Coalition Watch: Is Germany’s Groundhog Day Approaching?

Source: FNF

In Washington, DC, the Hon. Michael Georg Link, Member of the Bundestag and Spokesperson for European Affairs of the FDP Caucus, along with Deputy Chairman of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Professor Dr. Karl-Heinz Paqué shared their insights on the political situation in Germany following the recent coalition agreement formed between the parties of the grand coalition, the CDU and SPD. However, the government in Germany has not yet formed and the outcome remains unpredictable.

The negotiations following last year’s election in Germany to form a government between the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union, the Green Party, and the Free Democratic Party ended because the negotiating parties did not find common ground with each other. More than having simple arithmetic majorities, coalition building in politics is about developing a shared vision for the future. The parties at the negotiating table did not share this vision.  While some compromises are necessary for coalition formation, a party must retain its core position. The FDP, which had been out of government for the past four years, gained a much better result in 2017 because of its new platform – as presented in its message “New Thinking” (Denken wir neu). The party wanted to remain true to the positions which had helped it return to parliament.

Source: FNF

In contrast to the parties of the former grand coalition, whose messages during the most recent campaigns have been more backward-looking and nostalgic, the FDP and Green Party can be seen as “Program Parties” in German politics. Each of these parties proposes a vision of Germany in the future, rather than maintaining the status quo. The FDP views Germany as becoming a more dynamic and innovative country for businesses and a partner in international trade, while the Green Party views Germany as being ecologically oriented and becoming a leader in environmentally sustainable technology. However, the parties were not able to merge these visions during the negotiation.

The FDP campaign slogan “New Thinking” (Denken wir neu) is based on the need for reforms in multiple areas in Germany. The main issues that legislators will be working on in Germany include how to manage the demographic situation with an aging workforce, the need to modernize political institutions and manage digitalization, and the need to reform the income tax law in Germany.

The FDP has pressed for immigration reform in Germany, which the CDU blocked. The FDP would like to adopt a point-based system, awarding points for applicants with specific job market qualifications, similar to Canada’s law. In addition, as one of the FDP’s main concerns is in promoting international and transatlantic trade, the FDP supports the ratification of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The election results for the Social Democratic Party, the lowest in the party’s history, indicate a crisis of social democracy that is happening all over the European continent. As Prof. Paqué noted, the Social Democratic Party in Germany operates under the assumption of a classic industrial economy much like that of the late 19th century. In Germany, the SPD’s campaign messaging suits an industrial economy, in which workers are opposing management. The party did not update its messaging to suit the post-industrial global economy. Likewise, there is an ideological vacuum in conservative politics in Germany, which the further right wing party “Alternative for Germany” attempts to fill. The Christian Democratic Union has not adapted its messages to the public to respond to contemporary challenges. Many former CDU voters were unsatisfied with how the Euro crisis and refugee crisis were handled when the CDU was in power, and now choose to vote for the “Alternative for Germany” party instead.

Source: FNF

Looking ahead, the next election in Germany will be held on March 14, 2018 in the Bundestag for the Chancellor. The outcome of this election will either be a new Chancellor, further negotiations, or even a completely new general election. As a fourth-term Chancellor, Chancellor Merkel is not as politically reformist as she may have been earlier. Having the same Chancellor for four terms has led to more stability in German politics but also complacency. In any case, coalition formation in Germany will no longer be as easy to predict.

The ending of the coalition talks last year signals that Germany is ready to have a more active political debate and not avoid conflicts. This is ultimately a positive development in German politics. Voter participation in Germany is increasing.  More lively political debates will not only take place in civil society, where it is expected, but also in the Bundestag.

Anne-Marie Simon, Program Assistant, Transatlantic Dialogue Program, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom