One month after the voters left the German political landscape in disarray, the new Bundestag celebrated its inaugural session on 24 October. This is good news, but it does certainly not mean that Germany is yet politically capable of approaching most pressing matters. It rather seems further patience is required until a new government is in place. This is not expected any sooner than Christmas.
Although the electorate results basically allow for one governing coalition only, the potential partners of the so called Jamaica coalition of CDU/CSU (Conservatives), FDP (Liberals) and Greens (so called because the three parties’ colors match those of the Caribbean nation’s flag) seem to have serious difficulties to find common ground while trying to avoid losing too much credibility with their base and their voters. Promises must be kept, especially if they are about cash. The most controversial issues are therefore being tackled right at the beginning of the exploratory discussions: Europe, taxes and finances.
Once and if common ground is found, staffing issues will also have an impact on a successful outcome. The powerful Ministry of Finance is one focus of this discussion. Until recently, this influential Ministry (its importance has further expanded since the eurozone crisis) was occupied by Merkel-confidant Wolfgang Schäuble (who left the office to become president of the newly elected parliament). However, Merkel’s potential new partners are unwilling to surrender this position to the Christian Democrats. Christian Lindner (leader of the Liberals), insisted the job should not remain with Ms Merkel’s CDU: ‘A Green, CSU or FDP finance minister — anything would be better than the chancellery and the finance ministry remaining in CDU hands’.
Is the common denominator too low?
According to the internal roadmap, the partners, provided there will be an agreement, will not start entering coalition negotiations before mid-November. Hence, don’t expect any progress on issues such as Brexit or a potential European Monetary Fund soon.
One way or another, there is a chance that talks may altogether fail. This scenario is likely and unlikely at once. Likely, as the smallest common denominator may be too low for the negotiating factions to be tenable with their basis (Greens and Liberals will ask their parties for approval) and their voters. Unlikely (but more likely), as none of the three are really able to walk away from the negotiations: the Greens already aborted the talks with the Conservatives in 2013 and cannot again be held accountable, as they must now show some sense of responsibility. If the Liberals (after parliamentary absence for the past term) took possible re-elections into consideration, they would commit political suicide and Angela Merkel herself is wounded. As her party came off badly in the elections and failed to win regional elections in Lower-Saxony last weekend, she has to deliver as critical voices emerge the first time in many years.
Even if these three partners of different political couleur succeed in forming a government, it remains to be seen whether a sellout is enough to govern a country in transition while facing strong opposition from the left.
In the meantime, please stay tuned, even though our next update on coalition-building in Germany may be long in coming.
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.
Mr. Lemke has been advising clients in public affairs and political communications for almost ten years. Born in Hong Kong, he grew up in the north of Germany, and spent his student years in Spain and Canada. Back in Germany, he started his career in political campaigning, supporting the government of Germany with its nation branding activities. Since he joined FTI Consulting in 2011, he focusses on political aspects of finance, technology and consumer protection.