“Even if the Greens don’t quite win, a fairly decent share of the vote would force the CDU to cut the Greens considerably in a coalition deal because they don’t have a lot of options for partners,” says Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook , Executive Director of the Europe and Transatlantic Relations Project at Harvard Kennedy School.
Despite this green push, few expect sweeping political changes in Germany, as the CDU has adopted many green policies in recent years and the Greens have drifted to the right to become a centrist party. Indeed, Cem Özdemir, a senior Green politician, said recently that his party would not radically change German policy on NATO, European policy or support for Israel, three issues that had been controversial in the past.
The second of these questions should reassure the top leaders of the European Union in Brussels. Germany, as the richest and largest member state, exercises enormous influence in the general direction of the European project. Under Merkel, Germany has largely supported the EU’s agenda, only occasionally weighing down and blocking some proposals.
Although the party apparently has little appetite for making sweeping changes within the EU, a victory for the Greens in Germany would mark the symbolic end of an era in Brussels.
The European People’s Party (EPP), a pan-European center-right group made up of members from all EU member states, is the dominant political force in Brussels. It has more elected leaders than any other political bloc in the EU and is the most represented in the European Parliament and the Commission.
To say that the EPP leadership is closely aligned with the German Chancellor would be an understatement. And Ursula von der Leyen, the current President of the Commission and member of the EPP, has already been in Merkel’s cabinet. The fact of no longer having a center-right conservative in the Bundeskanzleramt would be the strongest indicator at the moment that the traditional European parties face an uncertain future.
Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, explains that two of the biggest forces in European politics, the rise of progressive politics against right-wing nationalist populism, have pressed parties like the CDU on both sides.
“The CDU was for a time a shapeshifter, adapting in response to whatever its greatest threat. Not so long ago it was the far right AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), so she has become anti-European and anti-immigration. Now we are eating her votes, so it makes sense that it gets closer to us, “he said.
Diplomats and officials say they are now speaking openly that the CDU is weaker than it was five years ago and looks like a different party. “In all fairness, von der Leyen could easily be a member of the Green Party if you look at what she believes in,” says a German diplomat.
Even in the event that the Greens do not win, a Green and Black coalition (CDU / CSU) seems more and more likely and most observers in Brussels think it would be perfectly stable. However, in a little over a year, it could collide with the other volcano waiting to erupt in European politics.
Anyone who has spent time in Brussels knows that if you want to get things done in Europe, you have to put the French and the Germans on the same page. A green-black government in Germany and a Le Pen presidency in France could make this extremely difficult.
“It is difficult to see how a progressive, resolutely pro-EU Germany and a nationalist France could come to an agreement on huge issues – like our common policy on China and Russia,” said a European diplomat.
European policy is evolving faster than many in Brussels are willing to admit. “We’ve already seen big rifts between France and Germany with Macron at the helm. What’s going on with Le Pen is totally unknown,” Clüver says. “I think people are too paralyzed with fear to think about it, but in reality it is much more dangerous than the eurozone crisis.”
Even if the CDU and Macron win, the Brussels political establishment must recognize that the appetite for something different has been building for a long time. If he doesn’t prepare properly, he might find that old friends in Paris and Berlin stop being so deferential to a style of leadership that is less and less attractive to their constituents.