How the German Elections resonate in the Czech Republic

How the German Elections resonate in the Czech Republic

Analysis

The results of the German general election were met in the Czech Republic with interest but not much excitement compared to the emotional responses which they evoked in Germany. 

Prague Merkel’s fourth consecutive victory came as no surprise in the Czech Republic. Creator: Antonella Moltini. Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

Most of the Czech Republic’s leading politicians declared that Angela Merkel’s fourth consecutive victory came as no surprise and generally welcomed it. Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek (social democrats) cited the results as evidence that Germans are satisfied. Christian Democrat (KDU-ČSL) Chairman Pavel Bělobrádek congratulated Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer on “another unequivocal victory” and wished them patience in the post-election coalition talks. In a tweet, PM Bohuslav Sobotka said he believed the current chancellor would soon assemble a stable government. “It will be important both for Europe and for Czech-German relations,” he said. Sobotka characterised the decision by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) to go into opposition as “important for the good functioning of democracy, including the restoration of a right-left dispute”, and commended the fact that the main opposition in the Bundestag would be the SPD and not the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The Czech PM was one of only a few politicians to clearly condemn the electoral success of the right-wing populist AfD, which has entered the Bundestag for the first time: “Anybody who’s happy about the AfD’s electoral gains can see no farther than his own nose” Sobotka wrote, adding that “today they’re against refugees and the EU, tomorrow the target will be Czechs and Poles”. This was a response in particular to the words of former Czech President Václav Klaus, who actively supports the AfD and commended its “amazing showing” in the elections, which Klaus alleged had been achieved despite the fact that the AfD had been “demonised by the media establishment”. The chairman of opposition party TOP09, Miroslav Kalousek, accentuated Angela Merkel’s “clear victory” and congratulated Germans on “choosing democracy and humanism over populism and intolerance”.

Ruling parties’ losses

Current President Miloš Zeman congratulated Merkel on her latest victory in the German parliamentary elections and wished her good luck in the difficult negotiations to form a new government coalition. The Czech media reported that, in a letter sent to the German chancellor, Zeman also commended her contribution to improving Czech-German relations: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the positive developments in relations between the Czech Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, to which you contributed with your active and helpful position on this matter,” the president wrote.

More critical voices were heard from elsewhere in the political spectrum. Chairman of the conservative and eurosceptic Civic Democratic Party (ODS), Petr Fiala, drew attention to the losses incurred by the governing CDU/CSU and SPD parties, and attributed them dissatisfaction with the chancellor’s migration policy. But he expressed the hope that the new CDU/CSU-led government “will have the opportunity to correct the mistakes that have occurred”. MP Jan Skopeček, who is this year’s election leader for the ODS in the Central Bohemia Region, sharply condemned the possible involvement of the German Greens in the new cabinet: “If anything terrifies me about the German elections, then it’s the likely participation of the radical left-wing Green Party in the government,” Skopeček tweeted.

ANO Chairman Andrej Babiš, whose party is considered the favourite in the upcoming elections to the Czech Chamber of Deputies, commented on the results of the German elections as well: “The winner of the elections is actually the AfD, which has made great gains on the issue of refugees and security,” said Babiš, who could become the Czech Republic’s next prime minister this autumn. Babiš also took a jab at the ruling ČSSD: “It turns out that the Social Democrats’ policies are destroying not only their party, but Europe as well,” Babiš said. Communist Party (KSČM) Chairman Vojtěch Filip let it be known that the losses by the CDU/CSU and SPD, together with the success of the AfD, mean that “there is great disillusionment in German society”.

Results of German elections definitely not boring

Commentators of the leading serious media in the Czech Republic generally reacted to the German election results in a matter-of-fact and sober manner. “There was still a smile on Merkel’s face,” wrote Teodor Marjanovič of Hospodářské noviny, asserting that Sunday’s elections have not changed much in Germany. Although the AfD has entered the Bundestag, the elections also saw the return to Germany’s parliament of the traditional liberal party FDP. The chancellor won with a loss, but still “convincingly”. “Mother Angela” will continue to rule, Marjanovič wrote.

Martin Fendrych of news server Aktuálně.cz also characterised the fact that “Merkel will continue to rule” as evidence that “Germany is not going down a path of Nazism”, and that “the EU is holding together”. In his words, the results of the German elections are “crucial and extremely good for the Czech Republic”, and in the wider context they demonstrate that there is no need to succumb to general scepticism: “The German elections are another in a series of European events that show how we are unnecessarily alarmed, insecure and fatalistic.” After all, we are not “doing that bad”, Fendrych wrote.

The head of the foreign news section in the weekly Respekt, Tomas Lindner, stated that, unlike the sleepy campaign, the results of the German elections were definitely “not boring”. Lindner pointed to the losses of the traditional big parties, CDU/CSU and the SPD, and attributed them to their excessive programmatic convergence in recent years. The formerly “clear German political system”, where centre-right and centre-left coalitions alternated for many years, is “definitely shattering” and negotiations to form a new government will be “increasingly challenging”. Lindner asserted that the main and undisputed winner of the elections was the AfD.

As the cause of the AfD’s success, Zbyněk Petráček of Lidové noviny cited not only Merkel’s “experiment with opening the borders” but also the politics of the grand coalition, which “displaced criticism and opponency to the margins” and “labelled critics as populists and extremists”. Alex Švamberk of Novinky.cz attributed the AfD’s gains unequivocally to the chancellor’s “unwisely accommodating” policy on migrants.

In commentary for Czech Radio Plus, Robert Schuster of Lidové noviny went into greater detail on the AfD’s future in the Bundestag rather than on the roots of its success. According to Schuster, it would be a mistake to push the AfD into a political quarantine, because it could then settle into its favourite role as a persecuted victim. In recent years, Schuster argues, the AfD has become a “projection screen” for people whose problems and concerns have not been addressed by the other parties. The only way to win back their votes (which Chancellor Merkel now wishes to do), is to begin taking this group of voters seriously.

Post-election negotiations

Czech commentators are also mulling over how difficult the negotiations will be to assemble a majority governing coalition in Germany. They generally welcome the SPD’s departure into the opposition, but they consider a “Jamaica” (black-yellow-green) coalition of the CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens rather impracticable. According to Petra Holub of the weekly Echo24, the task of negotiating a coalition with the Liberals and the Greens is one of the most daunting domestic challenges which CDU/CSU has faced under Merkel. The notion that this year’s post-election negotiations in Germany will be longer and more difficult than in 2013 is also shared by Hospodářské noviny commentator Adam Černý. The above-mentioned Tomas Lindner of Respekt points in particular to differences between the FDP and the Greens, who “compete for the richest and best educated voters, and harbour many prejudices against one another”. But Lindner also points out that both parties promise in their platforms to deliver the greatest impulses for modernising the country.

Bottom line: the results of the German elections received attentive coverage on the Czech political scene and in serious media, but generally without great emotion. The prevailing view holds that Angela Merkel has another four-year term ahead of her, although it will not be easy for her to put together a new government. Czech politicians and commentators are generally of the view that Germany will continue to be a relatively reliable and stable element on the European and international stage.

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