German Elections 2017: Where do the winners stand on foreign policy?

The German election has been a perfect midpoint between a shocking event – after all this is the first legislature in many decades with right-wing extremists seating in the Bundestag – and business as usual. The results have been widely expected with a good dose of certainty, and despite there has been much talk on whether the conservatives would have needed more than a partner, the current scenario of a so-called Jamaica coalition is hardly a surprise, mirroring the island´s flag.

With the SPD heading to the opposition, the only possible majority includes the CDU/CSU (whose traditional color is black), the Greens and the Liberal Democrats FDP (parading a blunt yellow). Color-coding aside, this arrangement isn´t for sure the easiest result for Merkel to work with. The market-friendly liberals have their good deal of cleavages with the ecologists´ proposals on environmental policies, but also with some of the measures passed by the CDU considered restrictive on privacy and digital rights. Few of these schisms are likely to trigger the collapse of the negotiations and call for fresh elections: the FDP has a great incentive to capitalize on this result, and while the Greens have managed to narrowly preserve its 10%, the Christian Democrats have experienced a moderate hemorrhage of votes. Even its more conservative wing, the Bavarian CSU, has surprisingly witnessed an erosion for votes which is especially alarming considering next year´s state elections, rendering a new electoral gamble unappealing.  Merkel is significantly weakened: her party may have achieved its worse result since 1949, giving great political leverage to her likely coalition partners: the FDP is maybe the greatest victor, returning to the Bundestag after failing to win a seat in 2013, while the Greens may be willing to put an end to 12 years opposition. Although a deal is far from assured, these may be great incentives to accept “the burden of command”.

Only time will tell what kind of political mosaic will emerge from the coalition bargaining, if at all, but one thing is sure: foreign policy won´t be a great point of contention. Maybe because of a complete lack of interest on the thematic area, there are many points on which the future governing parties may agree.

Turkey and Russia

Cem Özdemir, leader of the Greens.

To kick things off, let´s start with the policy area with the larger convergence. Erdogan has been the great equalizer of Germany´s relationship with Turkey, with all three parties endorsing a hard line with the soon former EU access candidate. The Greens could especially push for a more articulate version of the generic “No tolerance for autocrats”, given its leader Cem Özdemir´s Turkish heritage and its engagement with the Turkish community in the federal republic. We may witness a push to safeguard the diaspora against further propaganda and direct intervention by Ankara, tapping into a sentiment which is moderately shared in German society. Similarly, none of these parties back a more dovish attitutude towards Russia, although the FDP has advocated a pragmatic position thinking of the return of Crimea to Ukraine as a long-term project and “provisory status quo”, stirring much criticism across the political spectrum.

Inner security and civil rights

The conservatives could have a hard time to uphold the policies implemented in 2013-2016. While the last coalition had an easy time passing laws on surveillance and data retention, the liberals have elevated digital rights to its topic of choice, while the Greens have taken a resolutely leftist stance on preventive measures such as welfare and de-radicalization.

NATO and European Common Defense

The Greens, the Liberals and the Christian-Democrats all represent the mainstream when it comes to the Atlantic ties: despite the harsh criticism of Donald Trump NATO is still seen as a guarantee for peace in Europe.  Also the “French-German engine” of the EU is a widely used talking point by the liberals and factually by Merkel. Both the Greens and the Liberals back the European common defense, although for different reasons: while the ecologists hope to achieve an overall decrease of defense expenses with the elimination of inefficiencies, the liberals have put a great emphasis on common weapons industry on the European level. However, they´re the only party outside the CDU to have decisively advocated a funds increase for the Bundeswehr. Another unexpected point of agreement between Greens and Liberals is the attitude towards the arms industry, with both pushing for the limitation of exports towards war zones, specifically to Saudi Arabia.

European Union

Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP (Liberals).

Because of the economic implications of EU policies, it´s no surprise that the greater differences can be found with regards to European topics. There´s a consensus that a multi-velocity Union is the only way to increase the block´s efficiency, allowing further integration for the willing members. The Greens have however shown a degree of concern regarding the possible fragmentation of the Union, calling for an increased attention towards the boundaries of the Lisbon treaties. The FDP has on the other hand shown a distaste for the federalization of fiscal responsibility, with Lindner warning that EU shouldn´t be responsible for the “repayment of other´s mismanagements like Italy´s Berlusconi or Greece”. This may become a problem for the chancellor given the high political premium she has put on increased integration and cooperation with the fiscally troublesome France. It´s likely that an eventual bargain on the allocation of the ministry of finance will include negotiations on this point. The tendency on the German side to avoid commitment on many of Macron´s proposed projects in the last months has shown that Merkel may be willing to cede some ground to its future allies to ensure their backing.


As the AfD´s electoral gains may have suggested, immigration is still the great point of contention of German politics. The Greens have been the mavericks of this campaign, renouncing to the more mainstream appeal of condemning the inarticulate management of the migration flux. This has had concrete political consequences in the last legislature, when the government failed to pass a law categorizing North African countries such as Morocco as safe to deport asylum seekers back. The Greens refused to back the bill in the Bundesrat, the federal senate, putting an obstacle in Merkel´s ambition to satisfy her party´s calls for harsher policies towards migrants not escaping warzones. The liberals have on the other hand advocated a Canadian-style points model, implying a system of deportations and “cherrypicking” of those migrants deemed more capable to contribute.  This is probably going to be the biggest point of contention, considering also Merkel´s need to counter her party´s temptations to back a more right-wing conservative hardline to win back the million CDU voters who decided to back the AfD today (estimated by As already mentioned, the Bavarian CSU could be too scared to risk further seats, but there is an incentive to assure its voters that at the Christian-socials won´t follow Merkel further down the centrist road, doubling down on the otherwise unpopular hard limit to accepted immigrants. This may find some resonance with the liberals, who back a return to the Dublin system and the institution of EU-wide redistribution quotas, but could as well be a dealbreaker for the Greens.

The parties´positions on the different topics have been sourced from official programs and public declarations by the leaders.


Michelangelo Freyrie

All the articles by Michelangelo Freyrie.

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