For a politician of Angela Merkel’s grandeur, it seems like nothing should come as a shock. Over 16 years as German chancellor, Merkel has weathered a financial crisis and the subsequent chaos of the European common currency, as well as the bank and Greek bailouts; a massive refugee influx; multiple political turmoils within the EU, including Brexit; terrorist attacks; and plenty of wars abroad. That’s left her a seasoned political figure, without anyone to even slightly question her authority.
But nothing has ever shaken Merkel politically as much as the recent failure of the so-called “Jamaica talks.” After the last parliamentary election in September, in which Merkel’s center-right party lost 8.5 percentage points while still remaining the strongest force in parliament, the chancellor had few options for coalition talks. Her former coalition partner, the Social-Democrat Party (SPD), doesn’t appear viable as a renewed partner, since the socialists had taken an all-or-nothing approach in the campaign and even refused to participate in coalition talks after the election. The Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany), a party with very questionable far-right tendencies, was also not an option for Merkel, despite it being newly ascendant into the houses of parliament after achieving great success in the elections. The same goes for Die Linke, a far-left group and the successor party to the SED, the unitary party during East Germany’s dictatorship.
That left Merkel’s CDU/CSU party union with the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats. The German Greens are a nanny state-supporting left-wing party that demands drastic policies to combat climate change, while the Liberal Democrats (FDP) are market-friendly (by European standards) and have in the past opposed the minimum wage, the Greek bailout, and increasing public debt. And while German coalitions are usually built prior to Christmas Eve, it does sound as if Berlin’s political class will have some restless nights over the holidays this year. Merkel’s party is now openly seeking talks with its former SPD coalition partner. The SPD’s party base is split over the question of a new “great coalition” between Germany’s two largest parties. The confusion is due to the fact that most of its prominent members and its leader, Martin Schulz, had categorically excluded the possibility of reaching an agreement with Merkel.
Meanwhile, interviews and columns on all sides multiply, with Social Democrats drawing red lines as to what can and should be agreed to. The German center-left became increasingly radicalized over the course of the last legislature, due to its continuous fear of losing support to the far-left. However, French-style taxation on companies and large earners is a non-starter with Merkel’s center-right. This increases the pressure on the Social Democrat leadership: it must either accept concessions and form a government, which could continue its losing streak for the next four years, or risk new elections, which would likely see their support decimated even further.
The fact that Germany’s traditional left finds itself at a dead end has led some of its voices to argue for a minority government run by Merkel’s center-right and supported by the SPD. While some European countries, such as Denmark, regularly function with governments that don’t enjoy parliamentary majorities, such a system would be out of character for the Germans. German minority governments have only existed at the local level so far, and most have lasted not longer than a few weeks. It is very improbable that Merkel would agree to a relationship with the parliament that could see her authority dismantled not long afterwards.
The only standout aspect of the election turmoil in Germany has been the drop-out of the Liberal Democrats, who decided to stand on principle. The absence of their participation in the executive means there will be no voices skeptical of continuously growing government. Despite the vociferous verbal acrobatics in the media suggesting otherwise, the Greens, Social Democrats, and Merkel have more in common than they might like to acknowledge. For instance, it’s often suggested that the Green Party, with its demands for a radical opt-out of all coal energy products, is a more extreme player in Berlin. However, Merkel’s Energiewende(energy transition) of phasing out all nuclear energy with little to no plan for an alternative, has been equally devastating for German consumers who are suffering from rising energy prices.
We waste too much time singling out which color wins rather than which ideas. Angela Merkel is demonstrably popular, but she has also manifestly driven her party to the left. The question, by any means, shouldn’t be which government happens to take over, but what its policy proposals are. The current “chaos” is merely political parties trying to figure out whether they would be better positioned with or without new elections—not what they would actually do with their power.
Germany’s electoral turmoil might be exciting for journalists chasing headlines. But for those who are interested in sound economic policy and individual liberty, the current events are very much a non-event.
This article was first published by The American Conservative.
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