Analysis

Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, cites ‘stability’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election to a fourth term on September 24 is good news for the United States, which can continue to rely on Germany to be a “great transatlantic partner,” Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, said in an interview.

“It is good news in terms of continuity, reliability of our country, of its role in Europe, of its role in the world,” Wittig said.
On September 24, Germany held an election for its federal parliament, the Bundestag, and as many forecasters had predicted, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) emerged as the strongest party.  For the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, six political groups consisting of seven parties sit in the Bundestag. With new parties entering the Bundestag, a more fragmented parliament and proportional changes in seat distribution will alter political decision-making for the coming legislative period.

It is not yet clear what the government will look like. Martin Schulz, chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), rejected a continuation of the coalition partnership with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU. Conversely, the CDU does not completely exclude continuing the “grand coalition” with the SPD. Over the next few weeks, Merkel’s conservative party will also hold coalition negotiations with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party. Economic and business issues figure prominently amongst the important topics that the politicians and experts of the parties will discuss.
Atlantic Council experts share their take on the outcome of the German elections. Here’s what they have to say:

Interview with the Atlantic Council’s Daniel Fried

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party came in first, which is good news. But the strong showing by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in elections on September 24 is evidence of the fact that the nationalist wave remains a significant factor in Europe, according to the Atlantic Council’s Daniel Fried.

“The populist and anti-liberal wave, which many had optimistically concluded had crested and was in decline in Europe after the French, Dutch, and Austrian elections is still a significant factor in European politics,” said Fried, a distinguished fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Future of Europe Initiative and Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.

“The bottom line is that the election outcome is not the best, but it’s also not the worst,” said Fried, who, in his forty-year career in the Foreign Service, played a key role in designing and implementing US policy in Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Warsaw must focus on repairing ties with the European Union, said Atlantic Council’s Fran Burwell

Polish President Andrzej Duda’s decision to veto controversial judicial reforms gives Poland—the scene of creeping authoritarianism—an opportunity to mend its relationship with the European Union (EU). It also represents a significant split between the president and Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and a man to whom Duda owes much of his political career.

On July 24, Duda vetoed two of three controversial judicial reforms approved by parliament. These include replacing supreme court judges with government nominees.

“[Duda’s decision] gives Poland the opportunity to walk back from the brink with the European Union,” said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative.
Political developments in Europe leading up to, and in the wake of last year’s Brexit referendum show that the path toward a more secure future for the European Union (EU) cannot rely on traditional political structures, a reality demonstrated by the campaign and election of French President Emmanuel Macron, according to a political analyst.

“The traditional right-left divide as it has structured democracies is obsolete,” Benjamin Haddad, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, said at the Atlantic Council. He said that Macron saw the developments in Western democracy, driven by populist impulses, and by appealing to the growing political center rode the anti-establishment wave to the Élysée Palace on May 7.

That same popular discontent with existing political structures is “something that [US President Donald J.] Trump saw as well,” said Haddad. However, he added, “Macron did the opposite of Trump.”
The Conservative government’s surprise loss of its parliamentary majority in the United Kingdom’s June 8 general election will greatly complicate the task of withdrawing the country from the European Union (EU), on which negotiations are due to start June 19. But it might conceivably lead to a better outcome in the end.

Prime Minister Theresa May specifically called the “snap” election on April 18 in order to increase the Conservatives’ seventeen-seat majority in the House of Commons. This, she argued, would give her a stronger mandate for the so-called “hard” Brexit she was demanding from the EU—involving complete departure from the EU Single Market and Customs Union and a clampdown on immigration.

Far from achieving such a mandate, she has received a stinging and humiliating rebuke. The Conservatives now have only 318 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons, down from 330. While she will try to carry on governing with the support of ten Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland, her days as prime minister are almost certainly numbered. The Conservative Party is notoriously intolerant of losing leaders.
British Prime Minister Theresa May made a gamble when she decided to call early elections with the hope of shoring up political support ahead of difficult Brexit negotiations. That gamble did not pay off.

May’s Conservative Party, while still the largest in Parliament following the June 8 election, failed to secure the 326 seats necessary to hold an absolute majority in the House of Commons. The Conservatives now have 318 seats, down from the 330 seats they had before the election. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party increased its number of seats from 229 to 261. As a result, the United Kingdom now has a hung Parliament.

This outcome raises many questions, including about the negotiations on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union (EU), set to start on June 19, and May’s own political future.
Emmanuel Macron’s election as the next president of France marks a defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a setback for the wave of populism that has swept the West, but France is not out of the woods just yet.

“Vladimir Putin emerges as a loser,” said Daniel Fried, a former US assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. Russia is believed to behind a massive cyberattack on Macron’s campaign days before the election.

Fried added, “whether or not [Macron’s victory] is a strategic turning point depends on how well Macron does.”
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) has strengthened solidarity among the bloc’s other twenty-seven member states, David O’Sullivan, the EU’s ambassador to the United States, said at the Atlantic Council on March 29.

“The debate around Brexit has strengthened support for the European Union elsewhere around Europe,” according to O’Sullivan. “If anything, it has joined the rest of us more closely together.”

On March 29, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty beginning the process of taking the United Kingdom (UK) out of the EU.

O’Sullivan said that the prospects of Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU, triggering a domino effect among other European nations is “most unlikely.” While populist forces in other countries with upcoming elections—such as France and Germany—seek to capitalize on the challenges facing the Union and introduce division, O’Sullivan asserted, “I remain remarkably optimistic about the future of Europe, the future of the European Union.”


    

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