

Held on at Germany

 Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party

In September 2017, Germans will go to the polls to elect the members of their national parliament, the Bundestag. In all likelihood, 90 or more of the new MPs will belong to the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, the German member of the European radical-right party family that is projected to win about 15 per cent of the vote. This would make the AfD the first new party to enter the Bundestag since 1990, and the first radical-right party to gain representation in the Bundestag since the 1949 founding election.

Angela Merkel has been officially nominated as the conservatives' candidate for September's federal elections in Germany. This was confirmed on Monday at a meeting of Merkel's centre right Christian Democratic Union or CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union or CSU. But the latest opinion polls show there's been a surge in support for her main rival. Paul Jäger reports.

Martin Schulz vows to heal Germany's 'divisions' as he announces bid to oust Angela Merkel

artin Schulz, the former EU Parliament president, has vowed to address populist divides in Germany as he announced he would lead a centre-left campaign to try and unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Schulz, who is viewed in Germany as the most serious challenger to Mrs Merkel in a decade, yesterday announced his candidacy in the September election.
"Germany needs a new start that cannot happen with the [conservative Christian Democratic] Union," he said.

"We've come to the end of what we can achieve with divided conservatives." German voters have been bitterly divided by Mrs Merkel's "open door" immigration policy, which saw nearly a million migrants and refugees enter the country over the past two years.

By Anthony Faiola February 16 at 5:09 PM
BERLIN — The unconventional administration of President Trump may be causing consternation among American liberals. But here in Germany, the anchor of the European Union, Trump’s rise is helping fuel an unexpected surge of the left.

What is happening in Germany is the kind of Trump bump perhaps never foreseen by his supporters — a boost not for the German nationalists viewed as Trump’s natural allies but for his fiercest critics in the center left. The Social Democrats (SPD) have bounced back under the charismatic Martin Schulz, the former head of the European Parliament who took over as party chairman last month and is now staging a surprisingly strong bid to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a country that stands as a painful example of the disastrous effects of radical nationalism, Schulz is building a campaign in part around bold attacks on Trump. He has stopped well short of direct comparisons to Adolf Hitler, but Schulz recently mentioned Trump in the same speech in which he heralded his party’s resistance to the Nazis in the lead-up to World War II. 

“We will never give up our values, our freedom and democracy, no matter what challenges we are facing,” Schulz said in a recent speech. He added, “That a U.S. president wants to put up walls, is thinking aloud about torture and attacks women, religious communities, minorities, people with handicaps, artists and intellectuals with brazen and dangerous comments is a breach of taboo that’s unbearable.”

His anti-Trump platform comes as Germans are questioning American power more than at any point since the end of the Cold War, illustrating an erosion of allied faith in the new era of “America first.” A recent poll found that only 22 percent of Germans see the United States led by Trump as a “reliable partner” — putting it only one percentage point above Russia.

The traditional left remains in disarray in France and Britain. But buoyed by Schulz’s approach, his party last week pulled ahead of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats in opinion polls for the first time in six years. Elections are not until September, but analysts are giving the SPD, under Schulz, its best chances to regain power since Gerhard Schröder lost to Merkel in 2005.

“There are different factors that are coming together for the SPD,” said Ralf Stegner, the party’s deputy chairman. “Schulz has provided a new impulse for people who were waiting to come back . . . but also, the new American president, because Trump’s presidency has politicized the German public, making them more active and aware.”

Without naming names, Merkel, who was perhaps closer to President Barack Obama than any world leader, has taken aim at Trump — criticizing, for instance, his refugee ban. But Schulz has also accused Merkel of being too diplomatic. 

Germany, which shoulders the history of Nazi tyranny, is an outlier in containing the current spread of me-first nationalism. Even as far-right parties and isolationist politics gain ground elsewhere in Europe, the largest right-wing populist party here — the Alternative for Germany — has fallen slightly in the polls since Trump’s election.

At the same time, left-wing parties in Germany have seen a jump in dues-paying members. There are also signs that Trump’s election is making left-leaning voters in Germany more politically active.

Take, for instance, Kristina Seidler, a 28-year-old mother and Düsseldorf resident who works as a substantiality adviser for a textile company. She has voted for the SPD before. But the day after Trump’s victory, she signed up as a dues-paying member and party volunteer.

Horrified by Trump’s win, she said she sees the traditional left as the only answer and is preparing to put up posters and help with campaigning as the German election season rolls into high gear.

“What kind of sign is it for the world when a man who is a racist, who treats women so badly, can become the president of the United States?” Seidler said. “I thought, ‘It’s time for me to do something.’ ”

Perhaps the biggest single driver of the SPD’s new popularity, however, is Schulz.

The SPD is already part of Merkel’s governing “grand coalition,” with the party’s senior operatives filling top cabinet posts. Yet its popularity with its left-leaning base has been hampered by that power-sharing deal. Under its former chairman, Sigmar Gabriel — Merkel’s foreign minister — the SPD was struggling to distance itself from the current government. 

Enter Schulz, who last month took over as the party’s chairman and candidate, positioning himself as an “outsider” who could mix things up in Berlin. A 61-year-old who never finished high school, Schulz has embraced his imperfections, openly speaking about his battle with alcoholism. He started in local politics, becoming the mayor of the western German town of Würselen before being elected to the European Parliament in 1994.

He rose through the ranks as a champion of European unity, civil rights and social justice, becoming the parliament’s president in 2012. He has at times been chided for his tell-it-like-it-is approach, drawing the wrath of the Hungarian and Polish governments after decrying democratic lapses in those countries.

Critics call Schulz similar to Trump in at least one regard: He is a straight talker who argues against elites and favors the common man. He is also blunt — a trait that contrasts with Merkel, a leader famous for her meandering, parsed answers.

“The way in which he conjures up the alleged division of society in a populist manner is along the lines of the post-factual methods of the U.S. election campaign,” Merkel’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, charged in Der Spiegel last week

In the dealmaking game that is coalition governments, Schulz may have several paths to the chancellery if his party can maintain its momentum. It will be difficult, analysts say, but Schulz’s rising popularity means it is no longer unthinkable that Merkel loses.

[Germany used to be migrants’ promised land. Now, it’s turning them back.]

Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees brought a barrage of criticism from the conservative wing of her party. And despite Merkel’s hesitance, Horst Seehofer, head of her sister party, the Christian Social Union, appears to be extending his hand to Trump, praising the new president’s “consistency” and “speed” in implementing his campaign promises.

A Merkel loss could mean a greater frost in German-U. S. relations, harking back to the days of Schröder’s cool relationship with President George W. Bush. Merkel, while hardly cozying up to Trump, has nevertheless avoided outright conflict. Analysts call that further evidence of her pragmatism and firm belief that Germany needs the United States, diplomatically and for collective defense.  

“Going after Trump might be a smart strategy for winning elections but not for running a government,” said Jürgen Falter, a political scientist at Mainz University.

Stephanie Kirchner contributed to this report.

If things go Johanna Uekermann’s way, she will wake up on 25 September to the news that Martin Schulz has soundly beaten Angela Merkel in the German elections.

“The era of Europe-wide austerity policies à la Merkel and [Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister] could finally become a thing of the past,” said the 29-year-old leader of the JuSos, the Social Democratic party’s (SPD) youth organisation.

“If a socialist was to win in France, two leftwing pro-Europeans at the helm of Europe’s biggest economies would really send out a signal against the nationalist tendencies we see in Britain, other European countries and America.”

Even true believers on the German left may consider such a scenario to be a utopia – especially as the French left’s only realistic hope for electoral success in May rests on a candidate who declares their politics to be neither of the left or right and has shunned the Socialist party.

But over the last week politicians, activists and party members in Germany have allowed themselves to dream again. Since Schulz, the former president of the European parliament, was announced as the SPD’s candidate for chancellor at the end of January, the party has soared in the polls.

For the second week running, a poll published on Wednesday by Germany’s Forsa institute put the SPD on a five-year high with 31% of the vote, just three percentage points behind Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Another survey, also by Forsa, found that in a theoretical direct vote for the chancellorship, Schulz would win 37% of the vote to Merkel’s 38%.

Another poll published last week saw Schulz’s party overtake the conservatives to become the strongest political force in the country.

“We are seeing an incredible new optimism in meetings and on the campaign trail, especially among young people,” said Uekermann. “Martin Schulz may be part of the federalist avant-garde to some, but to our generation his views are just normal.”

Under his predecessor, Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrats entered government via a “grand coalition” but often struggled to claim credit for their own policy initiatives, such as the introduction of a minimum wage in 2015.

Schulz, who has not been directly active in domestic politics since being elected as an MEP, benefits from being seen a relative outsider to the Berlin political establishment.

A former mayor of Würselen near the Dutch border, Schulz has a down-to-earth appeal that Bild newspaper has likened to that of a small-town supermarket manager.

Many experts believe that his rags-to-riches story – a school dropout with an alcohol problem and a failed dream of becoming a professional footballer who cleaned up his act to retrain as a bookseller – could appeal to working-class voters who have become disillusioned with their old party.

“What we can say with relative certainty is that the SPD has moved on from the era where they fielded a candidate who was certain to lose to Merkel before the election campaign had started,” said Werner Patzelt, a politics professor at Dresden’s Technical University. “After 12 years of Merkel, many have grown weary with her cautious, reactive style. Schulz suddenly looks like a genuine alternative.”

The emergence of a US president openly critical of German economic and social policies has led some to call for a more combative stance towards Donald Trump’s government than the course of critical distance pursued by Merkel. In an interview in the new edition of Der Spiegel, Schulz described Trump as a “profound” threat to democratic values who was “gambling with the security of the western world”.

Asked how he would deal with Trump as Germany’s chancellor, Schulz responded by praising Germany’s liberal constitution. “As the leader of such a country I have to pursue a combative approach to all those that question this free, open and tolerant model of a society,” he said.

But many, even on the German left, view their current high with suspicion. If there was a broad leftwing majority at the 2013 German elections, when the SPD, Greens and Left party collectively gained 42.7% of the vote, that majority has crumbled just as the centre-left and far-left parties have taken first steps to overcome their historic animosity.

In recent polls the Greens and the Left party are down to 8%, meaning a so-called “R2G” (Rot-Rot-Grün) coalition would currently fail to get the 50% required to form a majority government.

It also remains unclear if Schulz is the figure who can make the Social Democrats’ working-class base forgive the party for the unpopular “Agenda 2010” labour market changes introduced by the government of Gerhardt Schröder in the early noughties.

While he told Der Spiegel that it had been a “mistake” not to tie the liberalisation of the labour market to the minimum wage and higher taxes for the super rich, he remained vague on whether he would introduce a wealth tax or further increase the minimum wage.

After more than 20 years spent in Brussels and Strasbourg, the 61-year-old faces questions over his strength on domestic questions ranging from asylum policy to video surveillance. His support for euro bonds – loans underwritten by all members of the eurozone – left Schulz isolated even in his own party. Should the Greek debt crisis return to the front pages before the election, it could prove his achilles heel.

When it comes to perceptions of the German parties’ competence, the SPD still trails Merkel’s CDU. “That’s the critical point,” pollster Manfred Güllner told Stern magazine. “That has to change in the coming weeks if we want to create a real mood for change.”