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Analysis

Weakened Merkel bad news for Brexiters

by Quentin Peel | 25.09.2017

The German election result was a shock for Angela Merkel, who now faces months of complicated negotiations to forge a three-party coalition in Berlin.

It is also bad for Brexit, or at least for those Brexiters who had been hoping that the German chancellor would ride to the rescue of their floundering attempts to negotiate a moderately painless exit agreement from the EU.

Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrat group lost almost one fifth of its support – dropping from 41.5% to around 33% of the poll, according to the preliminary results. So did her current coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), who saw their 2013 score of 25.7% – already regarded as a humiliation – slashed to some 20.5%, their worst score since 1945. As a result, the SPD has declared it will not form a new “grand coalition” with Merkel.

That means the chancellor has only one choice of forging a majority government in the German Bundestag – a coalition of her CDU/CSU with the liberal Free Democrats and the environmentalist Greens, known as a “Jamaica coalition” after the party colours of black, yellow and green. It has never been tried before at national level in Germany, and it is likely to test Merkel’s formidable powers of persuasion and consensus-building to the extreme.

No doubt some hard-line Brexiters will be celebrating the sharp increase in support for the far-right nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which increased its vote from 4.7% to almost 13%, in a protest vote against the influx of refugees and other immigrants since 2015. Nigel Farage was one of those who supported their campaign. But pro-British cries from an opposition party that is reviled by everyone else in the German parliament will scarcely help the UK cause.

The other main victor from Sunday’s poll was the liberal FDP, which more than doubled its vote from 4.8% to 10.7%. They are seen by some in London as more “pro-British” than either the CDU or SPD. But the reality is that both they and the Greens are strongly pro-EU, and broadly agree with Merkel’s Brexit negotiating strategy: “no punishment, but no cherry-picking”. That means no deals that would threaten the integrity of the internal market.

In 2013, it took until shortly before Christmas for Merkel to reach a coalition agreement with the SPD. Trying to reconcile the demands for both FDP and Greens, not to mention Merkel’s Bavaria-based sister party, the CSU, is likely to be every bit as difficult. Fundamental differences over tax and environmental policy separate them. As for Brexit, they will stick to the current party line.

The election result may make Merkel’s hopes of forging an ambitious EU and eurozone reform package with Emmanuel Macron more difficult, too. France would have preferred a grand coalition, for the FDP is firmly opposed to any suggestion of fiscal laxity or joint debt guarantees in the eurozone.

If there were to have been any hope for help from Berlin for a “better” Brexit deal, something that was always an exaggerated expectation, it would have needed a stronger Merkel. Instead, the opposite is true.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Weakened Merkel bad news for Brexiters”

  • I agree that the German election will not have too much impact on the Germans’ Brexit position. In the campaign, Brexit was only referred to in passing. The much loved Brexiteer argument that BMW, Mercedes etc. will be desparate to accommodate the UK’s wishes, is only of secondary importance. Maintaining the integrity of the Single Market, a remarkable success story, is paramount for the Germans. The car industries’ main concern now is how to deal with diesel emissions and air pollution. This may be difficult for Merkel, if she has to form a coalition with the Greens.
    The rise of the far-right AfD party is a concern although luckily 87% of Germans did not vote for them. It is ironic reading British UKIP’ite social media who seem to welcome the rise of the AfD. Any of their lazy attempts to smear Merkel with the taint of a Nazi dictator, would fade into pale comparison if the AfD were to get into power. Luckily most Germans have learned the lessons from their recent history, and see the benefits for them, and all of us in Europe, by a peaceful, stable Germany at the heart of Europe.
    We also have a role in maintaining that stability in Europe, but you do that best from the inside, rather than standing on the sidelines.

  • From this result, the idea of an more integrated EU would be more difficult to achieve due to FDP opposition towards this. It also may be more challenging to negotiate a selective Brexit deal with the Green party being against ‘cheery picking’. With that being said with including any positive factors from this election, does this make any of the options the UK has more viable? That I hope can be put forward to debate.