Germany’s national elections this past September were a crushing blow for three parties: the junior coalition partner Social Democratic Party (SPD), the senior partner Christian Democratic Union (CDU) with its Bavarian sister party the CSU, and the left-wing Greens. Although Angela Merkel’s CDU remained the largest party in the Bundestag, it lost 65 seats, a huge rejection of the chancellor.
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Nevertheless, with an astonishing selbstverständnis, or self-understanding, Ms. Merkel considered herself to have won the elections.
The SPD accepted the consequences of its defeat: they have decided to leave the government and go into opposition. Chancellor Merkel attempted to form a coalition including the CDU/CSU, the Greens and the liberal, free-market Free Democratic Party (FDP). The potential government that would have resulted was called the “Jamaica coalition” as the parties’ colors (black, green and yellow, respectively) corresponded to those of Jamaica’s flag.
This was a strange endeavor, as the parties have starkly different principles – the Greens seemed especially out of place. Obviously, there was no basis for a government, but Ms. Merkel saw it as her best chance to remain chancellor.
FDP sticks to principles
On November 19, the FDP very logically decided to end the negotiations. “Today there was no progress but rather there were setbacks because targeted compromises were questioned,” explained the party’s leader, Christian Lindner. It is clear that his party’s commitment to individual freedom and a dynamic society would not have been sufficiently upheld. He considered some of the plans being discussed damaging and believed they would have forced the party to abandon its principles. With this move, Mr. Lindner and the FDP showed they would not break their voters’ trust by supporting politics without conviction.
“It is better not to rule than to rule badly. Goodbye!” Mr. Lindner added. This marks the end of the Jamaica coalition.
Finally, a party has not taken the expedient route or been seduced by the feeding trough of power
This is a very refreshing development. Finally, a party has not taken the expedient route or been seduced by the feeding trough of power. Instead, it preferred to stand up for its principles – something that has become very rare in European politics. Expediency and muddling through were its main characteristics, leading to a lack of courage, determination and leadership.
Chancellor Merkel now has a problem. This is her personal loss. Her indecisive maneuvering purely to find the most pragmatic way to maintain power finally failed. Attracting voters from the left while abandoning Christian democratic principles is unsustainable, and conducting election campaigns mainly by marginalizing other groups is shortsighted.
But what are the consequences? The worst case would be a minority government under the leadership of Ms. Merkel.
A logical development would be the “dreaded” scenario of new elections. These would be especially dangerous for the CDU, which would likely have a leadership problem – Ms. Merkel has eliminated most other competitors in her party. Can she continue? For Germans, being unable to form a government is a huge loss of face.
Another alternative would be the resignation of Ms. Merkel, which might enable the CDU to invite the SPD to return to a coalition government.
After the negotiations broke down, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who gave Ms. Merkel the mandate to form a government, appealed to the parties (including his own SPD), to find a sustainable solution and avoid new elections.
Nevertheless, finding a solution will be difficult. It is probably a blessing that the Jamaica coalition talks failed. Had they succeeded, Europe’s largest country would have become even more lethargic and lacking in sound politics. Finally, one party stuck to its convictions. Hopefully, voters will reward the FDP, and it will serve as an example to other parties.