The 2021 German Federal Election and its Implications for Canada

Opinion by Robert Malloy.

Photo of Indigenous Woman

The end of the Merkel era in Germany will be a monumental shift for Europe. In her absence, the Social Democratic Party of Germany has formed government for the first time since 2005, signalling potential social shifts in one of the EU’s most powerful nations. Despite the election being called in their favour, the SPD at the time of writing is still in talks over who will assume the chancellorship and about how to go about forming a collation government. The likely successor to Merkel is Olaf Scholz of the SPD, who seeks to create a collation with the German Green and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). One arena expected to see among the most significant impact will be NATO and international security, as the SPD and likely collation parties have declared different objectives with regards to defense and desire a more pro-European as opposed to Merkel’s Atlanticist position. Trade is another area that could be greatly affected by the advent of an SPD government, with the party having opposed trade agreements like Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the past, but with other coalition parties having different views. Perhaps most importantly, environmental policy and tackling climate change will be fundamental to Canadian German relations over the SPD’s term in office. The proposed collation seeks to bring the German Green Party into the fold, meaning environmentalists will have a strong voice in affairs related to Canada and our environmental conduct. These three arenas will become the focal points of German Canadian relations going forward.


Canada, Germany, and NATO


German defense policy as it relates to Canada is somewhat uncertain due to the nature of the parties within the collation government. The defense policy portion of the SPD’s manifesto for the 2021 election called for a “Sovereign Europe within the world”, acknowledging that Europe needs to rise to the challenge of an increasingly multi-polar world [1]. In contrast, the German Greens, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) stressed multilateralism and international cooperation in their manifestos [1]. Seeing as these parties are the most likely to form a collation around the SPD, it will be interesting to see the foreign policy developments that emerge from a collation with different goals.


One can reasonably expect, however, that after four tumultuous years in NATO under Trump and with the SPD holding the majority of seats, the collation government will be hesitant to fully embrace transatlantic allies and will most likely advocate within NATO and the EU for a more Euro-Centric approach to security. This will have a noticeable impact on Canada with regard to our defense policy. If the SPD collation succeeds in advocating for a united European front, Canada may be made to either rely more heavily on US support or may be forced to choose between US and EU allies. The outgoing Merkel government committed to spend €53 billion on the NATO alliance in 2021, and with US president Biden hoping to revive the alliance, proving that while its reputation in Europe is damaged, there is still hope yet for the alliance [2].


The SPD, in forming a collation government, will not be able to enact their desire for a more isolated Europe. The German Greens and FPD will both use their positions to advocate for Atlantic cooperation in defence, especially with an ascendant China and an ever-present Russia [3]. However, the uncertainty over the future of the NATO alliance that begun under the Trump administration will continue. With other European nations equally skeptical of the alliance, especially France, the future of Atlantic collective defense remains uncertain at best. This will lead Canada to potentially engaging in a soul-searching endeavour in the coming years as we seek to find our place in a shifting, unfamiliar world order.


Canadian-German Trade


Germany and Canada have enjoyed a fruitful trade relationship for decades. Both Germany

and Canada are members of elite trade organizations such as the G7 and Germany is Canada’s largest export market within the EU [4]. In 2016, under the previous Merkel government, CETA between Canada and the EU was signed. However, the SPD and German Greens have not been enthusiastic supporters of free trade. The parties militantly opposed CETA in the lead up to its passing, arguing it was detrimental to workers rights and environmental policy [5]. This could be an indicator of potential cooperation or a foreshowing of sour relations between Canada and Germany.


Since elected to office in 2015, Trudeau has vowed to undertake measures to improve the lives of low-income workers and families. His 2021 election platform stated similar goals as well [6]. These policies align with the left-wing ideology of the SPD and Greens and could bode well for relations between the two countries if shared left-wing values are demonstrated. However, if the SPD and its collation allies choose to embrace opposition to free trade and protectionism in the name of defending German workers, trade between Canada and Germany could suffer a blow. Trade between the two countries will be dependent on economic trends in the aftermath of the pandemic as well as the willingness of the collation government to maintain the principles of free trade.


The FDP, the third party within the collation and the one with the least seats, has its party values based on liberalism and pro business economic policy. While the Green and the SPD do value workers rights and have protectionist tendencies, the collation government will have within it voices advocating for trade, which will create favourable circumstances for the Canadian economy.


Environmental Policy


One aspect that will affect Canadian German relations towards the collation government will the tackling of climate change and environmental policy. In this area, Canada and Germany will find a great deal of common ground and potential for cooperation. However, failure of the part of either country’s leadership to meet climate goals or participate in climate action could lead to colder relations. Given the collation government includes left wing parties in the SPD and Greens, as well as liberal parties intent on keeping pace with global trends in the FDP, climate policy will feature heavily


Olaf Scholz, the likely successor to Merkel as chancellor, has vowed to bring about a swift transition within Germany toward renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power to help in the fight against climate change [7]. This sentiment offers potential for economic and environmental collaboration between Germany and Canada. Canada is currently a world leader in renewable energy production, with Canada obtaining 18.9% of its power from renewables. Canada is also the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world [8]. Canada has an opportunity to share technical knowledge, expert analysis, and mutual investment in green technologies with the German government. This could have the effect of endearing Canada to the German government, opening up collaboration in other areas and gaining an ally on the international stage in Canada’s fight against climate change.


Environmental issues could also create tensions between the German government and Canada. The German Greens, the second largest party within the proposed collation, is renown for an aggressive stance towards climate change. Their 2021 platform includes a commitment to cut Germany’s emissions 70% by 2030 [9]. Trudeau’s Liberals, by contrast, have been less aggressive on climate change. Trudeau’s government previously committed to a reduction in emissions of 36% by 2030, raising that to 40-45% reduction in emissions in the leadup to the 2021 election [10]. This represents a considerably less aggressive push on climate change. With the German Greens controlling the third largest voting bloc in German parliament, a lackluster performance by Canada in the fight against climate change could negatively affect diplomatic relations.


Environmental issues could also create tensions between the German government and Canada. The German Greens, the second largest party within the proposed collation, is renowned for an aggressive stance towards climate change. Their 2021 platform includes a commitment to cut Germany’s emissions 70% by 2030 [9]. Trudeau’s Liberals, by contrast, have been less aggressive on climate change. Trudeau’s government previously committed to a reduction in emissions of 36% by 2030, raising that to 40-45% reduction in emissions in the leadup to the 2021 election [10]. This represents a considerably less aggressive push on climate change. With the German Greens controlling the third largest voting bloc in German parliament, a lackluster performance by Canada in the fight against climate change could negatively affect diplomatic relations.


  1. Franke, Ulrike. "Foreign and Defence Policy in the German Election." European Council on Foreign Relations. September 16, 2021. https://ecfr.eu/article/foreign-and-defence-policy-in-the-german-election/.

  2. Carter, Leah. "Germany Reports Record €53 Billion in NATO Defense Spending." Deutsche Welle. July 2, 2021. https://www.dw.com/en/germany-reports-record-53-billion-in-nato-defense-spending/a-56491017.

  3. Brandow, Doug. "Germany’s Greens Plan a Tough Foreign Policy." CATO Institute. May 18, 2021. https://www.cato.org/commentary/germanys-greens-plan-tough-foreign-policy

  4. Global Affairs Canada. "Canada-Germany Relations." Global Affairs Canada. March 11, 2021. https://www.international.gc.ca/country-pays/germany-allemagne/relations.aspx?lang=eng#a2.

  5. "German Economy Minister Wins Key CETA Confidence Vote: DW: 19.09.2016." Deutsche Welle. September 19, 2016. https://www.dw.com/en/german-economy-minister-wins-key-ceta-confidence-vote/a-19561913.

  6. "Key Actions Since 2015 to Support Workers: Liberal Party of Canada." Liberal Party of Canada. 2021. https://liberal.ca/our-platform/key-actions-to-support-workers-since-2015/.

  7. Donahue, Patrick. "German Chancellor-in-Waiting Vows Fast Push for Renewables." Bloomberg.com. October 27, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-27/german-chancellor-in-waiting-vows-energy-renewal-in-first-year.

  8. "About Renewable Energy." Natural Resources Canada. December 13, 2017. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/energy-sources-distribution/renewable-energy/about-renewable-energy/7295.

  9. Thurau, Jens. "What Do the German Greens Want If They Gain Power?" Deutsche Welle. September 24, 2021. https://www.dw.com/en/what-do-the-german-greens-want-if-they-gain-power/a-57248907.

  10. Taylor, Stephanie. "Trudeau Increases Canada's 2030 Emissions Target to 40-45% - National." Global News. April 22, 2021. https://globalnews.ca/news/7779596/climate-change-emissions-targets-canada-2030-trudeau/.