Political Party Analysis: Social Democratic Party (Germany)

Will the “Schulz effect” be enough for the center-left SPD to retake power in Germany? (Photo from T-Online)


Overview and History

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is the main center-left party in Germany, following a Social-Democratic ideology as their name implies.  They traditionally serve as the main competitor to the center-right CDU/CSU sister parties but currently serve as the junior coalition member in the “Grand Coalition” with the CDU.  The SPD is the oldest party in Germany, as the party was founded in 1863 and was re-founded following World War 2.  The party takes pride in being the main opposition to the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP aka the “Nazis”) during the Weimar Republic.  Since then the SPD has led 6 out of the 18 governments and served as the Union’s junior coalition partners three times.  Their Chancellor-candidate, Martin Schulz, created a “Schulz effect” with his nomination, bringing the SPD into close contention with the CDU, but this high has worn off in recent months.

The SPD’s favored coalition partner is the center-left progressive Green Party, but it is rare that the two parties have a majority at the national level.  They also have formed coalitions with the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the past, mainly before the Greens became a larger party.  Over the past few election cycles the SPD has lost more support to the Greens and the left-wing Die Linke party, causing problems for their hopes of retaking the Chancellorship from Angela Merkel, as the SPD and Die Linke have a contentious relationship.  This relationship means they are usually unwilling to work together at the national level, making a center-left and left-wing coalition almost impossible, though the two parties currently govern together in the states of Brandenburg, Thuringia, and Berlin.

A balloon with the logo of SPD is seen as Schulz, top candidate of the SPD for the upcoming federal election, gives a speech in Abensberg
The balloon that was the “Schulz effect” has popped, but can the SPD recover and prevent themselves from losing more ground? (Photo from Reuters)

 Recent Electoral History and Political Power

National Party Strength Ranking: 2nd

The SPD is the second strongest party in Germany heading into the election on September 24th.  Details on their control in specific areas are below.

Chancellor: The SPD has had 3 West German and German Chancellors.  The CDU and the SPD are the only parties to ever have a Chancellor.

Bundestag: In 2017 the SPD received 20.5% of the vote and 153 out of the 709 seats in the Bundestag, dropping 5.2% of the vote.  It finished in 2nd place, behind the CDU, with its worst electoral result since before World War 2.

Bundesrat: States send representatives on behalf of the state governing coalition to vote in the Bundesrat.  The SPD leads 7 of the 16 state coalitions and serves as a junior coalition partner in 4 state.  Effectively they lead coalitions worth 27 of the 69 votes in the Bundesrat and serve as junior coalition partner for 15 votes.

European Parliament: The SPD is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group in the European Parliament.  In the 2014 European Parliament elections, the SPD finished in 2nd place, behind the the CDU, with 27.3% of the vote, earning 27 out of the 96 seats allocated to Germany.  They gained 6.5% of the vote and 4 seats.

State Parliaments: The SPD holds 516 out of 1,821 seats throughout the state landtags, which makes them the second strongest party throughout the states.

Projections for 2017 Election

According to opinion polling, the SPD is expected to finish solidly in second place, far behind the CDU/CSU union.  We project they will receive between 21% and 24% of the vote, slightly less than the 25.7% they received 4 years ago.  This is likely due to Die Linke, the FDP, and AfD all being on the rise (AfD is a right-wing party but has stolen voters from almost every party).  Martin Schulz’s “Schulz effect” won’t be enough this time around, as his more progressive stances generated an initial buzz that wore off in time.  The recent debate against Merkel also didn’t go well for him either, driving polls even lower.

As we discussed in our preview of the election, there is a possibility of the continuation of a Grand Coalition if the CDU and FDP don’t earn a majority of the seats and a Jamaica coalition fails.  The SPD will be likely hoping that doesn’t happen as they have suffered as junior coalition partners.  Regardless, they will be disappointed with these polls heading into the election as they were riding high early after Schulz’s nomination only to fall flat in the end.

Economic and Fiscal Policy

The SPD is a solidly center-left party on economic policy.  They follow the idea of intense regulation of the social market economy with an extensive welfare system to support the middle and lower classes.  With this, their platform for 2017 includes a new unemployment allowance for 4 years following the completion of training.  They also call for increased taxation on the rich while decreasing taxes for the poor and middle classes and introducing a tax on financial transactions.  On healthcare the SPD calls for more requirements for the employer to pay for healthcare and on education they call for free education from daycare through masters’ degrees.  On the environment the SPD calls for increased regulations and phasing out of coal power plants.  Minimum wages have to rise, manager salaries must be limited, women must be paid the same as men, and there must be a minimum amount of women on the board of directors of companies.  Finally, the SPD demands that the pension amounts must remain at the current percentage and the retirement age cannot be raised above 67.


Liberty Rating*: D

Social and Foreign Policy

The SPD is again a center-left party on social issues but does hold some center to center-right policies as well.  On the hot issue of immigration, the SPD calls for increased aid for refugees, openness to asylum grants, and the continued allowance of dual citizenship for two generations.  Interestingly it adopts a traditionally more rightist policy of a point-based system for immigration in general though.  They also want 15,000 new police stations and increased counter-terrorism tools though do not advocate complying with the 2% of GDP military spending mandate from NATO.  The SPD is very pro-EU, calling for a common EU economic policy and the powers of the EU parliament should be expanded.  A unique position of the SPD is their calling for a voting age of 16 instead of 18 as well.

Liberty Rating*:  C

Political Spectrum**

SPD Spectrum

Based on our liberty ratings for the SPD economic and social policies, they are are a center-left Social Democratic party.  They hold both center-left as well as some left-wing economic policies, causing the it to fall slightly inside the “moderate-left” sector instead of the “left” sector.  Socially, they fall inside of the “Moderate-left” sector sector due to their mix of open asylum policies as well as center-right immigration and security policies.

*Disclaimer: The policy positions in this article have been evaluated using Wikipedia, the party’s own website, and various articles concerning Germany politics.  We attempt to rate the parties based on all information that is available, but due to language barriers, lack of information, or simple mistake we may have missed something.  If you feel our liberty ratings or general evaluations are incorrect, please let us know on our contact page or nicely in the comments and we’ll try to fix it.  If you have questions on how these ratings are created, feel free to ask as well.

**This spectrum shows economic liberty on the right axis and social liberty on the left axis, so 100 on both axis is “pure” libertarianism and 0 on both axis is pure authoritarianism for example.

Political Party Analysis: Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (Germany)

The sister parties forming “The Union” have a long history, full of sibling squabbles and successes.

Overview and History

“The Union” is the combination of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union.  The former runs in every state but Bavaria and the latter runs only in Bavaria, effectively acting as one party electorally while having slightly different ideologies.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is a center-right Christian Democratic party that has moved more towards the center in recent years due to working with the Social Democrats in the Grand Coalition.  It historically has been the largest party since it’s foundation in West Germany in 1945 following World War 2.  It is the ideological successor to the Centre Party which was a major party in the Weimar Republic.  It has led 12 out of 18 governments since the end of World War 2, winning an absolute majority once, in 1957, and the CDU is the only party that has done so.  They previously led the government in a coalition with the Christian Social Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who is their main electoral rival, following the 2013 federal election.

The Christian Social Union (CSU) is also a center-right Christian Democratic party, but they have a more Catholic base (along with Bavaria) and are more socially conservative and fiscally interventionist than their CDU counterparts.  As the CDU was the successor the the Centre Party, the CSU is the successor to the Weimar Republic’s Bavarian People’s Party, which also was an independent sister party to the Centre Party.  The CSU has dominated Bavarian politics, winning an absolute majority in the state elections 13 times and forming a coalition with the Free Democrats when they fall short.

The relationship of the two parties has overall be friendly throughout their history, despite their slight differences.  Relations have been strained over Merkel’s recent immigration policy, though, as the CSU disagreed with her more open policies towards refugees.  There have always been some sibling squabbles between the sister parties and occasionally rumors of separation occur in the CSU, but threats of the CDU running against them in Bavaria are enough to keep the parties from bickering most of the time.

They had one of their worst electoral performances in party history in the 2017 election and are currently in negotiations with the CSU, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Greens to form the country’s first 4 party coalition government.

Angela Merkel has been one of the longest serving Chancellors in German history and has served as a stable hand in times of European turmoil.  (Photo from Wikipedia)

 Recent Electoral History and Political Power

National Party Strength Ranking: CDU: 1st, CSU: 7th

The CDU is the strongest party and the CSU is the 7th strongest party in Germany following the federal election on September 24th of 2017.  Details on their control in specific areas are below.

Chancellor: Angela Merkel has served as Chancellor since 2005.  Overall the CDU has had 5 West German and German Chancellors.  The CSU has never had a Chancellor.

Bundestag: In 2017 the CDU received 26.8% of the vote and 200 out of the 709 seats in the Bundestag, down 7.3% of the vote and its worst result since 1949.  It still finished in 1st place, ahead of the SPD.  The CSU received 6.2% of the vote, entirely from Bavaria, and 46 seats, down 1.2% of the vote.  Together they earned 246 seats and 32.9% of the vote.

Bundesrat: States send representatives on behalf of the state governing coalition to vote in the Bundesrat.  The CDU leads 6 of the 16 state coalitions and serves as a junior coalition partner in 1 state.  Effectively they lead coalitions worth 26 of the 69 votes in the Bundesrat and serve as junior coalition partner for 6 votes.  The CSU holds an absolute majority in Bavaria, controlling 6 Bundesrat votes.

European Parliament: The CDU and CSU are members of the European People’s Party parliamentary group in the European Parliament.  In the 2014 European Parliament elections, the CDU finished in 1st place, ahead of the SPD, with 30% of the vote, earning 29 out of the 96 seats allocated to Germany.  They dropped 0.7% of the vote and lost 5 seats due to the Constitutional Court allowing parties receiving less than 5% of the vote to receive representation in the European Parliament.  The CSU finished in 6th place with 5.34% of the vote and 5 seats.  They lost 1.9% of the vote and 3 seats.

State Parliaments: The CDU holds 532 out of 1,821 seats throughout the state landtags, which makes them the strongest party throughout the states.  The CSU holds 101 of the 180 seats in Bavaria, which technically means they hold the 7th most state landtag seats.



Economic and Fiscal Policy

The Union remains fairly center-right on economic policy, emphasizing that they want full employment by 2025.  They also call for billions of more euros for schools and investment in research universities outside of cities to encourage living in rural areas.  They call for a continuation of Germany’s balanced budget without increasing taxes, except increasing the limit on taxable income slightly.  They believe a priority should be decreasing the German national debt.  The CDU holds the bureaucracy as an important part of the German economy and favors a “social market economy” with regulations to ensure the economy works for the people.  This is done through a large safety net and keeping unemployment low.  They also continue to call for privatization of most if not all state controlled companies.  On housing, they call for alleviation of the tax on purchasing a home for young families purchasing their first house as well as allowing property owners building apartments to write off more of their property taxes.  On many issues, though, they have compromised with the Social Democrats and regulated things such as passing a regulation setting a minimum quota for women on the board of companies.  They have accepted and want to work towards the Paris Climate Accord’s goals as well without banning certain types of cars.

Liberty Rating*: C+

Social and Foreign Policy

The CDU and CSU split more on social policy (as the CSU is slightly more conservative), but the majority of their platform is still the same.  Both emphasize the role of the family in German culture and advocate increasing the child allowance by around 1,500 euros per child.  This is largely to combat the shrinking German birth rate.  On security they both advocate increasing the amount of police officers as well as increasing video surveillance in public areas and punishing crimes more harshly.  In terms of internet monitoring they advocate more data retention and blocking more internet searches.  While gay marriage has been legalized as part of its coalition with the SPD, the Union is resistant to complete equality on tax law and adoption.  While the Union was very accepting of refugees during the refugee crisis, the CDU calls for more integration and a more point based system of immigration.  On European policy, the CDU is a staunch advocate for continued European integration and strengthening of the EU in general.  They are very pro United States on foreign policy and willing to be involved in coalition wars.  They have called to increase the military budget to the 2% of GDP mandated by NATO.

Liberty Rating*:  D+

Political Spectrum**

CDU and CSU Spectrum

Based on our liberty ratings for the CDU and CSU’s economic and social policies, they are both center-right Christian Democratic parties, with the CSU being slightly more socially right and economically center.  They hold both economically liberal and interventionist policies, causing the it to fall slightly inside the “Right” instead of the “Authoritarian” sector.  Socially, they fall inside of the “Moderate” sector sector due to their mix of immigration policies, devotion to the family, supporting the EU, and compromising while not out rightly supporting gay marriage.

*Disclaimer: The policy positions in this article have been evaluated using Wikipedia, the party’s own website, and various articles concerning Germany politics.  We attempt to rate the parties based on all information that is available, but due to language barriers, lack of information, or simple mistake we may have missed something.  If you feel our liberty ratings or general evaluations are incorrect, please let us know on our contact page or nicely in the comments and we’ll try to fix it.  If you have questions on how these ratings are created, feel free to ask as well.

**This spectrum shows economic liberty on the right axis and social liberty on the left axis, so 100 on both axis is “pure” libertarianism and 0 on both axis is pure authoritarianism for example.

2017 German Federal Election: A Preview

Will Angela Merkel’s CDU stay in power in Germany or will the “Schulz effect” finally lead to a new Chancellor? (Photo from Express.co.uk)


Now that we’ve set up the background and overview of German politics, we can now take a took at their upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on September 24th of this year.

This election has been contentious and extremely interesting so far, with two additional parties set to enter the Bundestag and potentially difficult coalition negotiations.  The election is next week and the question has become not “who will be Chancellor,” but instead “who will Angela Merkel’s CDU form a coalition with?”  Marvin Schulz, the SPD’s Chancellor candidate, gave his party an initial boost with his nomination but his lackluster performance since then and in the debate has made it certain Merkel will win again.  The “Grand Coalition” between her center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) has been a somewhat awkward affair.  Merkel has pulled her party to the center and the right-wing has revolted, allowing the anti-immigration and Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to carve out a section of her support for themselves.  While the two parties will again have a solid majority following the election, it is unlikely that either of them will hope for this outcome.  Junior coalition partners tend to suffer, as the SPD has, and Merkel will be hoping for a more friendly coalition with the libertarian Free Democrats (FDP).  Even that, though is unlikely to be the easy for her.  FDP leader and rising star Christian Lindner is hoping to recast his party apart from CDU.  They suffered greatly in 2013, falling out of the Bundestag for the first time after their previous coalition because the FDP swayed from its principles and acted more as Merkel’s lapdog than a party fighting for classical-liberal causes.  If the two parties manage to obtain a majority then it is the most likely coalition, but Merkel will not be able to bend the FDP to her will like she has in the past.

The major topics of the election have ranged from commonly debated issues such as the economy, education, internal security, healthcare, and the environment to the most hot topic: the refugee crisis.  Each party has also attempted to bring in their own issues on the side, but they haven’t had a large impact on the election.  Immigration and asylum seekers have been a thorn in Merkel’s side since she was very light-handed in regulating refugees and nearly every party is attempting to attack her over that, especially the AfD.

Polling and Projections

Angela Merkel’s CDU has consistently led in polling over the past few months (CDU percentages include the support for their sister party, CSU, which only runs in Bavaria).  Graph from Wikipedia

German polling data has shown that consistently that the FDP and the AfD will break the 5% threshold and enter the Bundestag after both fell just short four years ago.  While the CDU has consistently held the lead in polls after the “Schulz effect,” caused by the nomination of Marvin Schulz as the SPD candidate, wore off, “The Union” is expected to fall short of the 41.5% they received in 2013.  Though polls have ranged, they will likely finish between 36% and 39% of the vote.  The SPD’s high wore off and they’ll likely finish just short of last election as well, receiving between 21% and 24% of the vote.  It is almost certain that CDU/CSU will win the plurality of seats unless something drastically changes things in the next week.

The interesting battle is actually for third place as the four more minor parties compete to have more influence.  Die Linke were considered the leader for third place before AfD’s recent resurgence this month, bringing them equal to or slightly head of Die Linke and the FDP.  AfD is the least stable of those parties though, so anything could happen.  We predict Die Linke to finish with between 9% and 10.5% of the vote, up from their results in 2013.  AfD’s rise has been fluctuating, as they hit higher than 15% earlier this year, but they fell only to rise slightly again.  These changes make it hard to predict their results, but we project them to finish with between 8% and 12% of the vote.  The FDP, on the other hand, has been on the rise, with them polling at their highest point in over 5 years.  Christian Lindner’s leadership and young spirit has given the old party new life and we project them to finish with between 8% and 10% of the vote.  The Greens, while technically in the running for third, have fallen behind in recent months and are expected to receive between 6% and 8% of the vote.

There are plenty of minor parties in Germany, including the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, but none are expected to reach anywhere near the 5% cutoff point.  The 6 (technically 7 since the CDU and CSU are separate parties though a union) parties are already a large amount for the German system, so it is unlikely a new party will rise without another falling below the 5% threshold.


Christian Lindner’s reborn Free Democrats could be Merkel’s best friends or yet another thorn in her side in coalition negotiations.  (Photo from Web.de)

Possible Coalitions

The ranges on potential results are extremely important, since one or two percent can change who ends up with a majority.  Due to the list vote, polls predict 4% to 5% of the vote will go to parties falling below the 5% threshold.  This means a coalition will need around 47.5% to 48% of the vote for a majority of seats.  If we do a right-left split, the seemingly natural coalitions would be the SPD, the Greens, and Die Linke on the left and the CDU, CSU, FDP, and AfD on the right, but that is not the case.  As discussed in our previous article, every party has stated they will not form a coalition with the AfD due to their perceived extremism, and the SPD and Die Linke are not usually willing to work together.  Using this split for a moment, though, the leftist parties are expected to receive around 40% of the vote and the rightist parties are expected to receive around 55% of the vote.  The center-right and right-wing are far stronger in Germany ahead of this election, but due to the CDU and FDP being unwilling to work with the AfD there is not a guaranteed majority for the right.

If a three-way Classical Liberal/Christian Democrat/Right-Wing Populist coalition is impossible, what are the alternatives for the CDU (or even the SPD)?  Firstly, the continuation of the Grand Coalition could occur, but as earlier stated, the SPD especially does not want that to happen again.  Regardless, it is a potential outcome if other options fall through for the CDU.  Merkel’s preferred option is a black-yellow coalition with the FDP.  Despite Lindner’s resilience, it is highly unlikely this would not happen if the two parties receive a majority.  A more FDP favorable agree would probably occur, though, as Lindner has explicitly stated they would need liberal reforms in order to form a coalition.  Currently the two parties are combined polling around 45% to 47%, just short of a majority, so a few percentage points make a huge difference.  If black-yellow falls short of a majority, the alternative that would make all three parties grit their teeth is a Jamaica coalition (black-yellow-green, named after the colors of the Jamaican flag).  The Greens, though often slightly more progressive than their SPD counterparts, are likely going to be more willing to work with the CDU than the Social Democrats.  Negotiations between the CDU and the Greens failed after the 2013 election and that was without having to make the liberals with with the Greens.  A Jamaica coalition would be a complicated balancing act, as Merkel would have to keep her party, the FDP, and the Greens happy without alienating the right-wing of her party further.  That actually makes the Grand Coalitions seem attractive, which isn’t an easy thing to do.  If black-yellow doesn’t get a majority, Merkel and the CDU are going to have their work cut out for them establishing a coalition with limited options available.  If all else fails the CDU and FDP could try to form a minority government coalition, but that would be ugly and unlikely to work.

The SPD is not going to swoop in and take the Chancellorship, even if the CDU can’t work out a majority.  Working with their favorite partners, the Greens, would get them to 30% at best.  Even if they get over the hurdle of working with Die Linke, a red-red-green coalition would still not have a majority.  A traffic-light coalition with them, the Greens, and the FDP would be both unlikely (due to Lindner’s animosity towards the center-left parties) and still short of a majority.  The only way the SPD could form a government is the ridiculous idea of a red-red-green-yellow coalition, which the FDP would never agree to and which still may not reach a majority.  This time around the SPD will either need to accept a junior coalition partner spot with the CDU or be satisfied with opposition.  This is not their year.  The “Schulz effect” peaked and died off, and even he could not beat Merkel.

Merkel and the CDU are set to rule yet again, but her coalition might not be what she had hoped for.  (Photo from Der Tagesspiegel)


Germany (and previously West Germany) has usually been one of the most stable republics in Europe when it comes to forming governments.  The survival of the Grand Coalition shows that, but right-left coalitions tend to not last long.  This could be the first time in either West Germany or since reunification that there may be a three party coalition (if you count CDU/CSU as one party).  That brings potential instabilities of its own, and no one knows how a Jamaica coalition would end up.  Merkel will be hoping for a black-yellow majority, but the gains from the AfD will be a thorn in her side that will be difficult to ignore for much longer.  When potentially over 20% of the vote is going to parties on the right and left that are unlikely to work to form a coalition then negotiations will be difficult.  We will have to see how the AfD’s relationship with the center-right and Die Linke’s relationship with the center-left evolve after this election and beyond.

Merkel will be Chancellor, but will she govern comfortably?  That is the question that won’t be answered until the 24th or potentially even later.  Coalition negotiations could get rough, but if it’s any consolation for Merkel, she can be lucky she’s not trying to form a 6 party coalition in the Netherlands.

Stay tuned for our party by party analysis ahead of the election as well as our election night coverage on twitter (@NobleReasoning).

Politics of Germany: An Overview

Angela Merkel seeks to unite her country in a time of tension, both cultural and political.

Germany is a country with an evolving political and cultural dynamic since the fall of the Berlin wall and the reuniting of the country in 1990.  Because of reunification occurring only 27 years ago, the country still has political scars of Soviet communism, specifics of which will be discussed later in this article.  It is one of the few economically stable countries in Europe in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and heavily embedded in the European Union, requiring Germany to often bear the brunt of assisting other struggling countries in the EU.  This has led to some increased nationalist tendencies in recent years.

The political environment of the country is still shrouded in the fear of Nazi and Communist beliefs, due to both extreme ideologies’ roles in the history of 20th century Germany.  This fear drives German politics often more towards the center than other countries, so much so that extreme right-wing or left-wing political parties can be banned.  One such party is the minor National Democratic Party (NPD) which is often considered a neo-Nazi party and has walked the fine line between being banned and tolerated.  This tension has increased in recent years due to the influx of immigrants and refugees from both southern Europe after the 2008 financial crisis, that struck countries like Italy and Greece much harder than Germany, and from the Middle East during the ongoing Syrian Civil War.  This trend has led to a rise in right-wing-populism and nationalism in the country.  Though Germany has experienced this much less than countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands, right-wing-populists took over the previously largely soft-euroskeptic and academic led Alternative for Germany (also known as Alternative für Deutschland: AfD) and turned it into a rising force against immigration.  This sentiment spiked and peaked between 2014 and 2016 with the rise of the Pegida movement (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”) which led protests across the country against the influx of mainly Muslim refugees.  Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has served as German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, for 12 years, had encouraged open immigration policies when it came to refugees and many of the more right-wing supporters of the CDU joined the AfD in protest of her policies.  Every major party has refused to form a coalition with the AfD at any level of government due to the AfD’s perceived extremism, meaning the more support they have the harder it is for Angela Merkel to form a coalition government.  While the refugee crisis is not over, the situation has calmed down some and AfD’s support has faded slightly because of this.  Regardless, it is a key topic in German politics and is one of the top issues in the 2017 election and beyond.

Source: Wikipedia

On the other extreme, more far-left sentiments have not resulted in a new party, but the lingering remnants of Soviet control reside in the support for Die Linke (“The Left”), the second successor party to the Socialist Unity Party that led East Germany.  While the states that were under West German control are often more supportive of the center-right and more moderate parties, the former East German states have a much higher support for Die Linke as well as the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).  This divide between East and West has faded more in time, but Die Linke consistently struggles in the West and succeeds in the East.  Like with the AfD on the right, most of the time no one is willing to form a coalition with Die Linke, but the SPD has become more willing to work with them recently at the state level in Brandenburg.  Tensions still exist at the national level though, so the stronger Die Linke is the harder it is for the center-left to lead in coalitions.

The German government in split into three branches with a bicameral legislature, the Chancellor, appointed by the Bundestag (the lower house), and the Federal Constitutional Court, appointed by the Bundestag and the Bundesrat (the upper house).  The Bundesrat acts somewhat similarly to the original setup of the United States Senate with slight differences.  The members of the Bundesrat are selected by the state governments, and the number is meant to be more even but still weighted by population.  Each state gets somewhere between 3 and 6 members depending on the population of the state.  These members then must vote as one block or they are forced to abstain.  These members, unlike the US Senate, are not selected every certain number of years, they are instead sent by the state following state elections (which are held in different years and months than the German federal election).  This can cause a changing Bundesrat while the Bundestag remains the same.  For example, there were three state elections earlier in 2017 completely apart from the upcoming federal election.  In general the Bundesrat holds much less power than the Bundestag, though it is still an integral part of passing legislation.  Currently, the Bundesrat is friendly to the government due to the “Grand Coalition” between the center-right CDU and center-left SPD which also lead the coalition of almost every state.  The Bundestag’s selection process is more complicated and will be explained more in the next paragraph.  It’s function is the main legislative body of the German government, and it also has the role of selecting the Chancellor via secret ballot following a new election.  This is done either by a party having an absolute majority, which is very unlikely, or a coalition of parties. The Bundestag also has the responsibility of attempting to pass a “vote of confidence” if support for the current government is shaky.  This effectively works the same as a UK “vote of no confidence,” but instead there must be an actively majority supporting the Chancellor (instead of actively opposing the Prime Minister) in order to survive the vote.  If such a vote fails, then the Bundestag dissolves and a new election is held, though this does not occur often.

Angela Merkel (CDU) has served as Chancellor for 12 years. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Bundestag’s selection process is more complicated than most countries due to the combined electoral systems.  Technically there are 598 seats in the Bundestag, 299 of which are selected by first-past-the-post constituencies (like the US House of Representatives) and the other half which are selected by a party-list vote with a 5% cutoff (these seats are then distributed by states with larger states receiving more seats).  The constituency vote is traditionally called the “first vote” and the party-list the “second vote.”  The first vote seats are almost always won by the CDU (or the CSU, the CDU’s Bavarian Sister Party) or SPD due to them being the larger and more popular parties.  The second vote then brings in some of the smaller parties, ranging between a total of 3 to 7 parties, though there technically is not a maximum.  The technicality on the number of seats comes in as the German system guarantees a proportional result, meaning though the CDU gets more first vote seats than they earned proportionally, they only get the proportional result.  This gets complicated since everyone who won a constituency or list seat is guaranteed their seat.  The result is “overhang” seats which are added on to the smaller parties to ensure they get their proportional share, literally expanding the size of the body.  Currently, there are 630 representatives in the Bundestag instead of 598 because of this.  Following the 2017 election they are expecting there to be potentially greater than 700 representatives due to more small parties making it past the 5% cutoff.  This has required the German government to actually conduct expansion construction on the Reichstag Building to make room for the expected members.  The result of all of this is a somewhat confusing and complicated system.  It would be simpler to have a parallel style system, which is the same without the overhang seats, but Germany’s mixed-member-proportional system provides the proportional outcome they want along with constituency representatives as well.

The two elections we can take a look at for the overview of German politics are the 2013 Federal Election and the 2014 European Parliament Elections.  First, the 2013 Federal Election.  Angela Merkel’s CDU and their Bavarian sister party (the CSU) came close to being the only party since the end of World War 2 to have an absolute majority in the Bundestag with a combined 41.5% of the vote and 311 out of 631 seats (Note: The CDU and CSU are sister parties.  The CSU only runs in Bavaria and the CDU does not run there.  Together they form “The Union” and act as one party though they do have slight ideological differences).  The CDU and CSU gained 61 and 11 seats respectively, but it wasn’t enough.  Their favorite coalition partner, the center to center-right libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP), failed to reach the 5% hurdle since its foundation in 1948, losing all 93 of their seats and forcing Merkel to form a “Grand Coalition” with the SPD as no other center-right parties were available to work with.  The SPD itself received 25.7% of the vote and 193 seats, gaining 47, but would not form a center-left to left-wing coalition with the progressive Alliance 90/The Greens (their favored coalition partner) and Die Linke due to their continued animosity towards working with Die Linke.  The Greens received 8.4% of the party list vote and 63 seats while Die Linke received 8.6% of the party list vote and 64 seats.  The Bundestag was left with these 5 parties as both the FDP and AfD fell short of the 5% hurdle with 4.8% and 4.7% of the vote respectively.  The election was seen as a move by Merkel towards the center from the center-right, damaging their junior-coalition partner, the FDP, in the process (as they were seen as abandoning principles to stay in power with the CDU) and alienating the right-wing of her own party.  It was the CDU’s best result since 1994 but even this success couldn’t bring Merkel her desired majority.

The CDU/CSU (Black/Blue) and SPD win the most constituency seats every election and did again in 2013. The local list votes tend to mirror the constituency votes on who earns a plurality  (Source: Wikipedia)

The 2014 European Elections had a unique factor of the Constitutional Court abolishing the 5% hurdle for European Elections, which are conducted purely using a proportional party-list, meaning every major and even most minor parties received at least one of the 96 German seats in the European Parliament.  Germany actually lost 3 seats in total due to treaties changing the amount of European Parliament seats as well.  The CDU received the most seats with 29 and 30% of the vote, down 0.7% and 5 seats, while the CSU earned 5.3% of the vote and 5 seats, down 1.9% and 3 seats.  The SPD earned 27 seats and 27.3% of the vote, gaining 6.5% and 4 seats.  The CDU’s lost seats were largely due to the removal of the 5% hurdle as 8 parties finished below the 5% hurdle and received at least one seat.  The Greens earned 10.7% of the vote and 11 seats, down 3 seats and 1.4% of the vote and Die Linke earned 7.4% of the vote and 7 seats, staying constant vote wise but losing a seat.  AfD saw itself rising into prominence for the first time earning 7% of the vote and 7 seats while the FDP continued to slide, receiving 3.4% of the vote and 3 seats, down 7.6% and 9 seats.

The story following these two elections featured a few elements.  One of these elements was the rising right-wing-populist tide in the AfD and whether they would be a real force in the future state and federal elections.  They were, finishing in the top 3 in many state elections and even finishing in 2nd in Saxony-Anhalt’s state election in 2016 with 24.2% of the vote.  Since then they have faded slightly but are still a force and a thorn in Merkel’s side.  Another element was whether Merkel would restore her party’s center-right roots or continue the shift to the center.  It became evident that the latter was the plan with her more open immigration plans, the legalization of gay marriage, and giving into many SPD demands on economic policies.  This has continued to pull many members away into the AfD and has caused tension with the more conservative CSU, as the CDU’s platform for 2017 remains more moderate than their Bavarian colleagues.  Another element has been the FDP’s near death experience and rise from the ashes.  We will discuss this more in the 2017 preview and the article on the party, but the FDP was perceived to no longer be relevant following their 2014 failure and struggles in state elections.  That was until young Nordrhein-Westfalen FDP head Christian Lindner took over the national party, bringing it back to its principles as well as modernizing it to appeal to young voters.  Recent state level successes and polling have shown that the FDP is alive again, and it will be interesting to see how this recovery plays out.

The Grand Coalition has been awkward since 2013, but Merkel’s moderation of the CDU has kept it alive while emboldening the right-wing.  The state of German politics is more stable than much of Europe but much is in flux.  The 2017 election may answer a lot of questions as well as creating new ones, and we will explore these and give a preview of the 2017 German election in our next article.

Sources: Five Thirty Eight’s article, various articles or pages over the past few years from: Deutsche Welle, , Wikipedia, Die Spiegel, BILD, Die Welt

Political Party Analysis: Socialist Party (Bulgaria)

The next party we will cover in our analysis of Bulgarian politics is the Bulgarian Socialist party.

Overview and History

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), is the oldest active political party in Bulgaria, being founded back in 1894 as the Communist Party before changing its name in 1990.  With that name change came newer policies, as they abandoned their former Marxist-Leninist far-left ideology and adopted more left-wing socialist policies instead.  Since the foundation of free elections in 1990, they have finished in 1st or 2nd in every parliamentary election, making them one of the strongest parties in Bulgaria and the main opposition to the center-right GERB party.  Their favorite coalition partner is the Turkish-minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).

Korneliya Ninova’s Bulgarian Socialist Party made large gains in 2017 but failed to secure a plurality.  (Photo from Sputnik)

Recent Electoral History and Political Power

National Party Strength Ranking: 2nd

BSP is the 2nd strongest party in Bulgaria following this year’s election.  Details on their control in specific areas are below.

Prime Minister: Since 1990, BSP has led 4 governments, the most recent of which was following the 2013 election.

Parliament: In the 2014 parliamentary elections the party received 15.4% of the vote, 39 out of the 240 seats in parliament, and finished in 2nd place.

In this year’s parliamentary elections, BSP jumped to 27.2% of the vote and 80 seats, but they still finished in 2nd place behind GERB.

President: BSP did not officially have a candidate in the 2016 presidential election, but they endorsed Rumen Radev, an independent.  Radev received 25.44% of the vote in the first round of the election and 59.37% in the second round, winning the office.

European Parliament: BSP is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group in the European Parliament.  In the 2014 European Parliament elections, they finished in 2nd place with 18.93% of the vote, earning 4 out of the 17 seats allocated to Bulgaria.

Projections future Elections

N/A – the next Bulgarian election will be in 2021 if a new one is not called before that.

Economic and Fiscal Policy 

From their name, the Bulgarian Socialist Party supports a socialist economic policy (though more moderate factions within the party are social-democrats instead).  Their policy is based around more government involvement in the economy, as they believe GERB’s more market based policies have failed.  They also call for increasing pensions and higher salaries for public sector workers.

Liberty Rating*: D-

Social and Foreign Policy

BSP’s social policy tends to focus on security.  They have campaigned on increasing border security, especially with Turkey, as conflicts have emerged over the large amounts of refugees and immigrants coming from and through Turkey.  In terms of foreign policy, they are concerned about foreign involvement from the west, Turkey, and Russia in Bulgaria’s politics and wants to bring an end to that; despite this, they do want to end the EU’s sanctions on Russia, and they support working more with Russia as well.

Liberty Rating*:  D+

(There is little other information in English about BSP’s policies.  We will attempt to update this further as we know more, and please contact us if you have information.)

Political Spectrum**

BSP spectrum


Based on our liberty ratings for BSP’s economic and social policy, they are a left-wing socialist party is the authoritarian sector.  Their economic policies are socialist and interventionist, placing them solidly in the traditionally left area on economics, but their social policies focus on security and favoritism towards Russia, pushing them into the authoritarian sector instead.

Read our analysis of other Bulgarian Political Parties:

*Disclaimer: The policy positions in this article have been evaluated using Wikipedia, Sofia Globe’s article on the party’s platform, and various articles concerning Bulgarian politics.  We attempt to rate the parties based on all information that is available, but due to language barriers, lack of information, or simple mistake we may have missed something.  If you feel our liberty ratings or general evaluations are incorrect, please let us know on our contact page or nicely in the comments and we’ll try to fix it.  If you have questions on how these ratings are created, feel free to ask as well.

**This spectrum shows economic liberty on the right axis and social liberty on the left axis, so 100 on both axis is “pure” libertarianism and 0 on both axis is pure authoritarianism for example.

Political Party Analysis: GERB (Bulgaria)

The first party we will cover in our analysis of Bulgarian politics is the center-right GERB party.

Overview and History

Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, better known as “GERB”, is one of the two largest parties in Bulgaria.  GERB represents the center-right with moderate leanings.  The party was founded in 2006 out of the failing remains of former Tsar Simeon II’s NDSV party, and it has received the most votes in every parliamentary election since its founding.  Their recent defeat in the 2016 presidential election caused their Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, to resign, leading to the 2017 parliamentary elections.

Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister, Bulgaria
Two-time Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is hoping GERB will be the largest party for the 4th straight election. (Photo from Getty Images)

Recent Electoral History and Political Power

National Party Strength Ranking: 1st

GERB is the strongest party in Bulgaria heading into the election on March 26th.  Details on their control in specific areas are below.

Prime Minister: Boyko Borisov has been Prime Minister twice, leading 2 out of the 3 most recent non-interim governments.  Both times he resigned before his term was up.

Parliament: In the 2014 parliamentary elections the party received 32.67% of the vote, 84 out of the 240 seats in parliament, and finishing in 1st place.

President:  GERB’s candidate, Tsetka Tsacheva, received 21.96% of the vote in the first round of the 2016 presidential election, finishing in second place.  In the runoff, she received 36.16% of the vote, losing to the BPS supported independent candidate.

European Parliament: GERB is a member of the European People’s Party parliamentary group in the European Parliament.  In the 2014 European Parliament elections, they finished in 1st place with 30.4% of the vote, earning 6 out of the 17 seats allocated to Bulgaria.

Projections for 2017 Election

Despite GERB’s poor performance in the presidential election, they are expected to remain strong in this year’s parliamentary elections.  That being said, their streak of victories may come to an end, as polls show them in a dead heat with the Socialist Party (BSP).  They are likely to receive the lightly lower results compared to the 32.7% they received in 2014, as opinion polls show them between 28.2% and 31.2%

This result means that they would need a coalition to form a government.  Since a leftist coalition between BSP and DPS would not reach a majority, GERB will probably be taking the lead.  They will need to form a coalition with, or have outside support from, at least 2 of the other right-leaning parties: the right-wing-populist United Patriots, center-right populist Volya party, and center-right Reformist bloc (if they make it into parliament).  Whether such a government would be successful depends on who GERB works with, as the more they have to work with the populists, the less likely things are to work out.


Economic and Fiscal Policy 

GERB’s economic policies are moderate when it comes to being a center-right party, and some of their policies even point more towards the center or center-left.  One of these policies is a large increase in the minimum wage.  They are also making a move to double the salaries of teachers throughout the country and change school funding to not be based on purely the number of students attending.  Historically, Borisov and GERB have maintained a strict fiscal policy, improving the country’s credit ratings by imposing often unpopular austerity measures.  They combined these budget cuts with a more business friendly environment in the past, allowing for growth after the crash in 2008.

Liberty Rating*:  C+

Social and Foreign Policy

On social policy, GERB is trying to present a plan that will appeal to the populists, who accuse the Bulgarian government of corruption.  This comes with their plan to remove the immunity from prosecution of members of parliament and creating a commission to investigate the highest members of government.  They also advocate for modernization of the justice system, electronically monitoring criminals, and starting a sentence right after a trial to avoid people escaping.  Their plan to reform the justice system also includes expanding police forces in smaller villages, putting cameras on all traffic police cars, and an expansion of civil asset forfeiture.  In addition to the more economic and fiscal education reforms, they also want to expand the number of psychologists and sports teams at schools, to reduce the prevalence of aggressive actions throughout the country.  On foreign policy they support working more with the European Union against Russia.

Liberty Rating*:  C-

(There is little other information in English about GERB’s policies.  We will attempt to update this further as we know more, and please contact us if you have information.)

Political Spectrum**

GERB spectrum

Based on our liberty ratings for GERB’s economic and social policy, they are a center-right to center party in the moderate portion of the right sector.  Their economic policies seem to combine fiscal responsibility and some interventionist policies, placing them slightly into the right instead of authoritarian sector.  On social policies, they promote more oversight in the government to avoid corruption while also advocating for increased policing and civil asset forfeiture, placing them into the right instead of libertarian sector.  Across the board they are more moderate due to having a mix both traditionally left and right policies.

Read our analysis of other Bulgarian Political Parties:

-Coming Soon-

*Disclaimer: The policy positions in this article have been evaluated using Wikipedia, Sofia Globe’s article on the party’s platform, and various articles concerning Bulgarian politics.  We attempt to rate the parties based on all information that is available, but due to language barriers, lack of information, or simple mistake we may have missed something.  If you feel our liberty ratings or general evaluations are incorrect, please let us know on our contact page or nicely in the comments and we’ll try to fix it.  If you have questions on how these ratings are created, feel free to ask as well.

**This spectrum shows economic liberty on the right axis and social liberty on the left axis, so 100 on both axis is “pure” libertarianism and 0 on both axis is pure authoritarianism for example.

Classical Liberalism and Populism: A Subjective Review of the Dutch Election

The victory for the classical liberals in the Netherlands is reassuring in a time of populism.

Note: If you’re looking for our analysis of the Dutch election, please go HERE.  This article is an opinion piece.

The stories going into the 2017 Dutch Election were whether the “Dutch Donald Trump,” Geert Wilders, and his Party for Freedom would upend Dutch politics as we know it.  I would like to begin by saying that it is ridiculous to consider Wilders the Dutch version of Trump.  Geert Wilders wants to ban the Quran, close down Mosques, and kick out refugees.  That is not the same thing as Trump’s travel bans.  There are levels to right wing populism like any ideology, and Trump is moderate relative to Wilders and the PVV.  All the media does is anger Trump supporters even more by comparing him to extremists who he doesn’t agree with.

Now, to the Dutch election itself.  How I saw this election was the battling of a few ideological factions: the classical liberals/libertarians, the left, the Christian democrats, and the right wing populists (there’s not a real “conservative” center-right party in Dutch politics).  While I disagree with the very low 0.67% cutoff in the Dutch election (a 5% one gives much more stability), it allows us to really see the spread of opinions across Dutch politics; there is basically no such thing as a wasted vote when 13 parties make it into parliament.  There is something beautiful about that, as you really do have parliament reflecting the opinions of the people, and we get to see how popular those 4 factions are.

My findings are as follows (results from NOS):

  • Classical Liberals (VVD and D66): 33.3% of the vote and 52 seats
  • The Left (SP, GL, Labour, 50Plus, PvdD, and DENK): 32% of the vote and 49 seats
  • Christian Democrats (CDA, CU, and SGP): 18% of the vote and 27 seats
  • Right Wing Populists (PVV, FvD, and VNL): 15.3% of the vote and 22 seat

While there could be more sub-factions (especially in the left), I believe it is enough to look at these four, since each received a significant portion of the vote and is represented in slightly different ways by multiple parties.

Mark Rutte’s conservative-liberal VVD lead the more libertarian faction with the market friendly social-liberal Democrats 66. (Photo from the Atlantic Sentinel)

As a right-libertarian, I was happy to see the classical liberals as the largest faction, something that is rare across world politics.  I was especially pleased to see the conservative-liberal VVD win the election once again, holding strong against more right wing populist challenges.  While I disagree with the more left-libertarian Democrats 66 on some economic issues, they are far better than the left and some Christian democrats on economics and basically everyone on social issues (except on abortion, in which they are pro-choice).  The fact that these two parties received a third of the votes and hold 52 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives is a great sign, since all the talk lately has been about the right wing populists.  Meanwhile the classical liberals have more silently delivered a win that will likely result in them aligning with the more moderate Christian democrats instead of the left or the right wing populists.  Hopefully this trend continues in the upcoming elections in France and Germany, though the French lack a real right-libertarian party.

It is also satisfying to see the chaos, and lack of success, on the left.  There has not been a leftist Prime Minister since 2002; CDA or VVD have led every government since then.  That situation has not been made any better for them with Labour absolutely falling apart and no one to replace them.  This is an opportunity for the classical liberals and center-right to have strong leadership with a solid majority in favor of market economics (the PVV’s one redeeming factor).  GroenLinks is rising, especially among young people, but there really isn’t a tier 1 party on the left to challenge the VVD for Prime Minister as the Socialist Party (the top left party currently) received only 9.2% of the vote and finished in 5th place.  To be fair, there’s a lot of leftist parties to divide the vote among, but it is difficult to unite your ideology when you’re so divided.  In short, the left in the Netherlands has been relegated to less than a third of the lower house and is not a real threat currently… good.

Meanwhile, the Christian democrats stayed fairly stagnant, as the CU and SGP received the same number of seats as before, but the CDA gained 6 seats.  I tend to be ambivalent at best about Christian democrats, as they tend to be socially conservative, especially the very reactionary SGP, and moderate when it comes to economics, so I’m glad that the VVD has continued to lead the center-right instead of the CDA.  Having the generic “right” led by a classical liberal instead of a Christian democratic party is a positive for both economic and social liberties.  That being said, they at least are somewhat pro-market, so a coalition of classical liberals and Christian democrats will hopefully lead to a more market based economy.

Wilders 2
Wilders’s PVV didn’t live up to expectations.

The right wing populists were the most covered faction in the election, especially from international media, but all the hoopla seems to have been for naught.  The right wing populist “wave” people were talking about seems to be less of a force than expected.  PVV only received 13.1% of the vote, and while they are definitely still a thorn in Rutte’s side, they are far from overturning Dutch politics.  More moderate right wing populists have managed to get a real foothold elsewhere, but Wilders’s extreme views have isolated him and his party, ensuring they have no role in future governments.  Forum for Democracy and For the Netherlands are much more moderate, and it would be best for the right wing populists to follow their path instead of alienating themselves along with Wilders’s blatant anti-Islam policies.  Overall, the 13.1% of the vote the PVV received is still too much.  The right-wing in the Netherlands is missing a free market and socially conservative party as I said before, and I think that is a real void that the PVV is taking advantage of.  If a major party or new party could move to try and fill that void, then the PVV would likely be pushed to the fringes where it belongs.  VNL seemed to be a group that could do that (since they’re more conservative than populist, though they are populist often in rhetoric), but they were too small to really make a different.

Libertarians should be pleased when we look at the results of the Dutch election, and we should learn from it.  The VVD has managed to place itself close enough to the right-wing void where it can appeal to both classical liberals and more traditional conservative who don’t like Wilders’s extremism and the CDA’s more moderate policies.  Mark Rutte has not always lived up to his promises, but his party is definitely the best major party in the country when considering the combination of economic and social policies.  Rutte’s VVD is put in a unique spot due to its more libertarian leanings, as they can align with more center-right and right-wing parties to push for economic liberty as well as D66 and some center-left parties to push for social liberty.  They hold enough seats to have a majority in both of those areas, being able to choose who they work with inside as well as outside of whatever coalition that results.  It is a unique role classical liberal parties play in politics, reaching across the traditional left-right spectrum in ways many social-democratic and conservative parties cannot.  The Netherlands is one of the few places we can see this in action, and we should be happy to have a classical liberal party in power, even if they are not “pure” libertarians.

I will conclude with my thoughts on potential coalitions and how the election will impact other elections coming up this year.

First, the coalitions.  My dream coalition would be between the VVD, D66, and VNL (or the Libertarian Party, which didn’t receive even 0.1% of the vote) as I believe each would bring a unique element that is needed.  Since VNL didn’t make it into parliament and the classical liberals are short of a majority, that is not possible.  In reality, the most likely coalition is VVD, D66, CDA, and a 4th party that has 5 seats or more.  Two parties reasonably would fit the criteria to work with those three, Labour and the Christian Union.  The Labour Party is most likely going to try to avoid being in the government since the populous punished them for allowing the VVD to pass austerity, so the Christian Union will probably be the 4th party.  As I said before, there are many positives, especially on economics for this coalition, and there is potential for D66 to have a positive impact on social liberty as well, combined with the pro-life policies of the other three parties.  This makes me optimistic for the Netherlands, and it will definitely be interesting to watch how things unfold going forward in the country.

The upcoming French and German elections may be impacted by these results, but we can’t be certain.  Firstly, the National Front and Alternative for Germany are both more moderate than the Party for Freedom, so Wilders may have just gone too far.  That being said, 13.1% of the vote is a significant chunk, making it harder for a coalition to form, especially when people refuse to work with the right wing populists.  Alternative for Germany is expected to receive less of the vote than the Party for Freedom did, but the National Front may make larger inroads into French politics.  We will have to wait and see, but for right now, right wing populists in Europe seem to be a thorn in the side of people forming coalitions instead of leading coalitions themselves.