German election result: what did the grand coalition achieve? (Also, Portugal’s election result)
There were two European election results yesterday – Germany’s was by far the best reported. Disunity on the left gave the SPD just 23%, the Left party (Die Linke) 12% and the Greens 11% while Chancellor Merkel’s CDU/CSU got 34% and her new coalition partners, the FDP got 15%. The overall 49%:46% result makes it look closer than it was and clearly the SDP have some serious thinking to do about where next. It’s worth noting that unions were split too, with support for all three non-conservative parties, whereas a decade ago they would all have supported the SPD.
Some people will be glad that the SPD is no longer in its uneasy grand coalition with the CDU, as it leaves them freer to criticise (not that the freedom to criticise is quite as good as the freedom to govern!) But the grand coalition certainly did achieve something significant for the left. Prior to the previous German election, Angela Merkel was a quasi-right-wing firebrand, proposing tougher welfare reforms than the previous SPD administration, Now she is effectively a social democrat of sorts herself, preaching moderation and consensus, not too keen on Keynesian responses to the crisis (but then neither was the SPD leadership), but anti-bankers, anti-Anglo Saxon economics and keen on social responsibility. The SPD should take some credit for the electoral and political case they made for that change.
Meanwhile, the Socialists in Portugal will stay in power although they lost votes (the centre-right – known confusingly as the social democrats – didn’t gain much though, so they ‘lost’). The left is split in Portugal too, although with less debilitating results, and with a combined overall majority – the socialists got 37%, the communists 8% and the alternative left got 10% – so a combined 55% vote. The rightwing popular party got 10.5%, increasing its vote by a third. As in several European elections, the centre parties of left and right lost out to parties of right and left. (NB, the Portuguese trade union movement is also split into two confederations, unlike ours and the Germans – so perhaps they’re more used to a divided left.)