Germany’s election results not positive for Turkey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) vowed to seal a coalition deal with the Free Democrats (FDP), headed by Guido Westerwelle, within a month after winning Germany's election.
Aside from yielding interesting results,
the German elections also signaled
critical political shifts not just for
the ruling power but in general as well.
The new government, to be set up by
the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and
the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), may not
carry out a rooted change to the ongoing
policy regarding Turkey, but there will be
colder winds blowing from Berlin
during the membership process
and negotiation meetings.

To understand the importance that
the election results, which can be
interpreted to mean that Berlin
will not support Turkey's membership
"for the time being," have for Turkey,
it would be beneficial to take
a closer look at the political changes
and developments that took place
in Germany in these latest elections.

There are two important factors related
to the formation of
the new majority government.
The first factor is that while
the conservative CDU has managed
to sustain its existence as
the great "people's party" by losing
only a limited number of votes
and garnering 33.8 percent of the vote,
the FDP secured the biggest victory
in the history of Germany by
winning 14.6 percent of the vote and
triggering a fundamental shift
in politics by becoming
the new coalition partner.

On the other hand, with votes plunging
by around 20 percent in recent years,
the Social Democratic Party
of Germany (SPD) suffered a historic
defeat, winning only around 23 percent
of the vote.
The Left Party's significant and
the Greens' limited rise in votes were
not enough to balance out the SPD's vote
losses to establish a theoretical
SPD-the Left-Greens coalition.

Political shifts in many directions

While the latest elections have opened
the way for a right-wing coalition
in Germany, it also signals at
many political shifts going
in different directions.
The first and most important political
shift occurred between the CDU
and the SPD.
These two parties became increasingly
similar to each other and became
oriented toward winning centralist votes.
The CDU took close to 1 million votes
from its coalition partner, the SPD,
and managed to limit
its vote loss in that way.

Winning more than 30 percent
of the vote, the CDU is Germany's sole
mass party.
But despite this, it is no longer
the country's only governing party,
and unlike before, it no longer
has 50, or in some states 60,
percent of the vote.
Forget winning enough votes
to become the sole ruling party
like Turkey's Justice and
Development Party (AK Party),
it was considered a big success
that it was able to garner enough votes
to set up a government with the FDP.
If the CDU, which won a parliamentary
majority with the extraordinary victory
of the FDP, wants to put on a similar
performance in the next election,
it must have successful
policies -- especially on economic
and social issues.

Certainly it will not be easy to create
a balance between a liberal economy
and social policy in the new government,
in which the liberals will be more active.
The new coalition, which trade unions
have a concerned eye over, will not
be able to easily sustain the social peace
that prevailed in the country
while the SPD was in power.

The former coalition also aimed
to resolve the unemployment problem
with an economic development policy,
but it was unfortunately not very
successful in its endeavor.
The FDP, which focused its
election campaign on economic policies
and promised to boost economic demand
and investment by making tax cuts
for middle and high income earners,
garnered support especially
from the middle class.
Many analysts reckon that although
Germans believe a liberal economy
was the cause of the banking crisis,
they may have wanted to give
the FDP a chance because they believe
liberals that "understand the economy"
can devise policies that
can overcome the crisis.

Germans did not believe social rights
would improve with the FDP and
the expectation that the CDU and
the chancellor would take up
social issues had a bigger role
in the election campaign.
The plunge of SPD votes from
44 percent to 23 percent after 11 years
in power stemmed most certainly
from endorsing harsh social reforms.

But the second important factor, the transition
of Germany's political party system
from a three-party system to
a five-party system, played an important role
in the SPD's loss of votes.
Following the Greens, which tried to win
the support of SPD constituents,
a new left party that won the support
of trade unions and garnered 11.9 percent
of the vote in the election
led to the SPD's defeat.

In a sense, SPD votes partially disappeared
to this party on the left and the CDU
in the center.
The problem stems from the melting away
of the SPD and the left movement's social base.
The base of this party, which emerged
in the second half of the 19th century
as the party of the industrial society
and workers' movement, is becoming
increasingly smaller as the service sector
becomes more active in Europe.
In countries such as Germany, France
and England, the industrial sector
accounts for 11 and 13 percent
of gross domestic product (GDP),
down from around 50 percent.
The service sector, which constitutes
up to 80 percent of economic activity,
poses a risk to the existence
of socialist and trade union movements
and therefore dissolved the constituents
of social democrats in these countries.

The success of the Left Party (11.9 percent)
and the Greens (10.7 percent), which voters
put in the opposition, was limited
in the elections.
One important problem the Greens
will need to discuss more so then
the Left Party is why only 2 percent
of the 30 percent of voters that
changed their political preferences
knocked on their door.
An in-depth debate is expected on
why unlike Daniel Cohn-Bendit's party,
which won 16.2 percent in France,
the Greens could not do
the same in Germany.

While the Greens managed to make
the public and other parties more sensitive
about environmental issues,
despite the fact that the Greens played
an important role in influencing
other parties to address
environmental issues in
their election campaign, the issue of
why the Greens were not as successful
as the liberals and the Left Party
is an important question.
Alongside the SPD, which launched
the Helsinki process that opened
the door to negotiations with
the European Union, the Greens' distance
to power is not a positive development
for Turkey.
It is for this reason that Turkey
will need to interpret the program
of the new coalition government
very carefully.

CDU and FDP not warm to EU enlargement

To examine the new government's policy
on Turkey, we need to take a closer look
at the parties' election programs.
For now, neither the CDU nor the FDP
look favorably on EU enlargement.
The priority of both parties is
the intensification of local EU reforms
and the integration of 12 new
member countries.
While both parties emphasize all
candidate countries must meet
the Copenhagen criteria, they also
underline that "membership is not
an automatic process" and point
to the EU's integration capacity.
The only difference between
these two countries, which both
argue that Turkey is not ready
for membership, is that
the CDU supports the idea of
a "privileged partnership" while
the FDP supports open-ended
negotiations for Turkey's EU membership.

The liberals, which hung banners
that read "EU-Turkey Yes" with
the Greens during the 2004
European Parliament elections
and supported the start of negotiations
with Turkey, could possibly
reconsider their policy on Turkey
and support ongoing negotiations.
Chancellor Angela Merkel could
distance herself from French
President Nicolas Sarkozy's line
by showing new Foreign Affairs
Minister Guido Westerwelle as
an excuse.
With the liberals' "pro-Atlantic" position
and their close interest in
US President Barack Obama's
Turkey policy, there will be
major shifts in Germany's ongoing
"balanced" policy.
It is for these reasons that we will
need to carefully read
the government's program
and understand whether the term
"privileged partnership" will
enter the government's program.

The results of the election are not
essentially a negative development,
but the absence of
a positive perception and
support toward Turkey's membership
as there was with the SPD
and the Greens coalition is.
As is known by many,
politicians who paved the way
for Turkey's EU negotiations
were Gerhard Schröder
and Joschka Fischer.
Many obstacles have been
overcome with Germany's determined
However, positive winds are not
blowing from the new coalition
government in Berlin, albeit there is
no expectation that winds
will get any colder.
Germany is in a position
that can influence the course
of negotiations between Turkey
and the EU. Thus, while
the new government may not
adopt a new stance concerning
its Turkey policy, it would not be
misleading to believe
that it will encourage opposition.

Despite all these valid concerns,
the political transformation observed
in Germany is, generally speaking,
a positive process.
The most important piece of data
from the elections concerning Turkey
is that Turkey and Turks were not
targeted in election campaigns and that
most people did not vote
for extreme right-wing parties.
Turkey is no longer a political problem
in Germany as it was during
Helmut Kohl's period or as is
the case in France today.
If we take into consideration
that Germany's economic and
international interests require
close relations with Turkey,
then who knows, warm winds
could start blowing from Berlin
four years from now
or perhaps even sooner.

*Ali Yurttagül is a political advisor
for the Greens in the European Parliament.

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