Why Does Germany Have Boring Politics?
Good Institutions Thwart Radicalism
Proponents of liberal democracy breathed a sigh of relief on May 7, when political newcomer Emmanuel Macron roundly defeated right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election. But this election, although critical for the future of the European Union, was far from being this year’s only electoral barometer in Europe: British Prime Minister Theresa May has called for a snap general election on June 8, France selects a new legislature on June 11 and 18, and Germany elects a new parliament—which could result in a new chancellor—on September 24.
For two reasons, Germany’s upcoming federal elections should provide more drama than usual. The first is the recent rise of the country’s first federally viable right-wing party since World War II—the anti-Muslim, nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The second is the Social Democrat (SPD) Martin Schulz, who represents the first legitimate challenge to Angela Merkel’s chancellorship in over a decade. In other respects, though, the German elections promise to be the least exciting electoral contest in Europe this year.
The levers of power in German politics remain staunchly resistant to the radical-right populism devouring other countries. To be sure, Germany has its fair share of radicals—just look at the lieutenant in the German army who was hoping to assassinate a former German president and the current justice minister while posing as a Syrian refugee. And by some estimates, some ten percent of voters support the AfD. Yet for all intents and purposes, German politics will leave this election season much the way it entered.
The boring nature of German politics is remarkable considering that fewer than 30 years ago, Germany was attempting to unify two disparate halves of the country. The eastern half had only just emerged from some six decades of autocracy, and the western half, while durably democratic, had struggled with waves of internal terrorism since the 1970s. How, then, has Germany become a standard-bearer of stability and democracy?
The answer, in a reduced Germany to rubble—economically, physically, and psychologically. As German elites surveyed the literal and symbolic ruins of their country, they resolved to create a political structure that was designed to avoid the mistakes of Germany past. As a way to prevent postwar West Germany from replicating the Weimar Republic’s disastrous instability and the Nazi regime’s genocidal autocracy, they implemented an array of rules to promote moderation and consistency in politics. At least in part, it’s largely thanks to these rules that present-day Germany has avoided having one of its main political parties hijacked by radicals, something that American Republicans experienced recently with the Tea Party movement; flirting with electing a national leader similar to Le Pen, whose political party holds only two of the 577 seats in the country’s National Assembly; or electing the likes of Donald Trump, who has a habit of pushing for policies that conflict with the official Republican stance and who lacks any experience whatsoever in public office. As German elites surveyed the ruins of their country, they resolved to create a political structure that was designed to avoid the mistakes of Germany past.Read the full article on ForeignAffairs.com