Today it is two years since the federal election. At halftime, the image of the traffic light is pretty tarnished. The second half of the election period is unlikely to be any easier.
You can think what you want about the traffic lights, one thing is undisputed: Hardly any other new federal government has had such a turbulent start to its term in office as that of Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). Today marks the second anniversary of the election that led to the first alliance of the SPD, Greens and FDP at the federal level.
The first half of the legislative period is now over. It was first characterized by the corona pandemic, then by the war against Ukraine and finally by the ongoing dispute in the coalition over the heating law or basic child welfare. The second half could hardly be easier for the traffic lights.
Traffic light phase one: departure
At the beginning of the traffic light there was a departure. When Chancellor Scholz made his first government statement in the Bundestag in mid-December 2021, this word appeared ten times and progress even 31 times. At that time, the traffic light wanted to present itself as a reform alliance that tackled the major issues of the future: the fight against global warming and the climate-friendly restructuring of the economy.
In addition, the fight against Corona was still in the foreground at the time. Nobody really thought about war yet. Ukraine was not mentioned once in the Chancellor’s government statement, which lasted a record 86 minutes.
Traffic light phase two: turning point
The departure phase lasted 82 days. Then the Russian attack on Ukraine catapulted the traffic light into a new reality. With his turning point speech in the Bundestag on February 27, 2022 – three days after the start of the war – Chancellor Scholz carried out a paradigm shift in foreign policy, broke a taboo with arms deliveries to an ongoing war and announced the massive rearmament of the Bundeswehr.
The crisis brought the coalition together, even if there were frictions – for example in the pace of arms deliveries. Above all, the coalition managed to avert the feared energy supply bottlenecks. Despite all the gloomy scenarios, Germany got through the winter quite well.
Traffic light phase three: crunching and crashing
On the first anniversary of the start of the war in February 2023, the coalition’s image looked quite good. Even the Ukrainian government stopped complaining about the hesitant Germans after providing Leopard 2 main battle tanks. The federal government turned its gaze inwards.
The Chancellor began his story with greater confidence that the major issues of the future should finally be tackled boldly. However, the coalition did not manage the curve from crisis to design mode particularly well. It began to crunch and then crash. The heating law became a symbol of disunity, indiscretion and a massive loss of trust among the population.
Mid-term review one: The survey results
The result is that the traffic light’s poll numbers are pretty much in the basement at the halfway point of the legislative session. In the 2021 federal election, the SPD, Greens and FDP together achieved 52 percent.
In the current survey by eight institutes, they are now on average at 37.7 percent and are therefore far from a majority. According to a YouGov survey from August, 72 percent of Germans are dissatisfied with the government’s work in the first half of the electoral period.
68 percent do not trust it to solve the country’s pressing problems. And only 18 percent still believe that Scholz will be re-elected to the traffic light coalition in the 2025 federal election.
Mid-term review two: The facts
However, none of this fits with the verdict of a large-scale study by the Bertelsmann Foundation on the implementation of the coalition agreement. The authors conclude that the traffic light government has had an “overall very good start”.
Of the 453 promises from the coalition agreement, almost two thirds (64 percent) have either been implemented (38 percent) or initiated (26 percent). Compared to the previous government, the traffic light has achieved a little less proportionately, but the absolute number of government projects that have already been undertaken is higher.
Is it possible to govern with a silencer?
So is the traffic light better than its reputation? In any case, public interactions seem to be one of the government’s biggest problems. Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck once put it this way: “We are constantly screwing ourselves up. And of course that is not a secret to success in the long term.”
For the second half, the coalition partners have decided to govern with a silencer, as Chancellor Scholz called it, at their summer retreat at Meseberg Castle near Berlin.
We will see in October whether the good intentions hold, when state elections are held in two of the most populous federal states. In Bavaria and Hesse, the FDP is scratching the five percent hurdle. In previous electoral failures at the state level, she has subsequently let off steam in Berlin.
Things can also get uncomfortable for the SPD. A crushing defeat in Bavaria with a possible single-digit result again is priced in. But if Scholz’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) also clearly fails in Hesse, the Social Democrats could become nervous.
Super election year 2024 as a run-up to the federal election
Bavaria and Hesse are just the start of a series of elections that will shape the second half of the electoral period. June 9, 2024 is super election day with the European elections and local elections in nine federal states. State elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg will follow in September. In all three countries, the AfD is now well ahead in surveys at more than 30 percent.
The rise of the right-wing party is already largely determining the political debate in Berlin. Chancellor Scholz never tires of predicting that the AfD will not be stronger in the next federal election than it was in the last one with 10.3 percent – which is equivalent to halving its current poll numbers. But even the greatest optimists in his own party hardly dare to believe that.
The defining issues of the second half of the electoral period are likely to be overcoming the economic downturn, freeing the country from excessive bureaucracy and also dealing with the growing number of migrants. What is achieved in these fields will also determine the fate of the traffic lights. In any case, the 2025 federal election campaign has long since begun.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.