The SPD won the Bundestag election by gaining 25.7 percent of the vote, according to data published on Monday morning by the German National Electoral Commission. How much time will we wait for the new coalition and who will be part of it? What are the challenges facing the new government? What can Warsaw-Berlin relations look like? Jacek Stawiski’s comment.
The minimal victory of the SPD and its candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz is a surprise, as until a few weeks ago it seemed that the German Social Democracy would never regain its potential to lead the German federal government. But this is a minimal victory, right behind the SPD was the CDU Christian Democrats, which, despite having the worst election result in Germany’s post-war history, declares its readiness to lead the new government. It will certainly be badly received in the society, because Christian Democrats show that after several years of running the state, they are not ready to break away from their positions and join the opposition.
The search for a new, lasting and sensible ruling coalition will take a long time, even many weeks. All the major parties that count in the government’s hand, namely the SPD, CDU, Greens and Free Democrats, want the formation of the government not to drag on until the new year. The “traffic light” coalition, ie the SPD (red), the Greens, and the Free Democrats (yellow), has the most chances. The second option is a so-called Jamaican, or CDU – Greens – FDP. The Jamaican coalition would mean that the largest parliamentary club of the SPD would be in opposition, which would be against the democratic tradition of modern Germany.
The two main parties of the SPD and the CDU, the so-called “Volksparteien”, ie national parties, obtained separately about 25 percent, ie 50 percent in total. The question is whether they are still “nationwide parties”. In the twentieth century, these “Volksparteien” alone had the support of 40% -50% of the electorate. Today it is only a historical memory, the fragmentation of German politics is obvious. It is a relief to notice that it is still only fragmentation, but not weimarisation, i.e. increasing chaos. A multi-party stalemate does not mean that the Berlin Republic is transforming into a Weimar 2.0 Republic. Germany remains stable and prosperous, although the elections clearly show that it is no longer as predictable and predictable as it was until recently.
The Greens have become the third major German party, calling for a radical ecological and energy transformation. Certainly, a large part of German citizens expect such a transformation, but it would be an illusion to draw conclusions that about 14% of the vote for the Greens is a mandate to accelerate this transformation. Certainly, the key task of the German state is to implement this transformation, but certainly there is no consent of the voters to the transformation of social and economic life, completely irrespective of the costs. It is estimated that the energy and environmental transformation will cost Germany a minimum of EUR 2 trillion, more than the reunification of Germany. Olaf Scholz, the winner of the elections, repeated on the election evening that the task of the new government was to reconcile the need to implement eco-transformation, but in such a way as to preserve jobs and create new jobs.
The most difficult transformation will be the automotive industry in Germany, which is a quality mark of Germany. There are a lot of questions and unknowns here. Automotive workers fear this change. In an article in the New York Times, I read a statement from a German engineer who assembles engines for a Mercedes. Today, an internal combustion engine consists of 1,200 components and requires several people to assemble it. The electric motor will have 200 components for assembly. And here’s the question: will the same number of specialists be needed to assemble the engine? Bavarian prime minister Söder emphasized in a television studio that the departure from internal combustion engines cannot take place already in 2030, but not earlier than in 2035. The Greens argue that it should be done as soon as possible. Radicalism of the Greens may dictate the work of the new government, because without them it is impossible to rule. But will this radicalism correspond to the reality and mood of the voters?
If the SPD, the German social democracy, has a chancellor and runs the government, doubts will arise again as to how much traditional leftism can remain in the party and in the government in the conditions of economic and social challenges of the 21st century. Will the SPD rule as a center-left or left-wing party? If leftist, how to reconcile ecological radicalism and the implementation of eco-transformation with the preservation of jobs in industry? In the aforementioned Daimler factory, where Mercedes are assembled, workers are often associated in trade unions. Will the unions close to the SPD agree to revolutionary changes in the industry if it results in the liquidation of well-paid and secure jobs? These are just some of the challenges facing modern Germany on the threshold of the post-Merkel era.
Four levels of cooperation
It will not be easy in Polish-German relations. There are four levels of cooperation and relations between Poland and Germany, and each level contains constructive elements and elements that may lead to their further deterioration.
First, politics. Here the relations look bad and it will not be time to improve them. The ruling camp in Poland, describing itself as “right-wing” and the broad media base of this camp, do not hide their aversion to Germany and emphasize all the differences between the two countries, detracting from common interests. The campaign of aversion to Germany is already such a permanent element of the Polish political landscape that it is not surprising that Polish politicians of the government camp express opinions about the will to dominate Poland by Germany or about a German-Russian conspiracy implemented with Czech hands, which is to exclude Turów and make Poland energetically dependent on Germany. The construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline together with Russia by Germany, without taking into account Polish arguments, deepened the stagnation in relations between Warsaw and Berlin. Germany under Merkel’s rule did not move the question of the right-wing government dispute with the European Union on the rule of law to the two-state level, but if a government led by the SPD and with the participation of the Greens is formed, the dispute between the current Polish government and the EU may weigh on relations between Germany and Poland. Polish-German talks about the attitude towards Russia will be difficult. Poland wants Russia’s isolation, as long as Putin does not change its confrontational policy, Germany wants to maintain sanctions, but does not want to fully isolate Moscow, believing that Russia has trade ties with the European Union to be more predictable and less aggressive.
The second level, the historical level, is not easy for obvious reasons. The memory of the crimes of the Third Reich is still alive in Poland. The commemoration of these crimes, the assessment of Polish human, material and cultural losses during the German occupation, is an important element of the public debate. Politics enters this area, the ruling camp more or less openly demands war reparations from Germany. Berlin does not agree to opening the issue of reparations, but is open to further work on commemorating the victims of the German Nazi occupation in Poland. During this term of the Bundestag, a project to commemorate the Polish victims of the Third Reich is to be implemented in one of the central places of the German capital, which met with a favorable response in Poland. It is worth recalling that prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, involved for several decades in the reconciliation of Poles and Germans.
The third level of Polish-German relations is the economy, mutual trade, which reaches record levels and, despite political tensions, makes Poland and Germany intertwined. Central Europe, led by Poland, is, next to China, Germany’s largest economic partner. When Germany was reuniting and Poland was in a state of bankruptcy after the communist period, it was feared that the Polish-German border would be a civilization border. Fortunately, these fears did not come true and, fortunately, even cold political relations will not reverse the advanced level of cooperation between Poles and Germans in the economic area.
And finally, the fourth level, i.e. plans for a huge ecological, energy, transport, etc. transformation that the European Union countries want to introduce. But in Germany itself, this transformation will surely encounter problems, it will be difficult, and the question arises as to how Poland, Germany’s neighbor, will feel the course of the German transition to new forms of economy and social life. For example, the issue of energy may divide both countries – that is, Poland will want nuclear power plants from which Germany has just withdrawn. How will the transformation of the German industry, including the automotive industry, affect production in Poland and what will be the mutual supply chain? Questions about the economy of the future must arise today, because soon concrete projects for the implementation of environmental and energy changes will begin to emerge.
All these described problems and phenomena mean that the coming years in German politics and Polish-German contacts will provide us with many, many question marks.
Jacek Stawiski, host of the “Horizon” program.
Main photo source: EPA / RONALD WITTEK