German elections: “There is not, in Germany, this love of confrontation”

La Croix L’Hebdo : Unthinkable in France, the German political parties are engaged in discussions to set up a coalition government and establish a program. What are these discussions about and how can we reach an agreement?

Alexandre Robinet-Borgomano: After the elections, party leaders negotiate alliances to form a coalition that will have a majority in parliament. Once this stage has been completed, negotiations begin, the objective of which is to define both the distribution of ministries among allies and the “coalition contract”, a detailed document which will serve as a roadmap for the next government.

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We can see that political parties have drawn very few red lines: only the Greens, who know they are essential, have placed the exit from coal in 2030 as a condition for entering into negotiations. Party leaders thus have the task of overcoming their differences in order to find an agreement, without reneging on each other. With the semi-proportional nature of the ballot, the persistence of party power is undoubtedly what distinguishes the German system the most from the French system.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of German parliamentary democracy compared to the French presidential system?

AR-B. : In Germany, each decision requires an agreement at four levels: between the parties that form the government, between the government and the Bundestag (parliament), between the federal level and that of the Länder, and finally at the level of the Court of Karlsruhe which must check whether the agreement is constitutional. Each project takes a long time to put in place, but once a compromise is found, it is solid and the decisions taken turn more easily into reality.

Conversely, we often have the impression in France that the political impetus given by the president is drowned in an administrative apparatus which is struggling to find repercussions on the ground. Sometimes, however, the German culture of compromise translates into a lack of reform ambition – a criticism leveled against the outgoing climate coalition. The risk of such a system is to end up with the lowest common denominator, without a strong axis to transform the country.

Observers point to a German electoral campaign of a good standard. How could France be inspired by it?

AR-B. : Identity issues and the migration issue, very present in the French media sphere, were absent from the campaign in Germany. This shows that the “refugee crisis” has been absorbed. Moreover, in Germany there is not this love of confrontation and verbal jousting artificially maintained in France: the candidates make sure to listen to and respect each other, since they know that they will have to negotiate with their opponents in the day after the elections.

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Some commentators have also said that the debates were extremely poor, as Germany’s place in Europe and in the world was largely absent. But I observe that the candidates debated concrete subjects: real estate prices, gasoline, environmental protection, minimum wage, wealth tax… everything that concerns the daily life of voters. It is undoubtedly this refusal of controversy and great speeches which explains the confidence of the Germans in their democracy.

How do the German institutions promote a culture of compromise and limit the excesses of debate?

AR-B. : Understanding Germany often involves going back to these two breaking points that are the Reform in the XVIe century and the fall of the Reich in 1945. The Protestant Reformation may have contributed to encouraging the culture of compromise, because it is marked by what historians have called the “Disziplinierung”, or the self-regulation of society. The fact that communities organize themselves at the local level by dispassionating social relationships that were once based on conflict.

The post-1945 period also played a role: the institutions set up in Germany after the war were aimed precisely at breaking the principle of the leader, by replacing it with the need for dialogue between the parties. This is undoubtedly what distinguishes Germany the most from France.

But this culture of compromise does not prevent the existence of a political radicalism specific to Germany. If far-left and far-right violence are recurring phenomena, a new form of radicalism is now emerging at the center of society: like the yellow vests, a heterogeneous protest movement opposed to government measures against the epidemic could overwhelm in the long term weaken the foundations of German democracy.


The author

Head of the Germany program at the Institut Montaigne since 2019, Alexandre Robinet-Borgomano previously worked in the Bundestag, as parliamentary attaché for a German deputy. Between January and June 2021, he left with the journalist and essayist Marion
Van Renterghem meets German political decision-makers and economic players in order to understand the profound transformations in this country. This series of meetings resulted in the publication by the Montaigne Institute of a note entitled “Quelle Germany après Merkel? “.

The context

Germany, a pole of stability under the Merkel era, is entering a more unpredictable phase following the close legislative elections and the short success of the social democrats of the SPD (25.7%), ahead of the conservatives of the CDU ( 24.1%), the Greens (14.8%), the liberals of the FDP (11.5%) and the AfD (10.3%). The SPD, the Greens and the Liberals have entered into negotiations for the establishment of a coalition and the drafting of a government program for the next four years.


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