Europe is currently not only waiting for the formation process in the Netherlands, but is also watching what is happening in Germany with great interest. To look back on the Bundestag elections and look ahead to a new government, Public Matters spoke with Dominik Meier, managing partner at Miller & Meier, a public affairs and lobby consulting firm in Berlin. This week Public Matters is visiting Berlin, on the occasion of Public Matters’ 20th anniversary. All the more reason to reflect on the developments in public affairs and politics in Germany.
Meier describes how the floods of July 14 and 15 put climate change high on the political agenda. Yet it did not help the Grünen to the chancellorship. In the end, Olaf Scholz and his SPD rose above both the Grünen and the CDU/CSU. The focus on the ‘puppets’ was possibly even stronger in Germany than it was in the Netherlands. Meier therefore attributes the SPD’s victory to the professionalism of SPD leader Scholz and ‘mistakes’ in his opponents’ campaigns; to inaccuracies in Annalena Baerbock’s CV and a smiling Armin Laschet during a press conference on the floods in North Rhine-Westphalia. None of the three was very popular, but Scholz was given the benefit of the doubt, partly because of his role as Vice-Chancellor and minister of Finance in cabinet Merkel IV.
“The traditional people’s parties no longer exist” says Meier, reflecting on the fragmentation of the political landscape in his country. As in the Netherlands, a coalition must now be formed with several parties from the political center, where previously two parties could achieve a majority. This has implications for public affairs: increased diversity of political stakeholders creates a need for advice on forming strategic alliances and broad stakeholder approaches. There are simply more stakeholders involved in decision-making. The ‘traditional’ form of lobbying, where much depends on personal contacts, has had its day. According to Meier, this fits in with society’s need for more transparent politics and decision-making.
Societal role of the business community
Combating climate change is the main challenge of the next German government. After closing the nuclear power plants, the government must now start the ‘coal exit’; it was previously agreed that this must be done before 2038. The transition to a sustainable and circular economy must be made together with German industry. At the same time, an explosive increase in energy prices must be prevented so that the economy continues to run. In short, the parallels with Dutch public affairs issues are easy to recognize.
When asked whether much will change in the labor market under the leadership of a social democrat, Meier replies that this is unlikely. The choice for Scholz is a choice for continuity; Germans do not like change. Yet this change is needed in a number of policy areas. A Ministry for Digitalization, for instance, should increase the competitiveness of the digital economy by tackling challenges such as the rollout of the 5G network, the FDP proposed earlier.
To meet social and political challenges, the business community must position itself well. Meier underlines that portraying the role of business in society is becoming increasingly important for public affairs professionals. Communication with politics and society is essential: “social media are increasingly playing a role in and are more important than ever in the interaction between politics, society and business”, Meier said.
The dossiers at the European level remain largely stagnant as long as the formation process is underway – after all, Merkel’s cabinet is outgoing, leaving important policy measures on climate, digitalization and taxation to a new government. Broadly speaking, more continuity can be expected on European foreign policy. Scholz is in favor of more fiscal intertwining of EU member states. However, cooperation with the FDP probably means restraint in the areas of taxation and debt sharing, a position that is well received by the Dutch, Meier knows. Government participation of the Grünen means a more ambitious climate policy. For the French presidency of the EU, which starts in January, the political support of the Germans is necessary to make an impact on issues such as EU integration and climate change. A successful formation process is therefore important for progress on European policy dossiers.
The formation process
Meanwhile, this formation process has already begun. Here the FDP and the Grünen play a major role; they act as a block and have already entered pre-coalition talks with the SPD. Meier considers this coalition, the ‘traffic light’ coalition, the most likely. The chaotic situation within the CDU/CSU, with Laschet recently hinting at resigning, makes a ’Jamaica’ coalition unlikely. In doing so, Meier says that the CDU/CSU is “the loser” of the elections and therefore they need to work on a new narrative. For the voter, it is currently difficult to recognize which issue the CDU/CSU ‘owns’ according to Meier: “because if you choose climate policy, you vote for the Grünen, if you are for free trade, you vote for the liberals, and for anti-migration for the AfD.”
Photo by Noppasin Wongchum