At the Centre Stage:
German voters have shaken up the country’s political landscape. They have confined the dominance of the CDU/CSU and SPD to history — for now. It is a necessary change.
Germany’s federal election on September 26th yielded a close finish, according to the preliminary results that are expected to be certified at some time in the middle of October. The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) took the largest share of the vote and will be the largest party in the new Bundestag, narrowly beating the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in a closely fought race that will determine who succeeds the long-time leader at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy.
Particularly, both the Greens and the liberal FDP are in a strong position to enter the next government. So, how will this affect Germany’s position on EU environmental matters?
Photo: Green party (Die Gruenen) co-chairwoman and top candidate for the upcoming federal elections Annalena Baerbock (r), German Minister of Finance and Social Democratic Party (SPD) top candidate for the federal elections Olaf Scholz (C) and Free Democratic Party (FDP) chairman and top candidate for the upcoming federal elections Christian Lindner (L) prior to a discussion board in Berlin, Germany, 16 June 2021. Source: https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/eus-environment-policy-cards-reshuffled-after-german-elections/
Decoding in detail:
Once a new government is formed, the CDU’s Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor for 16 years, will step down. That could take a while. With Merkel deciding not to seek reelection, it is the first postwar vote where the incumbent chancellor has not fought for a new term. Preliminary results suggest her absence deeply hurt her Christian Democratic Union party.
Its traditional centre-left rival, the Social Democratic Party, came out on top for the first time in more than a decade and a half. The preliminary results of the German elections are now in. As it pointed to that, the social-democratic SPD came out on top, with 25.7% of the votes, closely followed by the CDU-CSU, with 24.1%. Next are the Greens (14.8%), the liberal FDP (11.5%), and the far-right AfD (10.3%).
With only 4.9% of votes, leftists Die Linke rely on a technicality to enter parliament, although the party will not have enough MPs to play a role in coalition negotiations.
Figure 1: Preliminary results
Source: The Economist
- Possible Coalition:
Since both the social democrats and conservatives have in principle ruled out forming another “grand coalition” together, this leaves two possible governments: the “traffic light” coalition spearheaded by the social democrats (SPD, FDP, and Greens) and the “Jamaica” coalition led by the conservatives (CDU-CSU, FDP, and Greens).
- The Jamaica option
Of course, the CDU/CSU will try everything in their power to form a new government — a so-called Jamaica coalition of black, green and yellow (the name is based on the Caribbean country’s flag) of the CDU/CSU with the Greens and the FDP.
It is possible, despite the conservatives being only the second-largest party. Three times in the past few decades, the chancellor has not been a member of the strongest party in the German parliament. The decisive factor is who can work together to form a coalition with a majority.
- Traffic light option
Now Scholz has to show what he is capable of. If he wants to become the next German chancellor, he will have to quickly enter exploratory coalition talks with the Greens and the FDP. A red, yellow, and green “traffic light” coalition is his goal. However, it will not be easy. He will have to make concessions to the smaller parties either when it comes to climate policies or taxation. The CDU, however, will be trying the same thing, breathing down his neck.
However, both depend on the Greens and the business-friendly liberals FDP’s support. With contrasting views on climate and environmental policy, a compromise between them may well be challenging to reach.
While the Greens are calling for a 2030 end date on selling new petrol and diesel cars and coal power in Germany, the FDP advocates technological openness and opposes regulations banning coal power or the internal combustion engine.
This means any coalition talks between these two parties are at risk of dragging on for months at a time when the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package of climate and energy laws is entering the EU Council of Ministers for approval.
Both social democrat chancellor hopeful Olaf Scholz and his conservative rival Armin Laschet are aware of the urgency, saying they aim to have a coalition up and running before Christmas.
“We must get a new government fast”, Peter Altmaier, Germany’s now acting economy minister, told EURACTIV on Sunday (26 September), underlining that essential decisions regarding the European Green Deal were coming up.
Altmaier made it clear that the CDU aimed to form a coalition with the Greens and the FDP. On the other side, FDP chief Christian Lindner explicitly stated that his preference for the conservatives, while the Greens have sided with the social democrats, throwing these two parties at the centre of the political game.
Photo: These numbers are preliminary results, provided by the Federal Returning Office (Bundeswahlleiter). The percentages are not expected to change, but the number of seats each party ultimately holds might grow as overhang seats are calculated. Source: German Federal Returning Officer.
Much has changed since Merkel’s conservative bloc of the CDU and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the FDP were in government together.
Now, the political pendulum has swung toward “traffic light coalition” — named for the colors of the parties involved: red for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), yellow for the FDP, and green for the environmentalist Greens (Figure 1).
Nevertheless, there are fundamental differences in the parties’ platforms. The FDP is against the SPD and Greens’ plan to raise taxes to deal with the pandemic and the resulting national debt. At first glance, the liberals appear also at odds with their climate policy, which envisions a stronger government hand. The FDP wants market-driven solutions to the climate crisis. It is on EU, foreign, and security policy that the three parties seem to be most aligned.
The potential coalition members agree on maintaining a strong partnership with the United States and NATO, including when it comes to confronting China, Russia, and Iran. Differences remain over certain points, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
Just how viable the three-way coalition could be is what the parties want to clarify from the start of their talks together.
FDP leader Christian Lindner has expressed the most skepticism and made it no secret that his party is more naturally aligned with the conservatives. However, he has said he is open to the possibility of a traffic light coalition. In pre-exploratory talks with the Greens, he seems to have made peace with his opponents, which he has long considered a “prohibition party”.
Many voters would have wanted a continuation of Merkel’s politics, but she is not running again, and the CDU candidate failed to convince the voters that he would be able to continue Merkel’s policies effectively.
German politics is about to get more colorful. This is a chance to tackle the big issues of the future, with climate-friendly, modern politics.
How the elections work:
The German electoral system combines a personal vote in single-member constituency with the principle of federal proportional representation.
Photo: German Electoral System. Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/election-results/world/germany-election-results/
Photo: Olaf Scholz, Finance Minister and SPD candidate for Chancellor speaks at a two-day party meeting in Berlin, Germany February 7, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS
Less than a fortnight after the general election, Germany’s Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens are holding exploratory talks to form a coalition. It would be the first such constellation — if it comes together.
Both Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s chancellor-candidate, and Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU have claimed a mandate to try to form a government. Both have their eyes on three-way deals with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats: either a “traffic-light” coalition led by the SPD or a “Jamaica” combination headed by the CDU/CSU. However, after Mr Laschet’s wretched campaign, resulting in the CDU/CSU’s worst result ever, Mr Scholz has the edge.
That is the challenge for Olaf Scholz, who has led the center-left SPD to become the strongest party in this election.
Nevertheless, negotiations will require finding something that broadly unites the three parties; so far, those involved in talks have echoed words such as “reform” and “modernization”.
The Economist, (2021): “German elections 2021”. Retrieved from: https://www.economist.com/german-election-2021
Fürstenau, M (October 7, 2021): “German government: What are the chances for a ‘traffic light’ coalition?” Deusche Welle. Com. Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/german-government-what-are-the-chances-for-a-traffic-light-coalition/a-59441511
BBC News, (October 8, 2021): “German elections: Defeated Merkel heir Laschet prepared to resign”. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58826194
Claridge, K. M, (September 26, 2021): “Opinion: Move over grand coalition — Germany wants change”. Deusche Welle. com Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-move-over-grand-coalition-germany-wants-change/a-59318731
Kurmayer, J. N (September 27, 2021): “EU’s environment policy cards reshuffled after German elections”. EURACTIV.com. Retrieved from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/eus-environment-policy-cards-reshuffled-after-german-elections/