Since the 1960s, German politics has been dominated by the centre-left and centre-right parties, turning the Grand Coalition into an institution of the federal political landscape.
Three of the four governments led by Angela Merkel in the last 16 years were Große Koalition arrangements, and the SPD and CDU/ CSU still managed to pull just shy of 50 per cent of the total votes between them in the September 26 Federal Elections. Nevertheless, it is the third-placed Greens and fourth-placed Free Democrats that may form the coalition that drives the Bundesregierung this time round.
A GroKo government is still a clear option, but one that both Olaf Scholz and Armin Laschet appear least likely to pursue. Aware of the historic opportunity for their parties, the leaders of the FDP and the Greens announced on the day after the election that they were holding talks to set out the terms of alliance, giving them a strong hand in negotiations with the bigger SPD and CDU.
In 2017, Angela Merkel tried to form a ‘Jamaica Flag’ government, but FDP Leader Christian Lindner declared that the agenda of the Greens was irreconcilable with the pro-free market values of his party. During this year’s campaign, while the Greens were enjoying a surge, Lindner warned that the radical policies they were proposing would harm the national economy.
The results, however, mean that both parties have a realistic path to the federal government and are now scrambling to iron out differences, which are many and stark. The Greens pushed for a tax increase for wealthier Germans, an unthinkable strategy as far as the FDP is concerned. The Free Democrats seek fiscal discipline to maintain economic growth, diametrically opposed to the promise for reform and investment in climate policies made by the Greens.
But there is room for compromise, especially because both sides drew their mainly from the same constituency of the young vote. Already, sources are hinting at the creation of a special parallel budget covering the climate change programme without baking drastic environmental measures into the regular budget.
The move is a first for the German political system and turns the tables on the older parties that have traditionally enjoyed the greatest influence. The incoming Chancellor will have a pair of mismatching stilts strapped to their feet. Whoever inherits Merkel’s seat, will be judged domestically by how far she or he can go before risking a government collapse.
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