24 September 2017: Millions of Germans went voting for their new representatives and are now waiting for a new coalition to be formed to govern the country. With Donald Trump in the White House and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, the world is waiting for Germany to take a stand. However, if you wait for Germany to act in international affairs today with a legitimate government, you need to be particularly patient. Months have passed since the elections and German politicians are still talking about the “who” and “how” without having found any agreement to form a new government and define Germany’s position in national and international politics for the next four years.
But what happened during the campaign, in the election and up to now, which makes it so difficult for German politicians to form a government?
A little background on the German elections
Looking at the political landscape of Germany we have the classic actors, i.e. Merkel’s CDU, the Christ-Democrats, who governed for the last 12 years under Merkel’s leadership, of which the last four in a Grand Coalition with the SPD, the Social Democrats.
The usual smaller actors in German parliament used to be the Green Party, the Liberals and the Left party, even though the Liberals did not make it into the parliament four years ago.
A new actor for the 2017 elections was the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which ran on a pro-national and anti-immigration platform and gained its biggest support among those who were non-voters in the previous years.
For the fourth time, Angela Merkel ran to stay German chancellor. Her challenger was the Social Democrat Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament.
Before the election in September, three of the main trends in German politics were a general diminishing support for Chancellor Merkel, the rise of the AfD as a far right populist party and the new appearance of Martin Schulz.
When Schulz announced his candidacy, many felt that a change was coming. The number of people joining the SPD increased for the first time in years, and Schulz was soon ahead of Merkel in many polls regarding the likeability of the two candidates. She, together with the CDU, seemed to be tied up in an inner-political fight with the Bavarian sister-party CSU about issues regarding the immigration policy.
Despite these developments, the final weeks before the election the outcome was as unlikely to be predicted as the outcome of a coin toss. It could have gone either way.
Schulz gained more support than Merkel did, but the Social Democrats had to wonder if they could even hold the 25% of the election in 2013 or whether they were actually fighting to gain at least 20%. Moreover, personal critics towards Chancellor Merkel are nothing new in German politics and still she has governed for more than a decade.
Germans like to criticize their leaders; they do not like to change them.
The result of the German national election 2017
After the election, looking at the results, it seems difficult to determine the winner. Even if you gain more seats than your opponents, the aim is to govern and you need partners to be able to do that. Therefore, saying that Merkel won the election would be a mistake, even though she gained more votes than the other parties. Additionally, with almost 33% she has lost 8.6% compared to 2013.
And with whom can Merkel ally?
Her former partners, the Social Democrats, are the clear losing party in 2017. They gained 20.5% of votes in the federal election which is a loss of 5% in comparison to the previous election. Even in the Laender, the States of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Social Democrats seem to be losing one election after the other. In NRW, which has always been a stronghold for the Social Democrats, they lost the Leadership to the Christian-Democrats for the first time in decades.
And still, the two biggest parties in Germany could keep working in the grand coalition with a majority of 53%.
Taking a look at some smaller parties: The Green Party and the Left Party both won a little bit more compared to 2013 and are close to the 10%, whereas the Liberals doubled their support compared to the last election and joined the Parliament this year with more than 10%.
A new member of the Parliament is the AfD, the far right alternative for Germany, who entered with 12% as the third largest party. It is the first time in post-World War history that a far right party makes it into the German national Parliament. This clearly shows the rise of a new right and populist movements European countries have been experiencing and it also shows the challenges Germany had to face over the last years and the discontent towards the classic parties, such as the SPD or the CDU. More importantly, this shows the lack of ideas and visions in politics on the side of the established parties. Today we are witnessing the rise of a party which offers no alternatives at all, and still calls itself the “Alternative for Germany”.
Who is going to govern?
Germans have never been too quick in forming a government, but it has never taken this long either.
Looking at the results the first guess would be that the Christian and Social Democrats would continue their Grand Coalition, but Germans were never too fond of that and the Social Democrats seem to lose more and more support, the longer they join forces with the Christian Democrats. More importantly, with the CDU and the SPD both in the government, the AfD would become the biggest party in the opposition.
For these reasons, immediately after the results of the election were published, the leadership of the Social Democrats declared that they would not enter a Grand Coalition again.
With almost 33% and without the support of the Social Democrats, Merkel was in a tough position and for long it looked as if Jamaica was not only coming, but rather the only option.
What is Jamaica though? In German politics Coalitions are often named after the country whose flag includes the same colours the political parties of the Coalition have.
Jamaica, therefore, meant the Coalition between the CDU (Black), the Liberals (Yellow) and the Green Party (Green).
With the economical focus of the Liberals and the focus on the environment of the Green Party, Merkel was challenged to find a common ground to form a Coalition here. What cannot be forgotten are the challenges inside the Union, the CDU and CSU.
Months of negotiation and a lot of compromise on side of the Green Party ended then very rapidly and unexpectedly, when the Liberals pulled out of the negotiations for good.
As long as Merkel stays, nothing can change in German politics and, according to the leader of the Liberals, this is the reason to terminate the negotiations.
Also, looking at the political landscape today there are not many alternatives. A suggestion was Kenya. Merkel’s CDU, the Social Democrats and the Green Party, but that seemed less likely than Jamaica.
We see that after months of negotiations there has been literally zero progress in the coalition talks.
Today, we have to wonder whether there will be a new German government before the next national election in 2021, or not.
Shortly before the Christmas break, the Social Democrats re-appeared, but not for coalition talks, which they had already ruled out anyways; instead, they tried something new. They met to discuss with the CDU whether to start talking about a Coalition or not.
Even though nobody seems to be willing to rule together with Merkel anymore, if she has proven anything in the last 12 years, it is that this does not stop her. Despite all the criticism in her career as Chancellor and all the setbacks she faced, eventually she always finds someone with whom she can keep governing.
She might be the loneliest leader in the world, but she will find a way to keep being a leader in this world, anyways.