james184_Sean GallupGetty Images_germanyelection Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany's Europeanized Malaise

Although the 2021 German federal election has put an end to the country's long-standing two-party dispensation, that doesn't mean it has inaugurated a new era of change. On the contrary, Germans are still hewing to the center, but will now be subjected to a protracted, opaque negotiation process.

PRINCETON – The razor-thin outcome of the German election marks a watershed in the history of the Federal Republic, signaling the final disintegration of the near-two-party system that long characterized the politics of West Germany and then of reunified Germany after 1990.

Together, the old two dominant parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), have secured only around half of the vote. The result suggests that Germany has undergone a new degree of Europeanization, acquiring some of the most destructive features of politics in neighboring countries. The upshot is that fragmentation and paranoia will now dominate German political life.

Western European politics in the post-war period rested on the alternation between center-right (Christian Democratic) and center-left (social democratic) parties. The parties representing these two broad positions were necessarily centrist, because they had to compete for what political scientists call the “median voter.” A party that pursued too much taxation and redistribution would offend the middle, as would a party that resisted solidarity and showed an insufficient commitment to the welfare state.

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