Two months of post-election talks in Germany have culminated in a political situation no more certain than the day following the election.
The headlines following the election have been: the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) alliance failed to win enough of the vote to form a majority government, it was an awful night for Merkel’s former coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SDD), and the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) won the third-highest share of the vote.
The German political landscape has been saturated with talks of the “Jamaica” coalition — so-called because of the three parties’ colours — which would have seen the CDU/CSU alliance team up with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP).
On 19 November, (just under two months after the election) the FDP’s leader, Christian Lindner, announced that his party wouldn’t form a coalition with Merkel. He boldly stated that it was better not to govern, than to govern badly (“Es ist besser, nicht zu regieren, als falsch zu regieren”).
With the current political landscape in Europe and with the UK seemingly imploding in the wake of Brexit, it feels like Germany, a symbol of strength in the free world, should have a strong government. With the far-right AfD party entering the Bundestag, shouldn’t party politics be set aside, at least for a while?
Now that Linder has withdrawn his party from coalition talks, it’s looking increasingly likely that Germany will have another election. Hopefully Germany can learn from Theresa May’s mistake and steer clear of a snap election, which in the UK’s case did the opposite of what it was intended to do.
With hopes of a “Jamaica” coalition dashed and with Schulz’s SDP situated firmly as the official opposition, so as not to let the AfD take this role, the immediate political future for Germany is unclear.
Lindner has been criticised for his decision, with mock campaign posters displaying a picture of him with text meaning “doing nothing is an abuse of power” (“Nichtstun ist Machtmissbrauch”). These mock posters have a point; Lindner should have been more willing to compromise in the coalition talks in order to do what’s best for the country. Whether the coalition would have been any good is another matter.
The Greens and the FDP were at odds over immigration, with Lindner’s party calling for tighter controls and the Greens advocating a more open immigration system. However with Merkel unwilling to form a coalition with the far-right AfD, and the left-wing SPD unwilling to form a coalition with Merkel, Lindner’s call for the FDP to “not govern” feels like yet another move aimed at instigating another election, from which the FDP could profit from.
Indeed, after increasing his party’s vote share from 4.8% in 2013 to 10.6% in 2017, perhaps Lindner feels like now is another opportunity to build his party’s support base. It’s unfair to completely criticise Lindner for this, as in a less tumultuous political landscape, I’d be inclined to praise him for sticking up for his party’s values. I’m not alone though in blaming him for the collapse of the Jamaica coalition — 32% of Germans do too.
The lack of a governing coalition leads mainly to one thing: instability. Both for Germany and for Merkel. Questions over whether Merkel still has the authority to hold together a strong government have arisen and doubts about Germany’s position within Europe have been posed.
With Macron’s office at hand to offer viral soundbites — “for Germany and for Europe, we want our main partner to be stable and strong” — and The Economist’s musings about France heading a new European order, the lack of a German government isn’t helping the country’s case and could see Macron snatch Merkel’s recent titling as the new leader of the free world.
This brings us back to the question: is it better not to govern, than to govern badly? In this current climate, no. Taking into account both the German and the European political landscapes, now doesn’t feel like the right time to pull out of coalition talks two months down the line, leaving Germany with little choice but to hold another election in the search of a decisive answer.
The next question though, is what that answer will be.