As expected, the Berlin (state/city level) elections in Germany did not disappoint analysts seeking to expose Merkel’s shaky CDU-FDP coalition. This time, however, the brunt of the dissatisfaction with the government was felt by the small pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) who have already expressed high level misgivings with voting for EFSF reforms (some going so far as to demand a referendum on the issue).
This excellent graphic from Reuters sums up the situation well.
The red 5% line is the minimum level where parties are awarded seats under the proportional election system. In a stunning rebuke to the established political parties, the fast growing Pirate Party won +15 seats in the 149 seat body, a first for the party in the capital. The pro-internet liberalisation party (now branching into a broader electoral platform including education and citizens rights) was not the only winner. Seat gains were recorded for the Green Party +7 (a strong force in German state and federal politics) and Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats (CDU) +1. The CDU gained gained +2.1% in what is a friendly district historically for them. The main opposition party to Merkel at the federal level, the Social Democrats, suffered losses of -2.5% and -6 seats respectively.
The overall message is symbolically difficult to swallow for the FDP. The electorate are angry and are clearly demanding a reassertion of German civil liberties. From a European standpoint, this bodes ill. It suggests that political populism and a retrenchment to German priorities is an irrestible notion. For the FDP – holding no seats in the district that holds the federal parliament is a damaging blow to the party and may proof to be a destabilising factor too far for a party seeking to reassert itself against its far bigger and increasingly divided coalition partner. With voices condemning Merkels leadership (or lack thereof) becoming increasingly loud and with German and international media increasingly fixated on the potential leadership contenders, the battle wounds are beginning to neuter the abilities of the government to actually achieve anything – especially on Europe. The knock out blow might come sooner than 2013 when the next federal elections are scheduled.
Expect the route toward the September 29th EFSF vote to get slightly rockier. Even if it does torturously pass, the political capital spent by Merkel on keeping her party and coalition together might mean shes fresh out of ammunition. And the hard work for a future fiscally sound Europe hasnt even started.