Government-building has failed as Free Democrats walk out – Parties in turmoil
In a surprise move just minutes before midnight, Germany´s Free Democrats of the FDP party have left the exploratory talks to build a new coalition on Sunday. Jamaica, as the alliance not-to-be was called because of the colours of the parties involved, had ended in failure even before the experiment was started in earnest. The pro-business, liberal Free Democrats, who had returned to parliament with a triumphant 10 per cent plus share of the vote, stated that they were not able to leave enough of an imprint of their political goals, such as a lowering of taxes and a refit for Germany´s clustered educational system, in the Jamaica plans. They also said they did not feel there was enough trust and spirit of cooperation established between the partners during the tedious talks that have lasted for a full five weeks.
Blame game is on
Leaving both Angela Merkel´s Christian Democrats and the Green party standing, the Free Democrats now have to cope with the fact that their unwanted partners have immediately started the blame game, saying the Free Democrats had had no intention to carry through the new alliance from the beginning.
As a result, Germany is now facing a period of political turmoil which certainly goes very much against the grain of a majority of German voters whose craving for stability is almost an obsession. Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU finds herself in trouble to secure a new majority, and the options of reaching the goal are limited. Three scenarios are possible:
Three Options for Merkel
One: She manages to convince the partners of the outgoing Grand Coalition, the Social Democrats or SPD to change their minds and buckle up again, with her remaining in the driving seat. This doesn´t seem likely, though, as the Social Democrats, who had received a historic bashing on election day in September, have made it clear that they felt the voters hadn´t handed them another mandate for such a course; an assessment strongly reiterated from party leader Martin Schulz today.
Two: Merkel could form a minority government, choosing either the Greens or the Free Democrats as her partners, but falling clearly short of a majority of her own with both options. This would be unprecedented in modern German history, and it´s not very likely it would last for long.
Three: The German President, former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD, a strong supporter of the Grand Coalition before he became elected as head of state early in the year, would make use of his presidential privilege and decide to dissolve the new parliament, paving the way for a re-election some time early next year.
The President is key – Chancellor reduced to support act
But Steinmeier, not a man to tolerate messing with the constitutional system, was quick on his feet today with a statement which must have been ringing particularly loud in the ears of his fellow Social Democrats. Rather bluntly, he said: “Those who seek political responsibility in elections should not shy away from it when it gets handed to them.” And off he walked, without a single word on his special presidential powers in the given situation; Steinmeier made it abundantly clear that he sees no reason so far to fetch anybody´s coals from the fire.
So this is what it is, after a momentous day in German politics: The constitution simply does not allow for new elections just because the parties in Bundestag want them, and the President in his role as guardian of the constitution in times of crisis will not easily allow for it. Steinmeier, and him only, will hold the key for this, acting very much in the spirit of the constitution which, in practical terms, dictates that when you as a party (or parties) create a political mess in Germany, you have to clean it up yourself.
The system is stable – the parties are not
What does it mean for the parties involved? For one, all of their leaders are, in various degrees, at disposal if it were to come to early elections. This also applies to Angela Merkel herself whose management of the coalition talks is in question even from within her own party. But then again: She has always proven to be at her best in times of crisis. Maybe this also applies to crises created by parties not modest enough to realize what the voters expect from them in rough waters.
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.
With over 25 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, and consulting, Mr. Kothé advises companies seeking relevant impact with politics and politicians. He founded FTI Consulting’s public affairs practice in Berlin in 2010. Previously, he served as spokesperson for German Federal President Horst Köhler. He also headed the communications and media team of the German liberal party, FDP. Starting his career in journalism at the BBC’s World Service in London, Mr. Kothé has also worked as a senior parliamentary correspondent for Germany’s news channel n-tv.