Germany’s political future became increasingly uncertain as Angela Merkel was dealt another blow this week. For the first time since the federal republic of Germany was founded in 1949, coalition talks have failed to produce a government. Whilst it was believed that a ‘Jamaica’ coalition (between parties with the colours of the Jamaican flag) might be achieved, discussions broke down when the FDP leader Christian Lindner walked out of talks late on the 19th November. Germany may be in crisis, but, fortunately, the constitution preserves stability. The present administration remains whilst the leaders keep talking. Meanwhile, veteran Chancellor Angela Merkel presides over attempting to unify the most fragmented Bundestag Germany has had in years, and a public increasingly drawn to the extremes of the political spectrum.
Before the elections on the 24th September, Mrs Merkel had seemed unassailable, calmly steering towards her fourth term as Chancellor. Germany seemed a beacon of stability despite the populist tide shaking up the political landscape elsewhere in Europe. Yet Mrs Merkel’s dominance, and that of centrist liberal government in Germany, was weakened when her Christian Democrats (CDU) party lost their majority: they took only 33.5% of the vote whilst the far right ADP party made significant gains. These gains were particularly pronounced in the East, where anti-immigrant feeling has been felt more strongly in the wake of Mrs Merkel’s Wilkommenspolitik open doors policy. The FDP and the AFD parties both ran anti-immigrant campaigns, and immigration quotas continued to be the main sticking point in talks – Lindner’s party stipulated a cap of 200 000 immigrants per year. It is hardly surprising that parties with such varied priorities as the Greens and the right-leaning FDP struggled to find common ground in coalition talks. The protection of jobs at risk due to policies limiting climate change formed another obstacle.
Mr Lindner claimed “it is better to not govern at all than to govern wrongly.” He was referring to concessions his party were unwilling to make on issues like immigration. Yet it echoes Mrs Merkel’s statement that it would be better to call elections than rule as a minority government. An olive branch may be on its way, however, as the centrist SPD party, which had previously formed the Grand Coalition with Mrs Merkel’s CDU, thawed their stance on engaging in coalition discussions. After the embarrassment of the election results, the party had vowed to remain in opposition, but SPD General Secretary Hubertus Heil told reporters on Thursday that the party was “convinced that discussions must be held… the SPD will not rule out talks.” By Friday morning they had agreed to meet with the CDU in a bid to break the hung parliament deadlock.
President Steinmeier will be hoping the talks bear the fruit of a strong majority coalition. He certainly does not want to call elections. Due to Germany’s constitution, if he is obliged to call elections they cannot happen until at least February of next year. With a public already expressing their frustration in the ballot box, Germany’s centrist politicians cannot risk holding another drawn out election campaign where populist parties could gain further ground. Germany has been a bastion of tolerance in recent years. Angela Merkel has overseen the bailout of struggling EU economies and decided to accept 1.3 million undocumented migrants and refugees from the Middle East in 2015. But the tide of public opinion has turned, and a party sometimes referred to as Neo Nazis (the far right Alternative for Germany) took an unprecedented 90 seats in the last election. Whilst a resurrection of the Grand Coalition might be appealing in the short term, German politicians will find themselves with a greater unifying task. After the confusion of the last few months, a new coalition must avoid internal squabbles and greater delays, and focus on trying to divert a public almost as divided as Trump’s America or May’s post-Brexit Britain from the politically extreme alternatives.