Brexit to shake up Germany’s uneventful electoral campaign

Angela Merkel's CDU does not want to a new digital ministry--but other political parties are pledging to create one if they're in a governing coalition after the 24 September election. [Clemens Bilan/EPA]

The pro-European stance of Germany‘s SPD clashes with that of CDU. The centre-right remains pro-European, but by a small margin. EURACTIV France reports

The campaign for next September’s legislative elections in Germany is failing to shake the political landscape, as Merkel is largely favoured in the polls over the European Parliament’s ex-president, Martin Schulz.

According to the latest poll, CDU is predicted to achieve an easy win with 40% of votes, against a mere 22% for the SPD, and a little less than 10% for the Greens.

The talk of Brexit is nonetheless bound to shake the Germans on their holidays. Martin Schulz criticized London on Tuesday (15 August) for proposing a temporary customs union.

“If the British government comes up with a new proposition every day, it has no weight whatsoever,” reassured the SPD’s secretary, sharing the European Commission’s concern that any discussion on a customs union should only come after the settlement of the free movement issue.

UK links trade to post-Brexit Irish border plans

The UK will set out its proposals for the Irish border after Brexit today (16 August), seeking to use the issue to pressure the European Union into starting early trade negotiations.

“I think we should leave the designated people, David Davies and Michel Barnier, the time to negotiate,” Schultz insisted.

The UK proposes an interim customs union following Brexit, while it negotiates its own commercial treaties, and is determined to push this idea through by playing the Irish border card.

Angela Merkel has instead chosen to focus on Brexit’s local impact and avoid all thorny issues.

During a meeting in Cuxhaven, on Germany’s northern coast, on Tuesday (15 August), she reassured the audience that German interests to fish in the high seas will be protected during Brexit negotiations.

In July, the British Environment Minister Michael Gove pointed out that Brexit could provide the pretext to take back control over UK waters, which are currently exploited by European fishing fleets.

Even if the divergence between the two main parties over Brexit seems minor, Schultz and SPD have a decidedly more pro-European stance than the center-right. And thus an allegedly tougher position in the Brexit negotiations.

A more pro-European left

On the future of the EU, their programs diverge. Like Macron in France, the CDU is pushing for a European monetary fund, to be built from the existing Single Resolution Fund (SRF), the bail-out mechanism currently envisaged as part of the EU’s banking union strategy.  A relatively unambitious vision for the EU’s future.

On the left, the SPD has higher aspirations, with the proposal of a fully-fledged economic government for the Euro zone, and a real European common budget.

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Going towards a deeper monetary and economic Union and reviewing the current Stability and Growth Pact implies a bolder vision for an increasingly federal and integrated Europe.

This position clashes with CDU’s focus on Germany’s domestic politics. The German flag has popped up in some of its banners, for the first time in 20 years.

While geopolitical instability and security threats cause alarm around the world and the European economy remains weak, the CDU stresses the need for calm.

On one of the campaign banners, CDU proposes to relax during the summer, before “voting well” this autumn; A young woman is portrayed lying in the grass with her eyes closed, reflecting the campaign’s appeasing message.

On another one, CDU simply wishes good holidays to its electorate. A paraphrase for “Carry on, there’s nothing to see here, Merkel will be re-elected”.

Just like in the last election, the far left, the Greens, the SPD and the liberal FPD are advocating a much more integrated vision for the EU, as highlighted by the think-tank ECFR.

Together, they should account for slightly more votes than the CDU. But the SPD rejects the option of a coalition of left-wing parties, leaving this hypothesis short-lived.

Especially since the Greens side more easily with the right in Germany.  Germans identify climate change as the single most important issue in this campaign and they trust Angela Merkel to tackle it, thanks to her previous success in pushing towards a transition to sustainable energy sources.

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