IN DEPTH: Merkel, RE await verdict

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to win a third term in office.

But two days before federal elections on Sunday it is still unclear whether she can continue her centre-right government or will need the support of the current opposition

That also translates into a deep uncertainty over what energy policy the next government in Berlin will pursue – ranging from a scaling down of support schemes for green energy to an actual acceleration of the country’s Energiewende, its move away from nuclear to renewable power.

Berlin’s energy policy is closely observed and, in part, copied not only in Europe but elsewhere in the world.

Recent opinion polls show either no, or only a razor-thin, majority for the incumbent coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), her Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

Surveys released this week expect the CDU/CSU to become the strongest party with between 38% and 40% of the vote.

But they also see the FDP at only some 5% or 6% of the vote, dangerously close to the 5%-threshold a party needs to overcome to be entitled to any parliamentary representation at all under Germany’s voting system.

The same polls rank the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) at 25% to 28%, not enough to win a majority together with its desired coalition partner, the Greens, which can hope for 8% to 11%.

Some surveys predict a theoretical majority for all opposition parties combined, adding the 8.5% to 10% expected for the Left Party, an amalgam of disgruntled western Social Democrats with former communists from the East.

But both the SPD and the Greens have categorically ruled out a coalition with the Left Party.

Another factor of insecurity is how the euro-sceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will fare that in one survey is seen jumping over the 5%-threshold. If the AfD gets into the Bundestag, Merkel will have lost her current majority in the lower house as certainly as if the FDP fails to gain at least 5%.

If Merkel doesn’t win an outright majority together with the FDP, she will have to repeat her “grand coalition” with the SPD that ruled Germany between 2005 and 2009, or opt for a yet-unprecedented alliance with the Greens.

For the renewables sector, a coalition with one of the current opposition parties would be good news, as her current FDP ally has become increasingly hostile to Germany’s current system of relatively generous feed-in tariffs (FITs) for green power.

The FDP lobbies for a moratorium of the support until the country’s renewable energy act (EEG) is thoroughly reformed toward a more “market-friendly” mechanism.

With the SPD, a continuation of the current system is likely, but that also would mean perpetuating support for gas and coal in the energy mix due to the Social Democrat’s traditional closeness to the fossil sector.

An alliance with the Greens is seen as relatively unlikely, but not impossible. It would be the best option for a more rapid and radical turnaround in German energy policy toward an economy based on renewables.

Deeply rooted in the anti-nuclear movement, the Greens push for more ambitious renewables and climate goals and are certain to make this a make-or-break point in any potential coalition negotiations.

First results of the German polls will be out and reported by Recharge this Sunday shortly after 1800 CET.

For Recharge's unrivalled background to the German election and its potential impact on the renewables sector, see Berlin correspondent Bernd Radowitz's previous articles in the column above, right.