Amid a tumultuous year for Europe--as Britain negotiates to exit the EU, and France nearly elected a populist president--all seems relatively calm in Germany. And though Germans head to the polls on Sunday to determine their next government, most predict incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel is almost guaranteed a fourth term.
"The election is really not a big thing in Germany," suggests Gero Decker, the founder and CEO of Signavio, a Berlin-based IT services firm. "Everybody seems to be happy with [Merkel,] and how she's leading the country without drama." Signavio generated €8.6 million in 2015 revenue, and is on track to do tens of millions in 2017, says Decker.
Little about the future of German politics is clear, however. Although Merkel--as leader of the center-right Christian Democratic Union--is projected to win her reelection bid, the German parliament is formed by coalitions. All told, seven parties are likely to enter the lower chamber--or "Bundestag"--including, for the first time, the far-right nationalist group AfD (Alternative for Germany). That has a number of local firms worried, especially those that do business abroad.
"The rise of the AfD concerns me deeply, as their general attitude seems to be protective and anti-European," says Gregor Stoeckler, the founder and CEO of DataVard, a Heidelberg-based software firm with 11 locations across Germany and the U.S. "Germany as a country and an economy depends on excellent international relations and needs to play a leading role within the EU," Stoeckler adds.
The results of the election should be announced as soon as Sunday evening, although coalition deliberations--typically an arduous process--may not wrap up for several more weeks. In addition to the AfD, and Merkel's CDU, Germans will cast votes for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), led by Martin Shulz; the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP); The Left (Die Linke); and the Greens (Die Gruenen). The current "grand coalition" of the Bundestag includes the CDU and the SDP, though a three-way coalition between the FDU, Greens, and CDU is also likely, experts say.
What businesses want from their next chancellor.
Decker is among the many German entrepreneurs that are generally pleased with Merkel's approach to governance: Over the past decade, the chancellor has consistently pushed for broader European integration, and helped to strengthen international economic relations.
For Decker's business, which serves 1,300 companies across the U.S., France, Britain, and Switzerland, Merkel's open-door approach to immigration has been especially positive; Signavio has hired several Syrian refugees, as well as workers from EU member nations such as Portugal and Greece, who fled their native countries during the debt crisis. "What I would wish is for her to foster European integration even further," Decker says. German companies might benefit from a visa program that allows workers from countries such as India and China to enter the EU more freely, he suggests.
Others see room for improvement, even as they concede that they're pleased that Merkel should win the election.
DataVard's Stoeckler, for one, wants the Bundestag to invest more in German schools, so that more tech talent becomes available to early-stage companies. His business brought in €7.6 million in revenues in 2015. "My wish is for her to renovate the German educational system, and better align the curricula to the reality and requirements of the 21st century," he tells Inc. in an email interview. "We lack knowledgeable workers and a significant investment in the digital infrastructure."
To his point, although investment in Germany is on the rise, there have been relatively few corporate exits to date (Delivery Hero's recent IPO is an exception.) Meanwhile, the European Commission estimates that by 2020, there could be about 756,000 job vacancies for coders, engineers, and tech specialists across the EU.
Merkel--in contrast to President Trump--has a reputation for levelheaded leadership, which may continue to bolster the EU business climate moving forward. "She has a steady hand, and that's really important," says Andreas Dengler, the co-founder and CEO of the Berlin-based marketing agency DCMN, which has offices in the U.S., London, France, and South Africa. Merkel's leadership stands in contrast to the "macro-level uncertainty" that most Brits, for example, were expecting for 2017. Last year, DCMN generated roughly $50 million in revenue.
To be sure, Dengler wishes that Merkel would reduce the regulatory burden on German companies--which face an average corporate tax rate of 14.5 percent--although he doesn't expect that she will.
That won't stop him from voting for her again on Sunday.