German politics and Latin America: What's there in the Bundestag election for the sub-continent?

Former FES Mexico staff, doctoral student and lecturer Zirahuén Villamar analyses the Impact of the German elections for Latin America and Germany’s ‘other’ transatlantic relation.

Photo: Zirahuén Villamar presenting an analysis on the German elections and its impact on Latin America, 25 October 2017 in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by FES Ecuador.

Observers in Latin America follow with great care the recent developments in German politics. The outcome of the federal elections, as well as the new government coalition that will be negotiated as result can influence the relations vis-à-vis the region, sub-regions, as well as the bilateral relations with countries in Latin America.

Election results and the new (still to come) government

Nearly 47 million German nationals voted in the general election to the 19th term of Bundestag (a turnout of 76.2 per cent), a four-years mandate that began on October 24th. The big news is the third position of the extreme-rightist Alternative for Germany (AfD), with 12.6 per cent of votes.

In the German political tradition, each party is associated to one color: Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) to black, Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) to red, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) to yellow and Greens to idem. The night of the election, Germany went to bed having in mind a Jamaica coalition (for the colors of Jamaican flag). The outcomes of the talks between the leaderships of the three forces will translate into a Coalition Contract. Parallelly, the distribution of Ministries according to parties is also drawing attention. A new German government will have deep impact in the European Union: in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the German economic and political clout will operate as promoter of trade and investment agreements between the EU and third parties—including Latin America, like Mexico or Mercosur, the sub-regional bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay for the time being. 

Windows of opportunity: Who gets what

Reports about the negotiation between the German political parties’ teams disclose high tension. Contested issues like migration, environment and fiscal policy are tightening the rope.

There’s not much at stake when it comes to the issue of foreign policy towards Latin America: the electoral programs of the Jamaica parties made no mention to Latin America. The leading positions of Federal ministries dealing directly with foreign relations, like the Foreign Office (AA) or the Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry (BMZ) are for now matter of speculation. Although guidelines for policies will be part of the Contract, there is still some room for maneuver and personal style of the persons heading the Ministries.

The fact that Latin America is a region where democratic regimes are mostly the norm and armed conflicts an exception, or that it is not a threat to German interests, relegates Latin America to rank low on the list of Berlin priorities. In such context, significance is granted to specific countries. In the past, SDP’s Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (BMZ Minister, 1998-2009) of the had stressed the role of some Latin American countries as partners in the subcontinent for provision of regional and global public goods. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also of SPD, as minister of the Foreign Office (2013-2017) assigned importance to the Columbian peace process, and even appointed Tom Königs (Green Party) as Minister’s envoy to accompany the developments.

An example that illustrates the attention to the sub-continent as a region is when in 2009 the CDU/CSU and FDP agreed in their Contract to issue a new Federal Government concept on Latin America, allegedly due to the impulse by Liberal Guido Westerwelle.

The beginnings of the Trump Administration open an era of vocal confrontation against Latin America that could materialize in measures from the USA government against some countries in the region. In such context, the region or its members must find friends in the German government and ministries, aiming to strengthen the already existing relations. The new Bundestag is also no void of good-old advocates of Latin America: SPD’s Klaus Barthel and the Tom Königs who decided to retire.

Showcases of German politics in the region: the political foundations

Ideologically related to the main political parties, the German political foundations are bridges for a transatlantic dialogue between actors from Germany and the Latin American countries within the political values their counterparts stand for. Moreover, the political foundations also showcase a diverse German political landscape. Present in most of the Latin American countries, some of the foundations can boast with over five decades of presence in the region. The six foundations with presence in Latin America are: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (close to SPD), Konrad Adenauer (to CDU), Friedrich Naumann (to FDP), Hans Seidel (to CSU), Heinrich Böll (Greens), and Rosa Luxemburg (The Left).

Now that the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing to far-right political party, has entered the federal parliament, it will receive public funding to establish its own political foundation: Desiderius Erasmus Stiftung. We will have to wait and see what the Erasmus foundation will do in the field of external-European work—the destination countries, the lines of work, and their counterparts—and whether it will also open offices in Latin America. The other political foundations should be prepared to witness a peak of interest on German right-wing radicalism. Furthermore, they need to remain alert in the case the AfD foundation enters into a competition in Latin America with narratives that offer explanations and solutions.

The novel German political constellation is likely to have –to a greater or lesser extent– some impact in those countries beyond the Atlantic and south the USA border. As Latin Americans, we also bear part of the responsibility to familiarize actors in the region with the new conditions in Germany, at least for the next four years. ###

Mexican, lecturer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Zirahuén Villamar used to work for FES Mexico. He now lives in Berlin, where he is writing a PhD in political science at Free University Berlin. Twitter: @zirahuenvn.

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