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28 sierpień 2016

Facts from Frankfurt: Next Fall’s Bundestag elections

The Bundestag elections will be held in Autumn 2017 and Germans will choose 598 Abgeordneten (members of the parliament). The winning party will rule the country for the following 4 years, unless 1) the parliament’s term is shortened, 2) a war breaks out and things change diametrically. Autumn this year may as well bring the war closer to us than we expect.

The elections in Vereinigten Staaten (US) will be a sign for Vladimir Putin to either hold back or push it towards Eastern Europe even more then he has up to this date. Germany’s politicians are, beyond doubt, getting prepared for both. One year in advance it is worth to take a closer look at German politics to at least prepare ourselves for what is coming.

As we know, economical ties tell us much about the trends in politics, so let’s see first what are Germany’s trade relations. In the “Ranking of Germany’s trading partners in foreign trade” (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2016) US stand proudly on the first place in the table for exports, followed by France and United Kindgom. Poland, Switzerland and Belgium are closing the first 10. An overall image might be attained by looking at another column, Foreign Trade Balance: Exports – Imports. There, the winning place belongs to…Germany, as it profits from trade with 176 countries, including US (first place). The table tells us also that country’s negative balance concerns states of little importance, such as Solomon Islands.

Another story is with China. In a column Foreign Trade Balance: Exports- Imports China can be found in a last section, fat and rich in the money it earns from its export to Germany. China has been a growing partner for Germany during last several years, and beyond doubt, Germany is the most important trade partner in Europe for China. “The conversion of the previously export-driven Chinese economy towards a sustainable, innovation-driven growth and a strengthening of domestic consumption offers great opportunities for the German economy.” (Auswärtiges Amt, 2016). The prospect of increasing its exports to China doesn’t stop Germany from pushing towards the TTIP deal with US and thus broadening the possibilities. Germany believes, that it will boost the economy in the whole European Union.

An interesting figure is Russian Federation, which surprisingly falls right behind China in the column for trade balance. This means Germany imports more from Russia, than it sends over there. The Federal Foreign Office explains the issue. The trade has been stalled ever since the Ukraine politics exploded into regular conflict. It has been held back so much, that whatever the numbers in the tables of exports and imports, Russia suffers not only from the low prices of oil (main exporting commodity), but also from low incomes from the foreign trade (Auswärtiges Amt, 2016). Absolute in plus for Russia in trade with Germany is a relative in minus.

We know that already, but the interesting part is, is the pattern from recent years going to change? Is Germany going to enhance its business with Russia to 1) postpone the inevitable war which Russia is contemplating due to shortages in the treasure, 2) secure the energy sector and its own private business?

Only last year did we hear the news of signing the deal between Gazprom and E.OM, OMV, and Shell in expectation of a Nord Stream 2 project (S. Matalucci, Natural Gas World, 2015). In 2015 Russia’s reputation as a gas supplier in Germany was positive, which indicated, that trade is going to win over politics. We built a world, in which economics rule our foreign friendships, to keep us safe. Now, we need to hope, that loosening sanctions over Russia for violating international law and strengthening ties with it won’t push it towards Ukraine, Baltic states and even Poland.

2016 brings us proof of how the trade works outside of the controlling hands of the states. Sputnik News informs, that many German companies “(…) have started manufacturing their products inside the country (…)” (Sputnik News, 2016). Naftogaz of Ukraine raises awareness of the fact, that Nord Stream 2 is the second Nord Stream in it’s even more twisted form and will “raise prices and jeopardize energy security” of Ukraine (B. Wingfield, M. Drajem, Bloomberg, 2016). But the crises in economical relations of both countries has shown, that they indeed need themselves: “(…) the biggest source of foreign investment in Russia, about €1.78 billion, turned out to be Germany.” (Sputnik News, 2016). And thus we have Frank Walter- Steinmeier making the most of strained German- Russian relations and trying to rebuild peace in Ukraine together (Die Welt, 2016).

If the poll from May, conducted by INSA for Cicero magazine shows us the real direction of German politics, then Angela Merkel is the last (wo)man standing for humanitarian aid and Flüchtlingen (refugees), at least from what she says. It was her, after all, who gave a faint green light to the Nord Stream 2 deal. But with her and her people out of the way, we might wake up in a world of Realpolitik once again.

The poll shows that about two thirds of Germans want Angela Merkel to step down. More relevant though is the fact, that they want two main parties to make room for others (TheLocal.de, 2016). CDU/CSU, SPD, they should all retire (at least partly). And we are hearing how the ruling coalition CDU/CSU is creaking and crunching under the weight of refugees and Alternative für Deutschland’s (AfD) populism (K. Bradt, DW, 2016). This might be a sign of an anti- establishment mainstream that is taking over the world, reaching Germany.

At this point it is worth to take a closer look at the debate going on in Germany about things that flare up the masses: refugees, islam and terrorism.

The refugee crisis left a mark on the relations between CDU and CSU, the topic covered very eagerly by the media this year. They have different visions of what should be done about coming in big numbers to Europe. Big words were used by Christian Wulff (“Der Islam gehört zu Deutschland”– islam is a part of Germany) and unpopular ones by Angela Merkel (“Wir schaffen das”- we can do it). They have created resistance within their own parties, e.g. Volker Kauder (CDU/CSU) stated, that Muslims belonged to Germany, even though their religion didn’t. This particular denial is interesting in a way. In the age of populism and mass media, the statement hasn’t been washed easily away without any understanding, as it usually happens with matters that can’t be explained in one sentence. Taking a look at a poll, that shows to what extent Germans acknowledge islam as a part of their country (they don’t) and if they consider Muslims as a part of society (they do) tells us, that Germans still resist to look at the world through black and white glasses (Die Welt, 2016). With this in mind, the coalition CDU/CSU should not forget, that inside battles are lost on an election day.

The debate revolves around these and many more declarations that have been made by both the ruling coalition and opposition. The right- wing opposition party, Alternative für Deutschland, is constantly winning support with the promise of withdrawing permission for minarets built by the mosques and SPD’s Sigmar Gabriel turns out to be more leftist than previously expected. In context of refugees he demanded, that Germany holds back it’s austerity policy and cuts down expenditures for refugees rather than for own citizens (Spiegel Online, 2016).

What are Germans going to make out of all the above depends now on the world politics mostly. CDU/CSU isn’t losing their slight majority to the more extreme and nationalist parties, if up to the election day Germany manages to keep the refugee crisis quiet enough and business won’t suffer. It depends heavily on the relations with Russia struggling with sanctions, oil prices and overfunded arms industry. Unfortunately for Germany, the armaments race has in fact already begun, and ones it starts, it is usually unstoppable. German diplomats, who act in favor of their businesspeople, also have to maneuver through other EU’s states view on the issue of sanctions. Eastern European states begin to feel uncomfortable with closing new deals with Russia, that exclude them, and having a new president on the other side of the Ocean: namely the one who wants to cut down on Europe’s safety measures. Thus, when the situation clears itself out this Fall, Germans will have one year to prepare themselves for a vote. They will either choose to trust the current coalition that it will keep Russia at bay, business thriving and terrorists outside, or they will follow the trends of nationalism and national egoism, asking politicians to keep them safe and away from the troubles of the outside world.

We haven’t heard of many terrorist attacks recently, but the closer we are to the next elections, the more affected the country might be with the attempts of the Islamic State. The thing they want, after all, is to provoke and cause domestic conflicts. It will be important to keep that in mind.

Dorota Pawłowska