Blog Carsten Brzeski

Germany: No game changer

Last night’s one-and-only live debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, leader of the second largest party, was less explosive than the Frankfurt bomb deactivation.

Compared with debates in other countries, last night’s one-and-only live debate between Angela Merkel and challenger Martin Schulz looked either boring or refreshingly polite and cordial, and focused on arguments.

The debate, which lasted more than 90 minutes, was mainly focused on the topics of migration, refugees, Turkey and foreign policy; followed by social justice, the diesel scandal and a brief range of other topics. Interestingly, topics like the future of the EU and the Eurozone, investments, education, digitalization or structural reforms were not discussed at all.

The biggest headline stemming from the debate will probably be a tougher stance on Turkey, supported by Schulz but also Merkel. On all other issues, Schulz tried to distance himself from Merkel, while Merkel often tried to stress the fact that Schulz’ party, the SPD, was currently the junior partner in Merkel’s government.

In the next days, the spin doctors will try to spread their interpretations of the debate. First polls immediately after the debate presented a solid lead for Merkel with almost 50% of the surveyed people seeing no difference between Merkel and Schulz. The polls held positive news for both candidates: Merkel has still a strong lead on Schulz but Schulz could narrow the gap somewhat. Obviously, it is too early to call the elections decided, as 40% of the electorate has still not made up his or her minds for Election Day.

In our view, last night’s debate was not a game changer in the election campaign. Even though the debate had clearly less explosive potential than the WW2 bomb deactivation in Frankfurt, which led to a mass evacuation, it could at least be the kick-start for a more vivid campaign in the next three weeks. Maybe not too interesting for close followers of German politics, but probably stimulating enough for still undecided voters to deepen their interests.