Parliamentary Elections

September 26, 2021


After leading Germany for 16 years, Angela Merkel’s departure from the chancellery is the end of an era for Germany and for the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU). The Social Democratic Party (SPD) won 25.7% of the votes (+5.2% from 2017) and 206 seats (+53 from 2017) and SPD candidate Olaf Scholz (former vice chancellor and finance minister) will become the new chancellor of Germany. The CDU/CSU, led by Armin Laschet, was defeated by a small margin of 24.1% (-8,8% from 2017). The Alliance 90/The Greens (Greens) gained strong support and is now the third largest party in Germany, with 14.8% of the vote (+5.9% from 2017). With their focus on climate, the Greens managed to win 118 seats in the Bundestag (+51 from 2017).

The smaller parties Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Die Linke (Left) both lost support in this election, winning 83 seats (-11 seats from 2017) and 39 seats (-30 seats from 2017) respectively.

The new government is a majority coalition of the SPD, the Greens, and the FDP, with a total of 416 seats in Bundestag. The CDU will organize a first-ever vote, open to all party members, to choose a new leader for the party in January 2022.

Voter turnout was 76.6% of eligible voters.


  • Bicameral parliament in a federal parliamentary republic: Bundesrat (upper house, currently 69 seats); and Bundestag (lower house, currently 709 seats). This election is for the Bundestag only (state elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern will also be held on September 26th.)
  • Members elected for 4-year terms; mixed-member proportional system split between single-member votes and party list votes in the 16 states; 598 nominal members with additional compensation seats.
  • Vote threshold to enter parliament is 5% of the party list vote or 3 single-member constituencies.
  • Current government coalition: 16-year incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel leads a "Grand Coalition" of her Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD).


Main parties:

  • Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU): Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet center-right; fiscally conservative economic platform, balanced budget ("black zero"); socially conservative with some internal variations; pro-EU, supports a return to stricter fiscal rules post-Covid-19 crisis; pro-NATO; supports economic relations and dialogue with Russia and China.
  • Social Democratic Party (SPD): Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz (currently finance minister and vice chancellor); center-left; social market economy which supports generous social welfare spending; socially liberal; pro-EU; pro-NATO but has been vague on its support for the 2% defense spending commitment, saying only that spending will continue to increase; supports better relations with Russia and dialogue with China but remains critical of their human rights record.
  • Alliance 90/The Greens (Greens): Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock; center-left; supports greater investment to support climate transition; socially liberal; pro-EU with more federalism; pro-NATO but without 2% defense spending; critical of Russia and China's human rights record and Nord Stream 2.
  • Free Democratic Party (FDP): Chancellor candidate Christian Lindner; center/center-right; free market economy, balanced budget; socially liberal; pro-EU but against European debt mutualization; pro-NATO with 3% spending target for defense, development, and diplomacy; calls for moratorium on Nord Stream 2 and critical of Russia and China's human rights record.
  • Alternative for Germany (AfD): Chancellor candidates Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla; far-right; economically liberal, balanced budget; socially conservative, anti-immigration; strongly Euroskeptic (EU exit); skeptical of NATO's mission, supports U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany; supports closer relations with Russia and end to sanctions, ambiguous on China.
  • Die Linke (Left): Chancellor candidates Janine Wissler and Dietmar Bartsch; left-wing, seen as descendant of East Germany's Socialist Party; mixed economy; socially liberal; Euroskeptic but supports more EU spending on public investments (no military funding); desires Germany to withdrawal from NATO; supports closer relations with Russia and its involvement in a collective security system, neutral on China.

Impact on U.S. Interests

  • Third largest foreign direct investor in the U.S. ($522bn in 2019, 11.7% of total inbound FDI); U.S. exported $57bn worth of goods to Germany in 2020; is Europe's largest economy and global manufacturing powerhouse.
  • Active participant in NATO missions in Baltic states and Balkans; military contributor to the Global Coalition against Daesh and largest contributor to the Syria Recovery Trust Fund; €9 million allocated for Iraq security sector reform in 2021.
  • Hosts around 38,000 U.S. troops (2020), EUCOM and AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, and U.S. Army Europe headquarters in Wiesbaden.
  • Strategically important ally for the United States as the largest EU member state with influence on EU policy vis-à-vis Russia and China.

Key Issues to Watch

  • Angela Merkel's 16-year centrist tenure is the longest in post-war German history. The German electorate is searching for a candidate similar in personality to her. The SPD's Scholz has benefitted as he is seen as the most likeable and closest in personality to Merkel; but the race is too close to call, with nearly 40% of voters undecided.
  • Devastating summer floods that killed almost 200 people, the government's failure to warn the public, and Laschet's poor public reaction to the disaster was a turning point in the election, benefitting SPD but not the climate-focused Greens.
  • Coalition formation will be a difficult and prolonged process. A future coalition will likely require three parties, but the election outcome for smaller parties--particularly Die Linke and the CSU--will be an important element in shaping coalition negotiations. The SPD has not ruled out forming a coalition with the controversial Die Linke party, an arrangement which would alter Germany's security policy.
  • Germany's future policy positions on German taxation, European monetary policy, and German defense and security policy are the most susceptible to change following the election. There is likely to be more continuity in Germany's economic relationship with Russia and China.
  • Germany has been the target of a systematic disinformation campaign, primarily from Russia, and prosecutors have warned of attempted hacks against members of parliament. This campaign has been particularly focused against the Greens due to their vocal opposition to Nord Stream 2.


Data source: Politico Poll of Polls

Data source: Politico Poll of Polls.