German election: Centre-left SDP narrowly beat Merkel’s party in tightly fought election

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates explores the significance of Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) claiming victory in the federal election

Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats have narrowly beaten outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc party in Sunday's national election, preliminary results show.

The Social Democrats’ candidate Olaf Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister who pulled his party out of a years-long slump, said the result was “a very clear mandate to ensure now that we put together a good, pragmatic government for Germany.”

The closely fought race saw the Social Democrats edge out the Union bloc by 25.9% of the vote, ahead of 24.1% for the Union bloc. No winning party in a German national election had previously taken less than 31% of the vote and the result means a coalition will need to be formed.

Ms Merkel will carry on in a caretaker role until a successor is sworn in.

Union bloc candidate Armin Laschet, who struggled to motivate the party’s base, told supporters that “we will do everything we can to form a government under the Union’s leadership, because Germany now needs a coalition for the future that modernises our country.”

The two biggest parties will be looking to join forces with the Greens, who were third with 14.8% and pro-business Free Democrats, who took 11.5% of the vote.

The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats towards the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way.

Chancellor Angela Merkel stands next to Governor Armin Laschet, right. Credit: AP

The outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats has run Germany for 12 of Ms Merkel’s 16 years in charge means there is little appetite for a repeat of this powershare.

“Everyone thinks that... this ‘grand coalition’ isn’t promising for the future, regardless of who is No. 1 and No. 2,” Laschet said. “We need a real new beginning.”

The Free Democrats’ leader, Christian Lindner suggested his party and the Greens should make the first move.

“About 75% of Germans didn’t vote for the next chancellor’s party,” Mr Lindner said in a post-election debate with all parties’ leaders on public broadcaster ZDF. “So it might be advisable... that the Greens and Free Democrats first speak to each other to structure everything that follows.”

Ms Baerbock insisted that “the climate crisis... is the leading issue of the next government, and that is for us the basis for any talks... even if we aren’t totally satisfied with our result.” The Left Party was projected to win only 4.9% of the vote and risked being kicked out of parliament entirely. The far right Alternative for Germany received 10.3%, around 2% less than in 2017, when it first entered parliament.

Due to Germany’s complicated electoral system, a full breakdown of the result by seats in parliament was still pending.

What does the result mean? - ITV News Europe Editor James Mates

Germany’s leading parties have significant differences when it comes to taxation and tackling climate change. Whichever parties form the next German government, the Free Democrats’ Lindner said it was “good news” that it would have a majority with centrist parties. “All of those in Europe and beyond who were worried about Germany’s stability can now see: Germany will be stable in any case,” he said. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sent early congratulations to Scholz.

Armin Laschet and his wife Susanne cast their votes for the German parliament election in Aachen Credit: Thilo Schmuelgen/AP

“Spain and Germany will continue to work together for a stronger Europe and for a fair and green recovery that leaves no one behind,” he wrote on Twitter. In two regional elections also held Sunday, the Social Democrats looked set to defend the post of Berlin mayor that they have held for two decades. The party was also on course for a strong win in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. For the first time since 1949, the Danish minority party SSW was set to win a seat in parliament, officials said.