Does Jamaica Have a Chance? The Coalition Poker Game After the German Federal Elections


28.09.2017 – Leo Mausbach

There are basically two losers and two winners of last Sunday’s federal elections in Germany.

Obtaining 32.9 percent, Merkel’s Christian democratic CDU formally won the elections. However, losing 8.6 percent, the Christian democrats showed the heaviest drop of support of all parties. Their coalition partner, the social democratic SPD, fell to their own all-time low of 20.5 percent. With a result of 12.6 percent, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) can feel as a winner. For the first time, the right-wing populists entered the Bundestag, immediately as the largest among the smaller parties. Following right behind, the libertarian FDP succeeded to return to the German lower house with 10.7 percent, after its embarrassing departure from parliament in the last elections.

The result leaves not many options for the composition of a future government. Arithmetically, it is not possible to create a coalition without the participation of the CDU. Martin Schulz, head of the social democrats, ruled out to continue the grand coalition of the two biggest parties CDU and SPD. Most of his party felt imprisoned in a common government by their main rival, unable to attack, while all successes were attributed to Merkel. Apart from that, the lack of a strong opposition is seen by many observer as one of the reasons enabling the rise of the AfD.

The other possible coalition – nicknamed “Jamaica”, due to the colors representing each party, resembling the Jamaican flag – consists of the CDU together with its Bavarian sister party CSU (both black), the Green Party and the FDP (yellow). However, the formation of this government could become very difficult for several reasons. All parties are under very high pressure to show their electorate that they are able to realize their main objectives even in such a broad coalition. This means that Merkel will have to balance severely conflicting interests.

The Bavarian CSU paid a high price for its ambivalent tactics to harshly criticize Merkel’s refugee politics, but to fully support her campaign nevertheless. Disappointing supporters and critics of Merkel alike, the CSU reached “only” 38.8 percent in Bavaria, the worst result since the first federal elections in 1949. The party that rules Bavaria with an absolute majority has now to fear losing this position in the federal state elections in the next year. The party hopes to win back voters by a more right-wing profile, what places them in stark contrast to the left-liberal Greens.

The Greens consist of two factions; the “Realos”, the realistic, centrist wing, and the “Fundis”, the “fundamentalist”, leftist wing. The latter are not enthusiastic about entering a government with their nemesis, the CSU. We probably will see a clash of both parties over the Green’s very positive stance towards the reception of asylum seekers and immigrants in general. Already after the last elections, the party renounced to form a coalition with CDU and CSU. Furthermore, the Green party supports increased public spending, German liability for the debt of other countries of the Euro-zone and high subsidies for renewable energy sources. This will cause tough debates with the FDP, which advocates budget discipline as well as the cutting of taxes and subsidies.

The FDP has to fight with the ill fame to be the “Umfaller”, a pushover party willing to sacrifice any conviction for their share of power. If it wants to keep its newly regained position in the Bundestag, it has to show that it is ready to stand up for its principles, even if this means to stay in the opposition. The party’s leader Christian Lindner already tempered the expectations that a coalition might easily be formed, thus further raising the price for his party’s approval and improving his position in the negotiations [1]. The jackpot for the FDP is the chair of Wolfgang Schäuble, the German minister of finance. Schäuble, one of the architects of EU’s management of the financial crisis, would instead become speaker of parliament [2]. The FDP, representing an even stricter financial policy than Schäuble’s, would become a stumbling block for French president Macron’s ideas to reform the Euro zone. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Macron allegedly said in July that “If she allies with the FDP, I’m dead” [3].

This shows that there is another, invisible negotiating party: Emmanuel Macron. On Tuesday, shortly after the federal elections and obviously addressed at Germany, he presented a comprehensive plan for the further integration of the European Union, including among others a European minister of finance, a common budget of the Euro zone, a harmonized European business tax and a European financial transaction tax [4]. These and other French postulates will have to be part of the negotiations on any German coalition agreement.

Thus, it turns out that, in the end, the unexpected result of months of negotiations might be new elections or even another grand coalition, no matter what the social democrats say now. The CSU politician Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is optimistic, though, that the next German government will be Jamaican: “Merkel is a master of compromise” [5].

[1] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “Wolfgang Schäuble soll Bundestagspräsident werden”, dpa/AFP, 27.09.2017: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/bundestagswahl/wolfgang-schaeuble-soll-bundestagspraesident-werden-15220729.html

[2] Arab, Adrian; Jungholt Thorsten: „FDP-Chef Lindner dämpft Hoffnungen auf Jamaika“, 27.09.2017: https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article169070025/FDP-Chef-Lindner-daempft-Hoffnungen-auf-Jamaika.html

[3] Vinocur, Emmanuel; de La Baume, Maïa: “Emmanuel Macron’s plan to conquer Europe”, 26.09.2017: http://www.politico.eu/article/how-emmanuel-macron-hopes-to-conquer-europe-union-germany-angela-merkel/

[4] Macron, Emmanuel: “Initiative for Europe A sovereign, united, democratic Europe”, 26.09.2017: http://www.elysee.fr/assets/Initiative-for-Europe-a-sovereign-united-democratic-Europe-Emmanuel-Macron.pdf

[5] Georgi, Oliver: “Guttenberg und die Kanzlerinnendämmerung”, 27.09.2017: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/bundestagswahl/karl-theodor-zu-guttenberg-kritisiert-angela-merkel-15220221.html