Play of colours – speculating on the coalition options
September 18, 2017
By FTI Consulting
In the final days before Germany elects a new government the outcome is still looking predictable. After a fairly uneventful campaign over summer – at least compared to national elections elsewhere in Europe – Angela Merkel will almost certainly lead her fourth cabinet. Since mid-June the polls have been pretty stable, showing Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) with a solid lead at 36 – 38 per cent and historically weak Social Democrats (SPD) at around 22 – 25 per cent. Four smaller parties are bobbing around between 8 and 10 per cent. Looking at these numbers, another Grand Coalition of Christian and Social Democrats is a fairly likely result – despite the fact that the SPD will have a hard time agreeing to such a renewed deal initially, frustrated by a result inexplicable to them as they have largely defined the current Grand Coalition’s agenda with social-democratic input.
What are the alternatives?
Maybe it is this hesitancy on the part of the SPD which leads to the lively debate on the alternatives to a Grand Coalition being discussed in these final campaigning days. And even if some of these are virtually impossible, they add colour to the admittedly static-looking political palette in Germany.
Combinations with yellow and green
The Liberals have declared their readiness to enter government and thus made “Jamaica”, a coalition of Christian Democrats (black), Liberals (yellow) and Greens, the most discussed option in the debate next to the Grand Coalition. The Greens themselves seem ready to commit to such an experiment, although they continue to fiercely attack Liberal positions on transport and energy policy, making it hard to imagine that both will be able to reach meaningful compromises once the vote is cast. But it’s not only being at odds with one another, and relishing to highlight the differences of traditional enmities that stand in the way, but also coalition dynamics: If the Liberals, as polls indicate, were to surpass the Greens on voting day, and the Greens would actually suffer a decline of approval, the job of keeping both sides together in a coalition might prove too big for even as patient a leader as Angela Merkel. Horst Seehofer, Head of CDU’s Bavarian sister party CSU, meanwhile declared his favourite to be a coalition just with the Liberals, termed “black / yellow”. However, the numbers simply don’t stack up at this stage, which makes this somewhat wishful thinking.
The same accounts for “black / green”, the combination of Christian Democrats and Greens. Germany’s eco party is just too weak at present and literally fighting for survival. There is some tragedy in this, particularly if we look back four years ago, when the Greens declined the offer on the table to govern together with the CDU/CSU. This time round, such an opportunity is unlikely to return.
Looking further to the left, the Christian Democrats have excluded a coalition involving the Left Party (Die Linke), and the Social Democrats would also find it extremely hard to compromise with Die Linke on many issues, of which foreign policy is the biggest bone of contention. That aside, the numbers are unlikely to even offer the remote chance for a “red / pink (Left) / green” coalition.
Looking further to the right, there is no option: all established parties have ruled out a coalition with the populist, rightist AfD party (Alternative für Deutschland). However, they all will have to deal with the fact that AfD members, polling between 8 and 10 per cent at present, and rising, will be sitting with them in parliament. Some also fear that Merkel’s campaign strategy, which largely consists in not provoking anybody, might not pay off in the end: What if voters mistook her lead in the polls for the real thing, thinking that she will make it anyways, and start to play with their vote tactically instead, leading to a CDU share below current polls?
A known known
Such a scenario, as deplorable at it would seem from a CDU perspective, might in the end help Social Democrats cast aside their doubts on a new deal with Angela Merkel, paving the way to another Grand Coalition.
Here’s another factor to take into account: Germany’s “Volkswagen State” of Lower Saxony will have early elections three weeks later, on October 15, after the slim state government majority by the Social Democrats and Greens was lost due to one individual defector. As formal coalition negotiations will probably only start in earnest after the Lower Saxony vote, there’s ample time to test the waters around Jamaica in the weeks before. And who knows: if FDP and Greens failed to impress for all to see, the SPD might find new reason to reconsider an alliance with the eternal Chancellor.
And the German public seems to be okay with that: according to a recent survey, 55 per cent of the population think the current government has been “fairly good”, and there you have it.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
Ms. Ledosquet joined FTI Consulting’s London office in 2000 and advised clients from various sectors in strategic communications, initially focussed on financial market communication and international assignments. After moving back to Germany in 2005, she supported clients in corporate and change communication. Since 2010, Ms. Ledosquet co-heads FTI Consulting’s Berlin based public affairs practice covering predominantly energy, finance and consumer protection policy. Prior to FTI Consulting, she was international communications manager at British Airways plc.