When September 26 Elections in Germany Having won a narrow victory for the Social Democrats (SPD) and at least three possible coalition formations, politicians here in Berlin took a deep breath and prepared for months of negotiations that could last until 2022 – extending Angela Merkel’s term for such a long term. that she will overtake Helmut Kohl and become the chancellor with the longest experience of work on this path. After all, after the 2017 elections, it took almost six months for Europe’s largest economy to get a government, and this year’s election results were even more fragmented.
However, after two weeks full of political events, it now seems possible and even likely that the formation of the next German government this time will be a much faster process. One of the three possible coalition options turned out to be the most probable and is gaining momentum: a left-liberal “traffic light” government consisting of the SPD, greens and conservative liberal free democrats (FDP), the so-called because the colors of the three parties are red-green-yellow. As I wrote in New statesman last week, there is good reason to be cautiously optimistic about what such a government would mean.
The process began a few hours after the polling stations closed, when Tsar Greens and the FDP announced that they would begin by talking to each other. Both parties often clash: the latter caricatures the former as a group of illiberal benefactors who love nothing but prohibition, and the former often reject the other as a political wing of climate-destroying privileges. And yet there has always been a certain similarity. Both represent a disproportionately young, urban and educated electorate, advocate liberalization of social reform, and are prone to belligerence with Russia and China. In their post-election meetings, they were so divided that they are now called the “citrus” (green-yellow) duo.
The SPD also had a good two weeks. The morning after the election, Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz, encouraged by the success of his party, announced his intention to form a traffic light coalition. At that point, Armin Laschet, his colleague who had led the center-right CDU / CSU alliance to the worst, was still seriously proposing to prevent this by luring the citrus duo into the Jamaica coalition (CDU / CSU., FDP and Greens). However, in the interim, the emergence of a traffic light government became more and more likely – preliminary negotiations last weekend (2-3 October) between the SPD and the FDP and the Greens (separately) went well.
On Wednesday morning, the Greens called on the FDP to join them in preliminary talks with the SPD on a traffic light government. A little over an hour later, the FDP agreed.
Peter Altmeier, the CDU’s economy minister, tweeted: “The traffic light train has left the station.” Soon after, Markus Söder, leader of the CSU, echoed this view: “Now the traffic light coalition is clearly number one.” On October 7, Laschet resigned himself to the inevitable and announced his forthcoming resignation from the post of leader of the CDU. The only chance for the CDU / CSU to lead the Jamaican government would be if the traffic light negotiations fail (and even then Chancellor Söder could be the result, not Chancellor Laschet).
There are relatively few signs that they will do so, although it is still early: preliminary negotiations between the three parties began yesterday (October 7). “After today, I’m sure it might work,” SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil said at the end of the day. Discussions will continue on Monday 11 October.
The process will not be easy. While the three parties are broadly committed to progressive social values, they are divided on issues of taxation, economics and climate protection. Germany hasn’t had a politically tripartite federal government lately, and the only modern attempt at one – Merkel’s attempt to form a coalition in Jamaica in 2017 – failed when the FDP left. The relationship of forces within such a coalition can create tensions: the “citrus” parties together have more MPs than the SPD, which makes Chancellor Scholz’s party a minority in its own coalition. As Greens co-leader Robert Habeck said, “Germany is currently re-examining politics to some extent.”
But one cannot fail to notice the aura of seriousness and determination around the negotiations. All three parties received MPs in the elections, which gave them a sense of the general dynamics. The FDP and the Greens did not close the door for Jamaica’s coalition, but the divided and headless CDU / CSU does not make an attractive coalition partner, and public polls show Scholz is overwhelmingly the preferred next chancellor now that the election is over. And there is a clear understanding of the trade-offs that the three sides can bring together: One widespread proposal would include FDP fiscal aggressiveness aligned with Green’s and SPD’s requirements for climate-friendly infrastructure investments through the use of one or more unbalanced list of investment vehicles.
If such early signs are confirmed, preliminary negotiations could give way to formal negotiations by the end of this month and a new government by early mid-December. This would be good news for Germany, which, as Greens’ co-leader Annalena Berbock said on October 6, “cannot afford a long period of uncertainty.”
This would be good news for Europe as well, where a dramatic clash between the Polish Constitutional Court and the EU highlights a list of urgent priorities requiring Germany’s active participation. And that will be good news for Merkel, who seems anxious to retire. Luckily for her, it looks like she’s likely to be out of work by Christmas.
For the final episode of the special series “Germany chooses”, v New statesman teamed up with Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a leading German political foundation, closely associated with the social democratic movement in Germany and abroad, to discuss election results and possible traffic light government. In it, I interview former SPD candidate for Chancellor Martin Schultz, as well as experts on domestic, European and global politics in Germany.
Friday issue World overview Podcast, Meghan and Ido joined journalist Kenji Hall in Tokyo to discuss Fumio Kishida, Japan’s new prime minister. They discuss his Kishida’s plans for economic reform, the possibility of changing Japan’s pacifist constitution as the country reacts to an increasingly assertive China, and factional clashes within the dominant Liberal Democratic Party.