Ready, Set, Go!

Alice Hubbard

Alice Hubbard is a research intern at AICGS for the summer of 2021. She prepares briefing material, manages databases, supports the research projects of resident fellows, and helps to organize and document AICGS events.

Currently, Ms. Hubbard is pursuing a BA at Johns Hopkins University in International Studies with a concentration on Germany in a Globalized World and German language. In the fall she will be pursuing a MA in International Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies as part of a 5-year BA/MA program. Her coursework and research interests focus primarily on transatlantic relations, the European Union, and technology regulations.

Before coming to AICGS, Ms. Hubbard interned with the U.S. Department of State as a Swedish Language intern through the VSFS program. She was also the Communications Director of European Horizons at Johns Hopkins University.

Eleanore Spies

Eleanore Spies is a development intern at AICGS for the summer of 2021. She prepares briefing material, manages databases, supports the research projects of resident fellows, and helps to organize and document AICGS events.

Currently, Ms. Spies is pursuing a BS at the University of Maryland in Economics and a minor in Sustainability and Statistics. Her coursework and research interests focus primarily on the sustainable economy, green energy, and the German language and culture.

Before coming to AIGCS, Ms. Spies participated in a month-long language program at Heidelberg University in Heidelberg, Germany. She previously worked as a B Corp intern at Bethesda Green.

The 2021 Party Platforms

A big part of the quadrennial Bundestag election campaign is the preparation of the parties’ programs. Instead of focusing on surface-level issues, German voters traditionally take the substantive solutions proposed by parties quite seriously. Moreover, after the new Bundestag is elected on September 26th, a coalition will be negotiated as parties will have to join together to form a government. Party platforms play a major role in these negotiations.

There are several novel factors in this election year. First, the Green Party has gained popularity relative to prior Bundestag elections, with recent polls indicating that its candidate Annalena Baerbock follows Christian Democratic Union (CDU) candidate Armin Laschet, but precedes Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate Olaf Scholz. Free Democratic Party (FDP) candidate Christian Lindner trails well behind in fourth. Second, with six fractions once again likely in the Bundestag a fragmented parliament could result in the first ever three-party coalition at the national level.

Coalition predictions are based on recent polls, past coalitions, and party issues that are considered negotiable. Currently, the coalition leading the Bundestag is the CDU and SPD, also known as the “grand coalition.” Such a coalition seems unlikely after September, however, since this governing combination (in power since 2013) is unpopular with voters and the SPD views the post-Merkel era as their chance to create a government without the conservative CDU. Instead, they have voiced their support for a “traffic-light coalition,” or a coalition between the SPD, FDP, and the Greens (Red-Yellow-Green). This coalition combination has never occurred on the federal level and would require compromise, especially on economic issues such as market regulations and taxes. Additionally, party sources have indicated that the FDP would be unwilling to join together with the Greens. However, if support for the Greens continues to grow, the FDP may be forced to make concessions, either through a SPD-FDP-Green coalition or a CDU-FDP-Green coalition. After the previous Bundestag election in 2017, talks for the latter (“Jamaica”) coalition fell apart.

With six fractions once again likely in the Bundestag a fragmented parliament could result in the first ever three-party coalition at the national level.

At the moment, the most likely coalition is one between the CDU and the Greens, who have signaled their readiness to work together. This coalition would also require compromise on issues such as raising taxes to fund a transition to a carbon-neutral economy and invest in digital infrastructure. Other coalitions, such as a natural center-right (“bourgeois”) coalition between the CDU and FDP or a left-leaning coalition between the SPD, Left, and Greens, seem possible, but current polling indicates that they will not reach majorities.

One topic where parties differ quite a bit is the revision of Germany’s climate laws, which will need to be updated by the end of 2022. The Greens’ platform is naturally the most climate-ambitious. Their program presents a lofty goal, which outlines the objective of 70 percent fewer greenhouse gases in 2030 than in 1990. The CDU and SPD have set their target for 2045, while the FDP is aiming for climate neutrality five years later, in 2050. While it is likely up for debate during coalition negotiations, the question of how to fund climate initiatives will be central to these discussions.

Germany’s “debt brake” is another point of contention between parties. Although set aside during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, this cap constitutionally restricts federal borrowing to 0.35 percent of economic output per year. By surpassing this limit, the Greens aim to increase investments in climate protection, infrastructure, and health care by €50 billion annually. Contrastingly, the CDU and FDP are set on strictly following this rule in the coming years. It is important to note that a debt brake reform would require a two-thirds majority in parliament. Thus, it is likely to remain unchanged after coalitions are formed. On a larger economic scale, the EU Covid Recovery Fund has been categorized as “one-time and temporary” by the CDU. The FDP is aligned with this, while the Greens and FDP are more inclined to making use of a European fiscal union.

Although current coalition predictions are still ambiguous, especially in the face of a post-Merkel government, the significance of comparing party programs is clear.

A topic that will likely be negotiable between parties during the process of coalition agreements is the funding of NATO. Whereas the Left seeks to replace NATO entirely, the Greens and SPD have taken a much less radical stance. These parties, particularly the SPD, are committed to increasing European defense integration. But they both reject the NATO two percent target, in which allies agreed in 2014 to have all member countries allocate two percent of their GDP on defense spending by 2024. The CDU follows Merkel’s approach and remains committed to meeting this goal, while the FDP seeks to increase defense spending for Germany to three percent overall.

In regards to China, the Greens have taken a stricter approach on the treatment of Uyghurs, calling on the European Supply Chain Act to stop goods produced by forced labor from entering Germany’s market. However, CDU candidate Laschet advised against entering a new Cold War era with China and instead proposed further bilateral discussions. Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would transport natural gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany, is another contentious issue this year. Although the CDU continues to support the completion of the pipeline, Laschet recently mentioned that Germany can shut off the natural gas if Russia uses it to influence the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Greens have explicitly stated that this project must be scrapped after the election.

Coalitions do not always form as predicted. After the last Bundestag election in 2017, the FDP pulled out from negotiations with the CDU and the Greens when talks became contentious. Although current coalition predictions are still ambiguous, especially in the face of a post-Merkel government, the significance of comparing party programs is clear. Regardless of which coalition forms after the September election, parties will have to negotiate and compromise on issues of economics, climate, and foreign policy, among others.


Please take a look at the accompanying article that summarizes the main points from the various party platforms and links to the full text.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.