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Post-Merkel Germany: What Could it Mean for the Gulf?

by Tomáš Krampera

This Sunday, 26 September 2021, German voters head to the polls in a federal election in which the long serving Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will not be running. Merkel has been at the helm of German politics since 2005. This momentous occasion will recast Europe’s most populous and economically most important country. Any new direction Germany will take will impact its foreign relations, including with the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. But what coalition configurations are likely? And how will each of them impact this key strategic region for Europe?


The polls have seen swings in voter preferences throughout the campaign but with only a few days to go before the election, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) is expected to narrowly beat out the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU), with the Green party coming third. Rounding out the Bundestag will be the liberal, free-market Free Democratic Party (FDP), the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and far-left Left Party (Die Linke). Every party has ruled out governing with the AfD, which leaves us with five contenders.


As things stand, neither the centre-right CDU/CSU nor SPD, the two largest parties in the Bundestag, look inclined to govern together as they had for the majority of Angela Merkel’s Chancellorship. Not that they could necessarily reassemble the “Grand Coalition” even if they wanted to: current projections suggest that the two-party arrangement could fall short of a majority, which would leave us with four most likely three-party arrangements.


1. CDU/CSU, SPD, Greens

The first possible coalition would involve the former Grand Coalition partners with the Greens. Either Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) or Olaf Scholz (SPD) would serve as Chancellor, depending on which party would win the election. Both are centrist candidates who have no inclination to change direction significantly. Adding the Greens would mean a more robust environmental portfolio domestically, but it would not alter the fundamentals of German foreign policy.


2. CDU/CSU, Greens, FDP

This is the most likely coalition to emerge from a CDU/CSU victory. The main obstacle would be the ideological incompatibility of the pro-business, small government FDP and the environmental, regulatory zeal of the Greens. Of the available options, this one would be closest to business as usual. The CDU/CSU has long been a pragmatic actor in the Middle East, and the only disruption to German foreign policy could come from the Greens. This is not very likely: They would find the least support for it in this coalition, and there are indications that the Greens, or more precisely their current leadership, do not want to put their radical foot forward. The Greens’ co-leader and nominee for the Chancellor, Annalena Baerbock, has called for a more active foreign policy but not on idealist lines as the Greens of the past.


3. SPD, Greens, FDP

Swapping out the CDU/CSU for the SPD, this coalition would actually have little to separate it from the previous option on the foreign policy front: Scholz is likely to be no harder on Russia than Merkel or Laschet, for instance. A possible difference for the Gulf states would be in environmental policy. The more left-wing slant of this government might make it easier for ambitious Green policies to be adopted, and the SPD is closer to the Greens on phasing out internal combustion engine cars than the CDU/CSU. This could mean a faster shift away from fossil fuels, the central Gulf export.


4. SPD, Greens, Die Linke

The most left-wing option on the table and one that could potentially have profound consequences for the Gulf. Involving Die Linke in a government is a risky prospect for the SPD, as a lot of their goals fly in the face of the current German place on the world stage. Die Linke advocates closer ties with Russia and China, abolishing NATO and withdrawing German soldiers from all foreign missions. It also advocates a total ban on arms exports, which would affect countries across the Middle East. Such a heavy disruption is very unlikely: If this coalition arises at all, Die Linke would be the smallest partner. Though they would certainly help push through domestic left-wing priorities, it is questionable whether they would be able to push German foreign policy off its rails.


Regardless of the final configuration, this election is of crucial importance as it will chart a new path for Germany after Angela Merkel’s exceptionally long and stable rule as Chancellor. Merkel saw Germany through numerous crises, from the global financial crisis, Eurozone and migration crises to the onset of a pandemic. Her successor will have a host of internal and external challenges to confront and their (mis-)handling will affect Europe and the world. The Euro-Gulf Information Centre will continue to follow the election and its aftermath and analyse the new government’s effect on Germany’s foreign policy towards the Gulf and beyond.

24 September 2021

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