Germany is not going to Jamaica. But where to now, Mrs. Merkel?

By Bernd Buschaussen – Berlin Office

The process of defining a new German government is stalling following the sudden death of the exploratory talks among the CDU/CSU, FDP and Green parties last Sunday night. By its decision to end the exploratory talks for a future coalition government, the liberal party FDP puts Chancellor and Germany into a tough spot:

Who will rule the Europe’s leading economy and political heavy weight over the coming years, providing stability and perspectives for much needed domestic and European change management?

Germany is facing some tough times ahead, at least politically.

The announcement on Sunday night at the final stretch of the two months long complicated discussions came as a big surprise: the Liberal FDP party will not continue negotiations to form a Jamaica coalition under the leadership of Chancellor Merkel. But rather than going to the press together with the possible partners from the conservative CDU/CSU and Greens, FDP’s chairman Christian Lindner chose to make it a one-man show. So much for partnership.

With that move, the former kingmaker party FDP is likely to remain outside the federal government for years to come: A position they will be comfortable with due lack of experience in government after reentering the Bundestag.

Ending the exploratory talks is serious. But not the end of Germany.

Chancellor Merkel has underlined that she will drive a stable caretaker government while seeking to establish a new government.

Different options are now on the table:

  • A grand coalition with the SPD. Federal President Steinmeier pleaded to all democratic forces in the Bundestag to reconsider their positions. A clear signal both to the FDP to re-think its decision but especially also to the social democratic SPD to at least seek discussions with Merkel. Sure enough, this has been ruled out by its chair Martin Schulz.
  • A minority government. A first in Federal Government history, Merkel could opt for a minority government, requiring support from opposition parties to create the needed parliamentary majority for individual policy initiatives. There are examples where this has worked at state level in the past, e.g. in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (the largest in Germany) 2010-2012. However, Merkel has indicated that she prefers a more stable option.
  • New elections. The Federal President can call out new elections if and only when he is convinced that a new parliament is necessary to form a stable government. Thus, dissolving parliament not as easy as it may seem, for good constitutional reasons, as the German history shows. But there is also fear that new elections would give further rise to parties at the extreme fringes following failure of the current players to form a coalition.

The failure of Jamaica is a blow – not only for Merkel but to democratic pragmatism and dialogue.

While the negotiators of the Jamaica coalition started out with the best intentions in mind, stalling the project highlights: Instead of a drive for the common good through sincere dialogue, old political instincts of survival are resilient as the move of the liberal FDP shows.

But in view of the German and European challenges the development in the Bundestag underlines for need focus: on the needed and doable, not on ideology.

This is something where Merkel is good at.

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