After narrowly beating Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Sunday’s general election, members of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) said on Tuesday they want to start talks this week on forming a coalition. ruler with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP). . But the two smaller parties have already started talking to each other, suggesting that they are working together to strike a tough deal.
Although they were the two chancellor candidates representing the two largest parties, Olaf Scholz of the SPD and Armin Laschet of the CDU are no longer the focus of attention in German politics: the spotlight has been on the leader of the FDP Christian Lindner and the duo that runs the Greens, Annalena. Baerbock and Robert Habeck, who know that neither party can form a coalition without them.
The two sides met on Monday before entering into talks with the CDU or the SPD. This marks the first time in German history and a major break with the country’s political traditions, said Klaus Schubert, professor of political science at the University of Munster. “Previously, the party that came out at the top of the election (in this case, the SPD) always set the agenda in coalition talks after the vote, and Germans are often very interested in this kind of political tradition. ”.
It’s a clever move by the Greens and the FDP, Schubert continued. “If the two sides establish a good relationship, they will be in a very strong negotiating position against the SPD and the CDU, with the means to really impose their political agendas.”
‘There is no choice but to enter a coalition’
The efforts of the two smaller parties to get along make a big difference from the latest round of coalition talks after the previous elections in 2017. Merkel was eager for a so-called Jamaican coalition to unite her CDU with the Greens and the FDP. . But he ended up forming another “grand coalition” with the SPD after Lindner refused to make a deal with the Greens, arguing that his particular program was incompatible with the FDP’s cherished economic liberalism.
Indeed, Lindner did not launch his blows against the Greens in the run-up to the Sept. 26 vote, spending much of the campaign arguing that his environmental policies would destroy Germany’s economic dynamism if they took office.
However, this time the two sides have no choice but to get along, said Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. “Linder cannot afford to be intransigent after he refused to be part of a coalition in 2017; this is your last chance. And when it comes to the Greens, they feel that the climate emergency leaves them no choice but to govern as part of a coalition. “
The Greens and the FDP were the two most popular parties among those under 30, and this may well act as the glue between them, suggested Hans Vorlander, a professor of politics at the University of Dresden. “They will seek to play with their images as youth parties by emphasizing policies such as digitizing government activities or improving gender equality.”
At the same time, the Greens and the FDP will have to tiptoe around each other’s red lines. For both parties, this will be a difficult maneuver to perform. The Greens are eager to raise taxes on the richest Germans, and that would be anathema to the FDP.
The Greens are also keen to invest public spending in the transition to a more environmentally friendly economy, while the FDP sees itself as a guardian of Germany’s strict fiscal orthodoxy.
But the two parties are already considering ideas that would allow them to square these circles, Vorlander noted, such as “creating a kind of single budget to fight change, without including this extra spending in Germany’s budget deficit.”
The distribution of top positions is another way to keep both the FDP and the Greens happy. “Lindner has basically yelled from the rooftops that he wants to become finance minister,” observed David-Wilp. Greens co-leader Habeck also wants this role, he continued, but taking control of the Foreign Ministry might well satisfy him and his party.
Scholz or Laschet?
Despite all the issues that need to be resolved between the Greens and the FDP, neither can ignore the importance of the party that will lead their coalition. SPD Parliamentary Leader Rolf Mutzenich noted his displeasure that the first response of the two smaller parties to the election result was to talk to each other: “It would be good if the Greens and the FDP also focused on meeting with us this week. for exploratory talks, ”he told reporters on Tuesday.
From a purely tactical perspective for the Greens and the FDP, Laschet seems the best bet to succeed Merkel. “His entire political survival depends on his ability to form a government and become chancellor, so of course he will be prepared to give up much more ground than Scholz in talks with the Greens and the FDP,” Schubert said.
A deal with the Conservatives would be a tactical boon for the FDP, as it is by far the closest party ideologically to the CDU, Schubert explained. If all goes well, the FDP can claim the credit, but if the government performs poorly, the FDP can “blame the CDU and continue to divert votes from the right.”
However, from a more pragmatic point of view, forming a coalition with Laschet could play badly because “he looks like the big loser in this election,” Vorlander said.
In light of that, Scholz seems like the natural choice for a chancellor to lead a coalition that includes the Greens and the FDP, although resolving the differences between the personnel and politics that the SPD wants and the wishes of both parties will be a process. “turbulent”. , Predicted David-Wilp.
However, it seems clear that all of Germany’s main parties want to reach an agreement before Christmas, if only to avoid a lengthy process and ensure a worthy end to the Merkel era. It would be awkward if he had to give a year-end speech (it would be his 17th) as a pathetic chancellor amid political squabbles over the next coalition.