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Opinion: Turbulent year ahead for Germany

Kommentarfoto Kay-Alexander Scholz Hauptstadtstudio
Kay-Alexander Scholz
December 31, 2016

You want a forecast for the election year 2017 in Germany? Forget it! Actually, you should probably consult your crystal ball. Or you can read this article by Kay-Alexander Scholz.

Deutschland Jahreswechsel 2017 in Berlin
Image: picture alliance /ZB/J. Kalaene

Over the past few years, Germans have learned that domestic and foreign policy are more intertwined than ever before. Many people in Germany are concerned about the political developments in Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Rome. Will Marine Le Pen win the French presidential election and take the country out of the European Union and the euro? Will another populist far-right party win the election in the Netherlands this spring? How quickly will London detach itself from the continent? Is there a looming crisis in Rome?

It might get lonely in Berlin, especially since one traditional partner, Vienna, has shifted its loyalties to Eastern Europe and the Balkans. And the German bureaucratic crisis caused by an influx of refugees has still not been "processed."

Oh yes, and then there's that blonde gentleman with the strange hairdo in Washington. That may sound a little glib but it fits with what Berlin knows about his policies. What is Donald Trump's position on NATO? Or Putin? Or Merkel? Will decisions in world politics soon be made over Europe's head? Germany has just become accustomed to its role as a sought-after international partner. Will that continue when the two businessmen in Washington and Moscow are making their political deals?

Scholz Kay-Alexander Kommentarbild App
DW political correspondent Kay-Alexander Scholz

Caught in a populist wave

Good thing Germany is a stabilizing factor, as many say. But is it really stable? Economically it is, but what about politically? The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will most likely enter parliament as a new party in the general election in September. The number of seats in parliament - 80, 100 or 130 - could depend on whether there are more terrorist attacks in Germany.

And no one knows if the current Merkel government can regain confidence in the key issue of asylum and refugee policy. The topic is essential because it represents "a new social conflict between communitarianism and cosmopolitanism." That is how the situation was described by researchers at the respected Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), who have researched the issue for several years. They argued that a new political party landscape is now being formed on the basis of where the borders of the "nation state" lie. This restructuring of political systems seems to be happening everywhere - including Germany. That's why nothing is certain anymore.

The "cosmopolitan" Merkel, constantly seeking to save the world outside Germany, is beleaguered going into the New Year. There is growing unrest in the conservative wing of her party, and the terrorist attack in Berlin has reignited the dispute with her Bavarian sister party and coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Poll ratings fluctuate but are indeed relatively low. Will there be another coup? If not, then Merkel will probably begin her fourth term as chancellor at the end of this year.

On the lookout for a partner

What about the Social Democratic Party (SPD)? It has been going downhill for a while now. In six German states, the Social Democrats have already fallen below the 20 percent mark - in some cases well below it. The three state elections in 2017 in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia could mean the loss of two more SPD state premiers. The winner will probably be the CDU, which would stabilize Merkel.

There are stable prospects for the two opposition parties in the Bundestag, the Green party and the socialist Left party. National polls have them at about 10 percent each, while the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) - once Merkel's safe center-right coalition partners - may re-enter parliament. But that remains uncertain.

So it is not surprising that all kinds of rumors about coalition options are going around. Could it be the CDU and FDP with the Greens? Or will the SPD rule with the Green party and the Left? No one wants the AfD as a coalition partner.

The past two parliamentary elections were rather boring as the outcome was clear from the beginning of the election campaigns. That will definitely change this year. One thing is for sure: election campaigns in 2017 will be tough.