Two big stories emerge from Sunday’s election in Germany.
The first is that the centre-left managed to bounce back after a defeat in 2017 that left the Social Democratic Party (SPD) with just 20.5% of the vote, its worst showing since World War II. On Sunday, the SPD did better, with 25.7%, but the new, environment-focused Green Party also won 14.8%, almost six points more than four years ago. It gave the centre-left a combined total of 40.5 – 11 points more than in 2017 and a real sign of resurgence.
The second story is the most important – and that is the growing fragmentation of the German party system. An important part of this story is the collapse of support for the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), who have ruled the country under Angela Merkel since 2005 and won just 24.1% of the vote on Sunday. This is the worst performance ever recorded for the standard-bearers of the center-right.
But the story is bigger than the electoral decline of the CDU/CSU.
In 2002, the country two largest centrist parties – the CDU/CSU and the SPD – won 77% of the vote, leaving the remaining parties to pick up the crumbs. This figure fell to 69.4% in 2005, then to 56.8% in 2009. The centrist establishment returned to the fore with 67.2% in 2013, but it collapsed to a new low of 53 .4% four years ago. On Sunday, those two parties still finished first and second, but their combined total fell just short of a majority – at just 49.8%.
Now add the fact that the SPD edged the CDU/CSU by just 1.6 points and the third party (the Greens) finished less than 10 points from the centre-right, with the classically liberal FDP and the far-right AFD. a few points behind the Greens, and we end up with a very scattered vote.
This does not signal a rise in extremism. Unlike France where polls ahead of next year’s presidential election shows two far-right candidates (Marine Le Pen of the National Rally and talk show hotshot Eric Zemmour) securing around 30% of the vote, Germany’s AFD lost ground on Sunday, falling to 10.3%, or 2 .3 points less than four years ago. The country’s far-left party (Linke), meanwhile, fared much worse, falling to just 4.9% from 9.2 in 2017.
What are the results To do shows is a country devoid of any consensus on the style of centrism it wants to rule the country. This will make forming a stable government quite difficult over the next few weeks and possibly even months of negotiation. It will also make decisive action quite difficult for any government formed.