Lessons From Germany on Political Culture: What Georgia Can Learn From the German Parliamentary Elections
Erekle Iantbelidze, Contributing Researcher, M.A. from the College of Europe
Federal elections were held in Germany on September 26, 2021. This was a highly important political process not only for Germany but also for the European Union as a whole. According to Angela Merkel, after 16 years of her governance, the public in the Federal Republic of Germany is on the one hand critically disposed towards the country’s future prospects, and on the other eagerly awaits immediate changes in its domestic and foreign policies. From the results of the election, we can say that none of the political parties on the ballot managed to gain any substantial superiority. Their fate now depends on ideological compromise and political consensus.
According to the election results, the center-left Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) gained a slight advantage, managing to receive 25.7% of votes. Its main rival, the Christian-Democratic Alliance (CDU/CSU), got 24.1% of votes, which is 8.9% less than the votes it received in the 2017 Federal election. A crucial change was that the Greens received 14.8% of the votes, along with the fact that this political group managed to decisively win in all large German cities. The fact that the Free Democrats (FDP) will have a great influence in the process of forming the federal government is also beyond any doubt, as they managed to secure 11.5% of the votes all around the country. Among other political entities, the results of the far-right AfD and far-left Die Linke must also be highlighted, whose support shrunk sharply compared to 2017. The former got the support of 10.3% of the population, while the latter managed to receive only 4.9% of the votes.
Judging by the results of the election, the German political reality faces important challenges, which on the one hand underlines the complexity of the political processes and on the other indicates the healthy nature of the electoral environment. Therefore, it is of high importance for countries experiencing democratic transition, including Georgia, to adopt the aspects of political culture that accompanied the electoral process in the Federal Republic of Germany. This can be a lesson both for the political elites of Georgia, as well as the electorate. More specifically, we will need to underline the following three aspects:
1. Strengthening the political center and reducing polarization
Based on these elections, Germany turned out to be a model to emulate for many states around the world, especially the member states of the European Union. While throughout Europe, the process of polarization of societies between the far-right and far-left camps is ongoing, in Germany’s case, the march towards political radicalism has sharply declined, favoring an evolutionary rather than reactionary pace of change.
In the Georgian reality, the October 2, 2021 Municipal Elections once again showed that the political center has completely collapsed within the boundary set at two-party affiliation, with the focus on getting political dividends by stigmatizing opponents rather than on political views and programs. Hence, the space for compromise and consensus between the parties is minimal, which creates a precondition for political crisis.
2. Strong political parties and weak political figures
There is a myriad of views about Angela Merkel as a powerful political figure; however, nobody denies that she was a participant of core economic, social, geopolitical and diplomatic processes of the 21st century and, moreover, that she was even the leader of them. At this stage, few have the expectation that the new Chancellor will be as influential as Merkel was. Despite this, for the German voters, the a priori choice is on political parties, their views and programs. It can be stated that the personification of political processes is secondary for Germans. The example of Angela Merkel is a unique case where a political figure managed to keep the support of both her team and the electorate throughout her 15-years’ work. That said, very few knew anything about Merkel when she was elected as Chancellor of Germany in 2005, meaning the German political culture is distinguished by the fact that specific persons do not become idealized, which could be the result of the very severe historical experience that the country still remembers of the past century.
For comparison, the electoral process in Georgia is fully personified. Political programs and political party ideologies are less important for voters, and, despite the parliamentary system of governance, the role of individual politicians is significantly strong, with political parties unable to form a political climate. Consequently, it is difficult for the majority of the population to imagine the creation of some type of a coalition on an immediate intra-parliamentary level, which pushes citizens to make a radical decision between two polar opposites – a choice that is unacceptable to them.
The political reality based on individuals threatens not only the future of the country, but also the “rejuvenation” of the political field for the better. In many cases, the political parties in Georgia are experiencing an existential crisis as the boundaries between the individual (leader) and the political group become blurred.
3. Strong consensus with regard to the foreign policy vector of the state
The electoral process in the Federal Republic of Germany was characterized by its openness. Leaders of political parties ended up in the midst of TV interviews, public debates and discussions multiple times. It is of course important for voters to see a discussion of the state’s foreign policy of and the country’s prospects in the international arena. The foreign policy vector of Germany, as the leading economic nucleus of the European Union, is of utmost importance for the trans-Atlantic unity, especially as the geopolitical balance of power keeps shifting.
One of the most important debates for voters was aired several months before the election, in Deutsche Welle studio, when Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU), Annalena Baerbock (Greens) and Olaf Scholz (SPD) discussed their country’s viewpoints with regards to the future of the European Union, the United States, China and Russia. Despite differences in opinion in terms of security, defense and sustainable development, each of the candidates openly expressed their readiness to further bolster the idea of European and Euro-Atlantic unity. Furthermore, none of the candidates seemed indifferent, or suspicious that their opponents would stray from the foreign policy interests of the state in favor of prioritizing their own party or personal interests to gain some dividends.
Unfortunately, in Georgia, debates about the foreign policy vector are not subject to consensus, but are instead used as a weapon to stigmatize opponents. Accusing an opponent and attaching to them the label of so-called “Russophile” is an irreversible process during the pre-election campaign. Although political parties and leaders artificially manipulate the views of the voters, numerous polls of public opinion confirm that 76% of those surveyed support Georgia’s membership in the European Union and 74% support membership in NATO. Therefore, there is no question for the Georgian political elite about what the majority of the voters want in this regard.
The federal elections in Germany were held without any serious complications or tensions; however, not everything has been concluded yet. Now, the political parties are in the process of difficult negotiations, which will determine the composition of German legislative and executive structures. The political leaders understand that any political group could end up as the opposition, despite their legitimation in terms of percentages. Thus, the political parties have only one path forward – to achieve agreement through compromise and consensus. Expectations are high that the Federal Republic of Germany will once again demonstrate to the world, including Georgia, that negotiations and cooperation are not “shameful”, but rather are part of a civilized and healthy political process.
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