Bundestag elections: what do they mean for Europe?

Germany elects a new parliament as well as Angela Merkel's successor on Sunday. The latest polls put the SPD under chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz in the lead with 25 percent, followed by the CDU/CSU with 22 percent and the Greens with 16 percent. As important as the election may be for Europe, most commentators don't believe it will change much in Germany's politics.

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Deutsche Welle (RO) /

A partner for joining the Eurozone

Romania has great expectations of the new government in Berlin, says the Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle:

“A lot is at stake in the German election as regards the future direction of the EU and overcoming the national complexes and illiberal tendencies that are coming from more and more different directions. Will Germany be able to reverse these trends? ... Regardless of the election outcome, Romania at least expects the new government [in Berlin] to help it enter the Schengen Area and the Eurozone. After all, Germany was also involved in the major decisions that brought Romania into Nato and the EU.”

Expresso (PT) /

Portugal's recovery depends on Berlin

The German elections are more important for Portugal's economy than Portugal's own local elections which also take place on Sunday, Expresso believes:

“There's a close link between German and Portuguese GDP. If someone tickles the German GDP, the Portuguese GDP starts laughing 15 minutes later - that's how big the influence of German companies is. ... EU reconstruction aid and the interest rates of Portuguese government bonds ultimately depend on German domestic political decisions. Sunday's Bundestag election is the vote that will have the bigger impact on our future. ... Because they will influence the European Central Bank - and hence the interest rates on our sovereign debt.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

A revival of Russian-German dialogue

Olaf Scholz as chancellor would be good news for Russia, says Ria Novosti:

“In the 1980s he was one of the leaders of the Young Socialists in the SPD (and wrote critical articles about 'aggressive-imperialist Nato'). ... Now he behaves like a typical German politician: he criticises Putin over Ukraine and Navalny but supports Nord Stream 2 and dialogue with Russia. He's even in favour of a 'new Ostpolitik' like that of Willy Brandt, who sorted out relations with the USSR. But Scholz talks about this new Ostpolitik having to take place at the EU level - although today almost all mainstream German politicians say 'Europe' instead of 'Germany'. So under Scholz, we can expect a return to the days of close Russian-German dialogue - even at the highest level.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Even the Greens not ambitious enough for the young

The younger generation has no voice in the party landscape, La Stampa notes:

“For three years the 'climate generation' has been raising its voice and is now fighting harder than ever. ... In terms of numbers, however, it is of little consequence, because of the 60.4 million voters in Germany, only 14.4 percent are younger than 30, while those over 50 make up 57.8 percent. Of these, however, less than a third believe that the wellbeing of young people should sway their vote. Annalena Baerbock's Greens will be able to count on the support of many young people. ... The new environmental movements, however, are looking further ahead. Not least because they believe that the goals set out in all the party manifestos, even that of the Greens, are not ambitious enough.”

LRT (LT) /

Germany will continue to steer a middle course

German foreign policy will not change no matter who becomes chancellor, LRT believes:

“It will continue to criticise states where human rights are violated and democratic procedures are disregarded, while at the same time making sure that its own interests do not suffer. ... Germany will continue to strive for better relations with neighbouring Poland and provide moral and material support to the Baltic States in the refugee crisis. ... The relationship with Russia remains pragmatic: Germany will consume Russian energy resources but criticise Russia for human rights violations. Morally and materially, it will support Ukraine [on the Crimea issue], but will also always call for negotiations with Russia over the war in Donbass.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Southern Europe better off with Scholz

An SPD-led traffic light coalition [SPD, liberal FDP and Greens] in Berlin would be better than a CDU-led Jamaica coalition [CDU, FDP and Greens] for securing and developing the eurozone, Timothy Garton Ash argues in The Guardian:

“Where the traffic-light coalition scores over Jamaica is on the eurozone. Either of these three-party coalitions would almost certainly have a hardline German finance minister in Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats. ... But a Chancellor Scholz would be more likely than the fiscally conservative Christian Democrats to show the pragmatic flexibility that will be needed not merely to prevent the eurozone from collapsing - any likely German government would do that - but to make it work better for the long-suffering economies of southern Europe.”

Le Monde (FR) /

After Merkel the EU must close ranks

Merkel's successor must push for reforms in the EU that the chancellor has partly resisted, sociologist Hartmut Rosa demands in Le Monde:

“What is needed is a strong EU that moves closer together in the areas of fiscal and budgetary policy, that considers the possibility of introducing euro bonds and other such instruments, and that speaks with an independent and audible voice on matters of climate and foreign policy. To counter the two major problems facing humanity in the 21st century - the climate crisis and the growing inequality between rich and poor in terms of the distribution of goods and wealth - Europe must also act decisively and adopt a clear position.”

In.gr (GR) /

No one will change the Schäuble doctrine

Anyone hoping for changes in European fiscal policy will come up against a brick wall in Berlin regardless of the election outcome, columnist Georgios Malouchos writes in In.gr:

“All German politicians, with the exception of The Left, move apace with Wolfgang Schäuble's fiscal policy. It is the constant from which no one in Berlin wants to or will deviate, no matter what coalition emerges after the elections. Schäuble's legacy is unshakeable. A holy gospel for Germany, because it established German hegemony in Europe. Merkel is leaving now. Schäuble, the architect and 'symbol' of her era, never.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Merkel's consensus policy no longer enough

Surveys in Europe show differing views on what Germany's role in Europe should be without the current chancellor's talent for finding a consensus, writes Mladá fronta dnes:

“In a survey in twelve EU countries, a large number of respondents said they approved of Berlin's economic course. But when it comes to Germany's role as a geopolitical leader only 25 percent of Europeans voiced their support. ... Balancing 'Merkelism' has worked so far. However, it won't be enough to tackle future challenges such as the climate crisis, according to the authors of the study. Berlin needs more decisiveness and assertiveness.”

Der Nordschleswiger (DK) /

Little love lost between Olaf and Mette

Der Nordschleswiger, the newspaper of the German minority in Denmark, notes that there is not much common ground between the Social Democratic candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Social Democratic Danish head of government Mette Frederiksen:

“The differences on foreigners and immigration policy are well known. But no less profound, and indeed in certain respects almost irreconcilable, are the differences on European policy, where the Danish Social Democrats will come under additional pressure if Olaf Scholz wants to increase the pace of European integration. Even with lots of red fantasising: there is no sign of a political happy ending between Olaf and Mette for the time being - despite their geopolitical proximity!”

MacroPolis (GR) /

At last some alternatives

Jens Bastian, policy advisor at the think tank Eliamep (Greek Foundation for European and Foreign Policy) writes on Macropolis:

“Merkel's all too frequent political credo was TINA politics, i.e. There Is No Alternative. In light of the challenging policy decisions that Germany faces both domestically and on the international stage, continued adherence to this principle of Merkelism is not regarded as a vote winner among a majority of the German electorate. For the first time many voters can remember, the election campaign of 2021 is offering up stark policy differences, i.e. different alternatives between the three leading parties and their respective chancellor candidates. ... It's time to show TINA politics the door and open the windows of opportunity.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Scholz the better partner for France

The Irish Times explains why an SPD chancellorship would be desirable from a Parisian perspective:

“A Scholz-led government would expand the stability and growth rulebook into a new 'sustainability pact', with proposals for an EU minimum wage and unemployment insurance. ... With a global minimum tax deal in reach, Scholz, the outgoing finance minister, is pushing for majority voting on EU tax questions, rather than current unanimity. Squint past the Élysée's diplomatic curtains and Paris believes a Chancellor Scholz would be more in tune with its pro-active, reformist president. The EU's Franco-German motor, French officials fear, would not survive another CDU chancellor with a cautious, reactive approach.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

SPD candidate impervious to attacks

Gazeta Wyborcza sees a change in popularity trends after the second TV debate as highly unlikely:

“The Christian Democrat's attack on the Social Democrat came across as desperate. Nor was it surprising. The Wirecard affair has been hanging over the SPD politician for more than a year now, but it has done nothing to affect his popularity. One in three citizens sees Scholz as chancellor; with Laschet it's only one in ten. ... Voters expected that with a gun to his head Laschet would ruthlessly attack his rival. But advisors had warned Scholz in advance to remain calm in the face of attacks and not make any mistakes. And that's precisely what he did.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Voters not afraid of progressive government

The conservatives' "red socks" campaign that relies on warnings of a looming leftist government fiasco will backfire, Berlin correspondent Tonia Mastrobuoni notes in La Repubblica:

“The latest polls also show that the card the CDU/CSU have been playing, the risk of a 'red wave' - a government coalition between the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party - is not working. Germans either don't believe it will happen or aren't particularly worried by the prospect of a progressive government. And they seem to have understood that [SPD candidate] Scholz, who comes from the right wing of the party, has no intention of entering into an alliance with The Left party. But he must keep that option open so as not to sit weakened at the table with the liberals.”

Politiken (DK) /

No future without the Greens

Neither the CDU nor the SPD are the right parties to tackle the challenges of climate change, Politiken insists:

“Merkel's conservative party comrade Armin Laschet suffers from the fact that his CDU has protected the scandal-plagued German car industry over the years. His Green speeches ring hollow. But time is running out. For as the Greens' candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock said, 'The next government is the last one that will still be able to influence climate change.' Hear hear! In this respect, she was the only one of the three candidates who looked to the future. The other two are solidly anchored in the past with their patent leather shoes. ... The Germans and the EU need the Greens in Germany's next government.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Fears that Germany could be too weak

The fears of Germany's neighbours ahead of the elections are very different from those that prevailed during the period of German reunification, Les Echos notes:

“Their concerns (especially those of France) are exactly the opposite of what they were 30 years ago. The fear that a too strong Germany could dominate Europe has given way to worries that a Germany under weak leaders will be incapable of playing the role expected of it in a new global geopolitical context. In other words, we've moved from fear about 'too much Germany' to fears of 'too little Germany', which would mean 'too little Europe'.”

Le Temps (CH) /

Berlin must not forget its leadership role

Germany is putting too much focus on stability and national affairs in the campaign, Le Temps warns:

“There is nothing encouraging about this 'Helvetisation' of political debate in Germany. While the US is shutting itself off to defend its direct interests, and China is fine-tuning its economic and financial weapons for the post-pandemic era, Europe needs the voice and power of the Federal Republic on the international stage. Berlin must continue to move out of its comfort zone, as Angela Merkel courageously did, and plan the future with its European partners. The strongest economy in the Eurozone must also help the Old Continent get back on its feet through a strong investment policy and demands for sound fiscal management.”