Elections for the city council of Berlin produced some interesting results than need to be unpicked. The overarching trend was that the biggest two political parties in the city, the SPD and the CDU, lost a significant number of seats and that the anti-refugee far-right AfD picked up a number of seats and entered the city council for the first time. Thankfully no political party has agreed to work with the AfD in a coalition, both at a local and a national level, which has essentially locked them out of power. The good news is that the overall outcome of the election, in relation to the new administration, is a shift to the Left.
The specifics of the election are notable because of the surge in support for the AfD. The SPD won 38 out of 160 seats, the CDU won 31, Die Linke and the Greens both won 27 each, the AfD won 25, and the liberal FDP won 12.
The AfD are playing on people’s fears to gain traction, but these people shouldn’t be dismissed because that would only worsen the alienation that led them to support the party in the first place. Unfortunately the limited powers of the city council make substantial change at a local level difficult. The party is essentially using these elections to build the party’s profile before going into the 2017 federal election. 2017 is the battle that needs to be won.
Before these elections the SPD and the CDU were governing as part of a grand coalition, very much akin to the one in the Bundestag. The loss of votes now makes this unlikely, and the current mayor of the city had said that he would have preferred to be in coalition with the Greens than continuing the status quo. The results make this desire impossible without support from Die Linke; a three-way alliance would give the Left a majority in the city council.
So what are the policy implications of this change in government? Bluntly, not much. Berlin city council only has limited powers but the two areas I think can be most impacted by this left-wing coalition are water and utilities, and economic development. The concerns of Berliners were not as motivated by the recent influx of refugees. A recent poll before the election saw that social justice and the economy/jobs were significantly more important; in the West of Berlin education was also a more important issue than refugees.
With this reality established the new left-wing coalition, provided the SPD don’t go back on their word and strike up an agreement with the CDU, could focus on economic and environmental efficiency. With control of water and other utilities, the government could try and reduce water usage and make the city more eco-friendly. Conceivable, the government could also invest in renewable energy under the guise of economic growth and could mandate that new buildings have a low carbon footprint. The city has a growing amount of debt so in the long term the government would be wise to stimulate growth to reduce the burden the debt would place on the city.
Berlin can illustrate what the Left can do when it collaborates and works together. In 2017 the federal elections will take place and if these three parties pledge to work together to change the direction of Germany, I believe that they could well come out on top. A series of local electoral pacts would prevent the left-wing vote from being split. This would throw Merkel out of power, lock out the AfD, and send a clear message to the rest of Europe. Whether in Greece or Germany, the Left has the solution to the social alienation that has plagued Europe fo the last forty years. Neoliberalism will be significantly damaged if Germany were to look to the Left. Here’s hoping.