The Merkel crisis and the consequences for Europe explained in 10 points
November 21, 2017
After the failure of negotiations for a government coalition between the CDU/CSU, FDP and the Green Party, Germany is facing a political crisis that has never been experienced since the end of WWII. It seems that to the main parties, taking “government responsibility” amounts to a certain loss of their political identity, so they hesitate to compromise with partners that are so radically different from them. Having said that, what kind of low-term future is shaping up for German politics? Here is a 10 points scenario
From Jamaica to Kenya, through the ballot box. All possible options
Two parties are by definition excluded from any conceivable government coalition: the AfD on the far right and the Linke on the far left, which together account for as much as a quarter of the seats in the Bundestag. The potentially governing parties, therefore, have only a combined 75% of all seats. The only hypothesis that remains after the end of the “Jamaica” project (CDU/CSU-FDP-Greens) remains a repackaging of the Große Koalition. That wouldn’t even be so that “big” in reality because it would have only the 56% of the seats, considering the current weight of CDU/CSU and SPD. However, the SPD does not seem to want to join the government in such a way. The idea of including the Greens in a CDU/CSU and SPD coalition is even more remote. What would take shape in this case would be the so-called “Kenia” coalition, but even this option presumes a rethinking by the SPD. Finally, Angela Merkel could form a minority government with her own CDU/CSU alone, or with a joint party the be chosen between the FDP and the Greens, trying to achieve a majority in the Parliament on a case-by-case basis; However, it would be a very fragile government, with little room for manoeuvre when facing major reforms. The most probable hypothesis to date is therefore that of new elections.
The changing CDU
The CDU remains at the core of every conceivable government in Germany, but the discontent with a too centrist approach and the loss of so many votes to the populist right is increasing. Almost certainly, the party must try to stress its profile as a traditional conservative party to try and retrieve right-wing votes. The need for a renewal of the political staff is also felt as urgent, but candidates for taking Merkel’s place are few and far between and, so far, unconvincing.
CSU, the twin who is getting further and further away
The president of the Bavarian party (and Bavarian Prime Minister) Horst Seehofer will be probably deposed in a few weeks’ time, because he is held responsible for the defeat in the elections last September. That defeat was due to an unclear approach to the problem of immigration, which sometimes saw him in harsh conflict with the chancellor, while at other times he again adhered to her “softer” approach. The CSU has lost its role as the more right-wing party in the German scene, and risks losing further support to the benefit of the AfD. The alliance with the CDU could be seriously tested by the current situation.
SPD and the sirens of “responsibility”
The choice of joining the opposition was probably the most wise for the SPD, as the party wants to renew itself and recover its status as a “People’s Party” in years to com. After the failure of the Jamaica coalition, however, the call for “responsibility” in order to secure a stable government in Germany has become more insistent. The pull towards the government is strong among Social Democrats, and it cannot be ruled out that they may eventually give in to such a pressure. In the event of new elections, however, Social Democrats would have the chance to make up, at least in part, for the September disaster, as it is difficult to imagine that they could lose even more votes than they already did. If they, instead, went on to form a government with Merkel, they would leave the role as opposition leaders to the AfD, which is rather embarrassing and one of the reasons why the SPD seems determined to remain right there.
FDP, the hardcore liberals tempted by populism
With the surprise move that broke the negotiations for a Jamaica coalition, the Liberals seem to have shown that they are now responding to a populist logic. The question now arises as to whether their leader, Christian Lindner, has ever really considered the idea of sharing the “government responsibilities” with the other two parties, or whether he has not understood soon enough that at this moment in history there is more to be gained from being in the opposition. In that setting, the FDP can compete with the AfD to get the votes of a disappointed and insecure constituency. The move, however, could prove counterproductive because the newly resurrected FDP at the moment only identifies itself with its leader Lindner and, as it has always been a traditional governing party up to this point, it has no experience in the populist domain.
The Green Party, between idealism and political correctness
To many analysts, the Greens would like to govern at all costs and therefore, in recent weeks, they have accommodated an already malleable CDU/CSU to achieve this goal. One must wonder, however, whether they would have been the ones to lose more in a “Jamaican” government, as sometimes they seemed all too idealistic as representatives of the “politically correct” discourse on issues such as the environment, gender or the integration of migrants. And idealism nowadays is often considered outdone by a harsh reality. The failure of the negotiations, on the other hand, cannot be attributed to the Greens. So they have saved their soul and, at the same time, they do not seem to be responsible – in the eyes of the average voter – for the current deadlock. They should strenghten in the event of new elections.
Linke, or the search for a more radical identity
These former communists have lost consensus in their strongholds in the East of Germany and are trying to get out of their isolation by accentuating their tones on the issue of immigration and integration. The SPD’s current opposition to Merkel could, in the event of a new election, or even in a more distant future, open up scenarios where Linke could cooperate with the Social Democrats, provided that they renew themselves “more to the left”. However, these are too remote at the moment to be considered as realistic alternatives. Of course, Linke can also consolidate its electorate as a radical opposition force.
AfD has an unexpected robustness (to some)
In the weeks that followed their electoral triumph in September, this right-wing populist party remained surprisingly silent. And the landslide of splits and resignations, as well as internal party struggles, all too much desired by the centrist parties, did not take place, despite the resignation of former leader Frauke Petry. The party is much different from previous cases of right-wing parties in Germany and, in the event of a new election, it could be further strengthened at the expense of the CDU/CSU – which is clearly in crisis. The ideas of the AfD already have a considerable influence on the German culture, which is undergoing a clear protectionist and identity regression.
Merkel and the risk of being a limited time chancellor
Chancellor Merkel is no longer as unassailable as she was three years ago. On the other hand, however, there is still no alternative to Merkel within her own party, and as the CDU/CSU alliance remains the focal point of every government, the former girl from the East remains crucial to choosing Germany’s leadership. Merkel wants to continue to govern and would also be a candidate for the chancellor in the event of a new election. It would, however, be appropriate for anyone who makes a new coalition government with her, whether it is now or after new elections, to put her very person as well as some demands for renewal at the center of negotiations. In this scenario, Merkel would become a limited time chancellor, for example for only two years.
A paralized Germany worsens Eurosclerosis
Europe is looking anxiously at Germany, but it seems that the Germans are currently too busy with their government crisis to deal with Europe. A Jamaican government would probably not have been a driving force for innovation and reform for a Europe in agony, and after this latest failure every possible initiative at EU level by Germany must wait for a repakaging of the Große Koalition – in which both partners are strongly weakened and more inclined to pander to the voters they have lost – or for new elections in the spring. A new stable government would probably not take the wheel until May or June of 2018. In the meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron would have had plenty of time to recover the political initiative in the European field, but without knowing with certainty with whom and with what type of policy he will have to confront himself on the German side. Eurosclerosis is therefore set to continue.