All German bets are off

German flag

You might think this looks like a traditional German election. Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right alliance and the center-left Social Democrats are the clear favorites to lead the next coalition government. Polls show that neither party will win a majority of seats in Germany's parliament, so smaller parties — like the Greens, the pro-business Free Democrats, and the far-left Die Linke — might each become governing partners. (The far-right Alternative for Deutschland party is highly unlikely to join a coalition.)

But with a national election just three weeks away, uncertainty and high anxiety have taken hold in German politics. Polling is neck-and-neck, making it unclear which party will lead the next coalition government or which combination of potentially awkward bedfellows that government might include. Because Merkel has kept Germany, with Europe's largest economy, at the heart of EU policy-making during her 16 years in power, the interest and uncertainty extends well beyond German borders.

For now, the big polling surprise comes from the center-left. The Social Democrats, left for dead just weeks ago, have jumped in front of Merkel's party for the first time in 15 years. Perhaps that's because Merkel's uninspiring handpicked successor, the Christian Democrats' Armin Laschet, has few original policy ideas and stands for nothing but continuity. A few gaffes have added to his reputation for haplessness. Maybe it's because the Social Democrats' candidate, Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has the most governing experience and is the most personally popular of the major candidates for chancellor. Maybe it's because, after a polling surge in the spring, Annalena Baerbock, leader of the Green Party, has run a scandal-prone campaign, and leftist voters see Scholz as a "safer pair of hands."

Whatever the source of these survey surprises, the sheer number of potential coalition combinations leaves Germans and outsiders wondering how the next German government will manage Europe's largest economy, approach COVID recovery, or lead on climate change.

Climate, in particular, is an area of deep divergence between the major parties. The CDU's Laschet warns that tough new rules on carbon emissions would amount to "putting fetters on industry's feet and saying 'Now, run faster.'" Scholz argues that Germany must set more ambitious targets for a transition from carbon to renewable energy. The Greens' Baerbock insists that neither the center-right nor center-left take the climate change threat seriously and that a comprehensive approach to warming must become a national priority. The Free Democrats, who may win enough seats to become a potentially crucial coalition partner, want as few federal mandates on business as possible and will push to limit new climate rules. There are still possible election outcomes that might combine the Greens and Free Democrats as junior partners within the same governing coalition.

Given Germany's leadership position within the EU and its standing as the world's fourth largest economy, the influence of its next government on climate policy will also be crucial to global climate strategies.

After this election, Germany will form a coalition government. This isn't like the cases we've seen in recent years in Israel, Spain, Belgium, and elsewhere where months, sometimes years, of political bargaining and new elections fail to produce a viable government. But the continuing uncertainty in Germany also previews the hard re-election fight that President Emmanuel Macron can expect next year in France, the other country with the muscle to lead European policy-making.

There will be much more to say about the German election before voters head for the polls on September 26. For now, confusion about their intentions and worries over the implications remain extraordinarily high.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Good morning everybody and I hope everyone is okay this Monday. I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving, those of you that celebrate. Of course, pretty difficult news over the weekend, and even this morning, the World Health Organization, referring to the new variant omicron of COVID as a very high global risk. And when I hear those words, obviously we get moving at Eurasia Group, a firm very much concerned about that. And indeed, this is in terms of new news about this pandemic that we've all been living with now for almost two years, this is some of the most concerning new headlines that we've seen thus far.

There are some things we know and some things we don't know, there are three things we need to know, if you want to really assess what the omicron risk represents for us and for the world: rates of infection, sickness and mortality and vaccine effectiveness. We only have strong answers about the first, which is we know that this is a lot more infectious as a variant than Delta has been, which itself was much more infectious than the original virus. And that is a very serious problem. I've spoken with a lot of the epidemiologists we know about this over the weekend, they're all extremely concerned about that.

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Don’t jump out the omicron window

With cases, and fears, of the new omicron variant spreading rapidly around the world, we sat down with Eurasia Group’s top public health expert, Scott Rosenstein, for a little perspective on what to worry about, what not to, and whether the pandemic will ever actually end.

Scott, we appear to be in the age of omicron now. On the scale of mild concern to apocalyptic jump-out-the-window panic, how worried should we really be?

Go over to the window, open it, and repeat the following: WE DON’T KNOW YET, BUT VIGILANCE IS WARRANTED. The current signals, which are still early and vague, suggest this variant could be extremely transmissible and that it has mutations that could reduce – but not eliminate – the protection offered by current vaccines. In principle that means we have a variant that could cause a spike in cases and add to healthcare strains in places that thought the worst was behind them.

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Watch Ian Bremmer's State of the World 2021 speech live on December 6

Join us on December 6th at 8 pm ET to hear Ian Bremmer's unique perspective on the most pressing geopolitical events shaping politics, business, and society in our "GZERO" world.

Ian's State of the World speech will examine:

  • Are the US and China engaged in a cold war?
  • How powerful have tech companies become on the global stage?
  • Is there hope for the world to unite to fight climate change and other shared challenges?

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December 6, 2021 8 pm ET

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Also happening that week:

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

5: Twitter’s stock jumped 5 percent Monday after CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving the company. Many say that Dorsey is ditching the social media giant to play a bigger role in the crypto world.

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NATO flag is seen during NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group military exercise Silver Arrow in Adazi, Latvia October 5, 201

NATO looks to deter Russia, but how? With Russia having massed more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian frontier, NATO says it’s looking to deter the Kremlin from launching a potential attack. But how? Though both the EU and US back Ukraine economically and militarily, the country isn’t a NATO member – and won’t be soon – so there’s no automatic defense treaty in place. And while NATO’s toolkit includes options from increased defense operations, to cyber attacks on Russian targets, to the threat of retaliatory strikes on Russian forces, it has to play the deterrence game carefully: any consequences that it threatens must be both serious enough to scare Russia and credible. After all, Vladimir Putin loves to call bluffs, and it would be a massive fail for the world’s most powerful military alliance to draw a red line only to watch the Kremlin prove that NATO forces won’t defend it. Lastly, a NATO miscalculation could accidentally provoke the wider conflict everyone wants to avoid.

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Who’s politically vulnerable to omicron?

The new COVID variant, omicron, has already spread around the world. Though there are more questions than answers about its characteristics, omicron is already spooking global leaders who had hoped that the era of snap lockdowns and travel bans was a thing of the past.

After almost two years of disruptions to lives and economies, the stakes for world leaders are very high. So, who’s vulnerable to the political fallout from new cases and costly precautions?

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What We're Watching: Omicron sparks fear and restrictions, Honduras' elections, Modi plays politics with farmers, EU calls for migrant pact with UK, Kyiv on alert

The omicron wars: Can we really afford to lock down again? In response to the new omicron variant first discovered by South African scientists, many countries have reintroduced pandemic travel restrictions that we thought were long behind us. Israel and Morocco have banned all foreign visitors, while tougher rules on quarantining and travel have also been enforced in the UK, Australia, Singapore and parts of Europe. Meanwhile, travelers from southern African countries have been banned from entering almost everywhere. Scientists say that it is still too early to say how infectious the new variant is, or how resistant it might be to vaccines. This disruption comes just as many economies were starting to reopen after more than 20-months of pandemic closures and chaos. The new restrictions are already triggering a fierce debate: some say that we are now in the endemic stage of the pandemic and that it is both unsustainable – and economically and psychologically harmful – to keep locking down every time a new variant surfaces. Others, like Israel's PM Naftali Bennett, say we are in the throes of a new "state of emergency," and that we can't afford to take any chances. What do you think?

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Don’t jump out the omicron window



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