Germany At The Crossroads

‘Come on, come out. Think about your responsibility!’

Germany after the elections: Nobody wants to govern with Merkel?

By Harald Dähne in Berlin

Never before in German history since 1949 has it been so difficult forming a federal government.

For decades, every party wanted to be in the government, getting well-paid positions, big black cars and time on TV.

But now it seems no one wants to run the country – except Chancellor Merkel.

Big losses for the big parties

But in the last election Merkel lost approval in an agonising way. Her party, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), lost a lot of votes. And, even more so, its conservative Bavarian “sister”, the CSU (Christian Social Union).

The Social Democrats (SPD), coalition partner from 2005 till 2009 and and from 2013 till 2017, got 20 percent — and into an existence-threatening crisis.

The real winners

So the SPD didn’t want a third “big” (and in reality smaller and smaller) coalition with Merkel. It said “no” to governing. The winners were the right wing “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) – and the populist Liberals (FDP).

It seems the only possibility for a serious coalition without the SPD has been an alliance called “Jamaika” (named from the colors of the parties involved).

But four weeks with hard and unfriendly negotiations between enervated Conservatives (black), insecure Greens (green) and recovered Liberals (yellow) ended with an affront: the Liberal chairman said “better outside a government than in a wrong government” and quit the dialogue.

Jamaika flag

An unpleasant dialogue

For the unbiased observer, the dialogue between the “Jamaika”-parties was unpleasant from beginning.

The smaller parties especially, were fighting against each other.

  • The chairman of the FDP with his impressive election support, wants to get more popularity in an opposing  role.
  • The CDU and its chancellor don’t want any changes in government policy.
  • The quarreling Bavarian CSU wants a strong policy against refugees.
  • And the Greens instead wants better facilities for the refugees.

The accusations levelled against Merkel say that she moderated the discussions but didn’t guide them.

Nonetheless “Jamaika” was dead after four weeks and Merkel was in the biggest crisis of her regency. The possibilities ahead: new elections, a minority government, or a coalition with the Social Democrats again.

Media choir sings new tune

Now a media choir made up of the other parties and the lobbyists want the Social Democrats back in the government again.

Federal president Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) appealed to the sovereign responsibility of all parties. He meant his own party especially.

Inside the Social Democrats a fight has started. It seems the opponents of a fourth “big” coalition with Merkel are decreasing.

Protesters climb a wall to protest against the Jamaika coalition

Will the SPD end the crisis?

Chairman Martin Schulz who was against a coalition from the election day is finding his ‘no’ carries less weight.

Now maybe the members of the SPD will decide to be in a new government. Four years ago two thirds of them accepted a coalition. Now the party fears more erosion if they are in the government.

If the SPD won’t join, Merkel is alone at home.

An English view of the German impasse

If they work together again, the erosion of the both “big” “Volksparteien” (catch-all parties) CDU/CSU and SPD will go on.

What we are seeing is a crisis of the democratic system in Germany. Its basic principle was always stability.

Opposition in that system is a “scrap” –-  so a former SPD chairman once said. Now it’s scrap to bear responsibility.

The big old German parties can see what happened in Austria: decades of big coalitions were followed by large majorities for right-wing parties.


Thanks Harald. We get only brief snippets of what is going on in German politics, so your on the spot insights are always interesting and enlightening.