Almost four months after the general elections, leaders of the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) optimistically announced a breakthrough in talks aimed at forming a new government which would practically be a repeat of last term’s Grand Coalition.
The SPD was in no way eager to be part of these talks in the beginning. But in November the attempt at forming a so-called Jamaica coalition of Christian Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens failed, and the Social Democrats, who initially ruled out governing with Angela Merkel any longer (as CDU/CSU and SPD had suffered their worst election results for more than 50 years), needed to reconsider and step in as the last option to form a coalition with Merkel´s party. This led to preliminary talks in early January.
These have produced a blueprint for formal negotiations. The Christian Democrats are happy to start talking in earnest but will have to wait for the Social Democrats who first need to have the blueprint approved on two levels by the party brass. But the “fresh start”, as party leaders described the paper, is in fact a political compromise and may fail its purpose to satisfy the party bases.
SPD able to close ranks?
Thus, it only took one weekend for senior Social Democrats to condemn the paper and demand a major overhaul, and it’s hard to tell if this aims at the deal as such, or a remake of a Grand Coalition altogether. What is clear, though, is that it’ll be a serious challenge to overcome the uneasiness within the party at the prospect of another term in Merkel’s shadow. The party base that is to vote on the continuation of coalition talks has already indicated criticism demanding further tweaks, and those may only be an excuse to complicate negotiations in order to prevent entering a Grand Coalition full stop. A regional SPD convention in the state of Saxony-Anhalt rejected the deal by a one vote majority, sending a sense of foreboding.
On 21 January, an SPD party convent needs to give the go ahead for coalition negotiations in earnest, and with the leadership seemingly unaligned, plenty of persuading and easing will be necessary until then. One way or another, Martin Schulz’ authority as party leader continues to suffer as he has been unable to close the ranks on this.
Although skepticism against a political partnership with Mrs Merkel seems reasonable from a party perspective, a rejection of a coalition would further question the SPD’s capacity to govern. In the end, the party’s vote will not only be on specific policies, but a token of the party’s self-confidence in the light of yet another junior-partnership with Merkel.
Fresh start or fresh elections?
Either way, by demanding further adjustments, the SPD effectively puts their future into Merkel’s hands. The Christian Democrats, who desperately need a deal, too, are unlikely to react aggressively prior to the SPD’s D’Day. Nevertheless, Merkel’s party may risk rising discontent from their own party base as well. Hence, Alexander Dobrindt, leader of the CSU parliamentary group in Berlin, preventively rebuffed these demands by requesting Martin Schulz to show that the SPD is a reliable coalition partner and to “get a grip on the unnecessary internal party fuss”.
Fresh elections may in the end be the best solution for all, except for the parties’ leaderships in Berlin (whose expiry date may be cut short), and for Emmanuel Macron in Paris, who keeps waiting for an answer on his EU initiative. Germany may not only need a fresh start, but a reset altogether. A government is needed that does more than merely administer record tax revenues. Patience may pay off in the end.
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.