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CDU Trails as Germany’s Election Nears

Germany could be led by a “Jamaica” or “traffic light” coalition as the country prepares to vote on Sunday.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Election campaign billboards are seen in Germany.
Election campaign billboards showing chancellor candidates Olaf Scholz and Armin Laschet stand ahead of federal parliamentary elections in Bremen, Germany, on Sept. 22. David Hecker/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Germany’s election campaign enters its final days, U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron attempt to mend ties, and Taiwan applies to join Pacific trade pact.

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Germany’s Election Enters Final Days

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Germanys election campaign enters its final days, U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron attempt to mend ties, and Taiwan applies to join Pacific trade pact.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Germany’s Election Enters Final Days

As Angela Merkel prepares to leave the stage after 16 years as German chancellor, she can depart safely in the knowledge that she never lost an election as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). With Germans voting in federal elections this Sunday, her party successor, Armin Laschet, is unlikely to be as lucky as Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) threatens to disrupt the CDU line of succession.

As campaigning enters its final days, the Social Democrats have maintained their lead, polling at about 25 percent to the Christian Democrats’ 22 percent.

Merkels mantle. Right down to copying Merkel’s trademark “rhombus” hand gesture, Scholz has portrayed himself on the campaign trail as a safe pair of hands, a position that seems to have resonated with the German public; 29 percent of Germans would prefer to see him as chancellor, according to the latest poll.

“[In Germany], people still feel relatively comfortable about their own personal economic situation and they are cautious about fundamental change, and that’s what Scholz has done the best at embodying because he does represent continuity,” said Jeff Rathke, a former senior U.S. diplomat who now serves as the president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

“Hes been a minister for the last eight years. Hes been the vice chancellor for the last four years. And so he can credibly present himself as representing continuity, not in every policy, but in the cautious, somewhat risk-averse approach that Merkel has perfected.”

CDU missteps. Scholz’s march to the German Chancellery has been aided by the relatively poor campaign performance of Merkel’s party colleague Laschet. The CDU leader has been slow to recover from a campaign gaffe in July when he was filmed laughing and smiling while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a statement following devastating floods in Laschet’s home state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

If, as polls suggest, Laschet does end up leading the Christian Democrats to their worst election result ever, a simple gaffe won’t be entirely to blame. Support for the center-right began to wane from January onward, when party elites chose Laschet to lead the party over the much more popular Markus Söder, who leads the CDUs sister party in Bavaria—the Christian Social Union.

The Greens party, led by Annalena Baerbock, has faded from the front-runner status it flirted with in May. Nevertheless, the level of Greens support, now estimated at around 15 percent of the electorate, means the party is likely to figure in an inevitable coalition government, for which there are several options.

Traffic lights or Jamaica? A so-called traffic light coalition—with SPD as red, the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP) as yellow, and the Greens party—has been put forward as the most likely outcome, but a “Jamaica” coalition (CDU as black, FDP as yellow, and the Greens) would also have enough seats to govern. Germany’s current CDU-SPD government took four months to form in 2017, following an initial attempt to form a Jamaica coalition.

Depending on the results, Scholz might also have the option of a leftist coalition with the Greens and the far-left Die Linke—though he has insisted the Marxist party drop its opposition to German NATO membership.

The only party no major grouping has firmly sided against is the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which is expected to fare slightly worse than in 2017 but could still win 10 to 12 percent of votes.

U.S. interests. Rathke said the Biden administration will be able to find common ground with the new German government, whatever form it takes, but a Scholz-led government may best help U.S. President Joe Biden’s key priorities, not least because the Social Democrats and the Greens will be more willing to spend (and borrow) than the more conservative CDU.

“If its a traffic light coalition, I think climate policy is likely to be an area where youll see a more engaged German government,” Rathke said. “That may mean more engagement on international climate diplomacy, where I think the Biden administration really wants to have a stronger European Union position and a stronger German position in dealing with the major emitter: China.”


What We’re Following Today 

An AUKUS rapprochement. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke over the phone with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, on Wednesday as the two sought to mend ties after a new defense pact with Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (known as AUKUS) froze France out of a lucrative submarine deal. According to a joint statement, the two leaders “agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations” and said they would improve communications.

The White House also committed to “reinforcing its support to counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel,” where France has begun reducing its troop levels in recent months.

As part of efforts to improve U.S. ties, Macron said he would return his Washington ambassador, Philippe Étienne, after he was withdrawn last week. Biden and Macron also agreed to meet again later in the year when Biden travels to Europe for the G-20 and climate change summits.

Writing in Foreign Policy on Wednesday, Michael J. Green and Heather A. Conley discussed the ways AUKUS could cast a shadow over transatlantic relations and what it might take to mend the rift.

A week since the AUKUS announcement, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson believed enough time had passed to joke about it, mocking the French government’s histrionics on Wednesday by asking his French allies to “prenez un grip” and “donnez-moi un break.”

Taiwan applies to join trade pact. Taiwan formally submitted its application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on Wednesday, less than a week after China did the same in what could become an awkward admissions process. The trading bloc includes a mixture of mature and growing economies with Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam making up the agreement’s 11-nation membership.

The United Kingdom could be the next country to join the CPTPP after it began negotiations in June. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss visits Mexico today to lobby for U.K. accession to the trade agreement.

Tunisia’s new rules. Tunisian President Kais Saieds power grab took a step further Wednesday as he announced he would rule by decree, selectively interpret the constitution, and stop paying the salaries of lawmakers in the now-suspended parliament. The move was immediately condemned by Ennahda, the largest parliamentary party, whose leader, Rached Ghannouchi, said Saied had effectively canceled the country’s constitution. The generally popular Saied has denied accusations of dictatorial intentions and maintains his moves have been constitutional.


Keep an Eye On 

Violence in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed a “strong” government response after his top aide, Serhiy Shefir, came under automatic gunfire in an apparent assassination attempt on Wednesday morning. Assailants sprayed Shefir’s car with bullets in the village of Lisnyky, Ukraine, injuring Shefir’s driver, who is recovering at a hospital. Police have not announced any suspects or motives for the assault. Zelensky, who delivered an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, said he would return to Ukraine immediately. “Sending me a message by shooting at my friends car is weakness,” the president said.

Myanmar’s civil war. Thousands of civilians have fled the town of Thantlang in western Myanmar’s Chin State following days of clashes between rebels and Myanmar’s military. Roughly 5,500 people crossed into the neighboring Indian state of Mizoram to escape the fighting over the past week, according to a civil society group. Attacks against the military have increased since Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government called for a “people’s defensive war” earlier this month.


Odds and Ends

If the coronavirus pandemic ever ends, you may want to thank a llama. British researchers have begun trials of a new coronavirus treatment based on simple antibodies, called nanobodies, that both llamas and camels produce. Initial trials on lab rodents found the animals recovered from the coronavirus in six days following the treatment, which is delivered via nasal spray. Although human trials have not yet been considered, Public Health England has hailed the therapy among the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing agents.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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