Germany will have to decide its future after elections that will replace former Chancellor Angela Merkel, a panelist said in a Sept. 29 event.
The event, titled “Roundtable on the German Elections — Looking Forward, Looking Back,” focused on the record youth turnout that powered Germany’s most diverse election results to date and the future implications of the outcome of the vote. The event was hosted by the BMW Center for German and European Studies (CGES), a School of Foreign Service (SFS) center for the study of European affairs and the transatlantic relationship in the United States.
On Sept. 26, Germany held its federal elections to choose the 20th German parliament. The Social Democrats (SPD) won the most parliamentary seats with 206 elected officials, followed by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Greens. The new chancellor who will replace Merkel, a member of the CDU, will be announced after the new parliament meets and votes.
When Merkel chose not to run for office, her decision resulted in a paradigm shift in which new voters could imagine a different chancellor, according to panelist Joyce Mushaben, an expert in European Union (EU) citizenship and migration policies, women’s leadership and welfare state reforms.
“This is the first time in 16 years that there was no Merkel running for office, so for young voters, for anyone under the age of 20, they only knew Angela Merkel as chancellor,” Mushaben said at the event. “They did not know somebody else could be a chancellor, much less a man becoming a chancellor.”
The youth vote was particularly influential in this election, with the Free Democratic Party (FDP), who prioritize free market economic principles, and the Greens, who are environmentalists, gaining the most support and votes from young people voting for the first time.
According to Eric Langenbacher, who specializes in German and European memory politics, it was surprising that the German youth voters aligned with the FDP over the Greens, as the youth tend to care more about climate change and environmental issues than older individuals.
“The younger cohorts, they prefer the liberals — the FDP — slightly more than they did the Greens,” Langenbacher said at the event. “I guess what I would say is that although climate issues are very important, younger Germans are also pragmatists.”
The election featured the country’s most diverse field of candidates running ever, reflective of Germany’s demographic makeup, according to Mushaben.
“We have the highest number since the foundation of the federal republic of candidates under the age of 35 running for the Bundestag, and an unprecedented number of women candidates as ‘Spitzenkandidaten,’ or lead candidates,” Mushaben said.
According to Mushaben, Merkel left a legacy as a leader who established Germany’s role as a key player in European politics.
“I think Merkel’s really gonna be missed at the European level, and I think that’s the most important point because, when you talk to Germans, they don’t quite understand what we’re saying,” Mushaben said. “I said that Merkel had moved Germany from the regional stage onto the global stage.”
Regardless of who ultimately becomes the new chancellor, they will inherit some of Merkel’s energy decisions, including Nord Stream 2, which is a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany running under the Baltic Sea, according to Jeff Anderson, an expert on on European integration, transatlantic relations, global cities and postindustrial reconstruction.
“I don’t think, however, there will be a reversal on Nord Stream 2,” Anderson said at the event. “I think that is a done deal not just because of what’s been already accomplished on that project in Germany but also because of the U.S. position now, which is basically to let it go forward.”
According to Mushaben, Europeans have high expectations for the new German chancellor, as Merkel served as a steady force on a German, European and global level.
“I think the world is going to miss her as that balancing force,” Mushaben said.