Progress in German Coalition Talks, But Four Sticking Points

European Council president Donald Tusk listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel speak during a meeting of conservative party leaders in Brussels, July 12, 2015
European Council president Donald Tusk listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel speak during a meeting of conservative party leaders in Brussels, July 12, 2015 (EPP)

The parties negotiating to form a coalition government in Germany are nearing a self-imposed deadline to conclude preliminary talks.

German media report there are four sticking points:

  1. Coal power: The Greens initially demanded closing Germany’s twenty most polluting coal plants. When the other parties balked, they suggested shuttering 10 gigawatts worth of coal-generating capacity. The others have offered 5 gigawatts.
  2. Europe: The liberal Free Democrats oppose a eurozone budget and permanent bailout mechanism. The Christian Democrats and Greens are more supportive.
  3. Family reunifications: The Christian Democrats are dead set against a Green party proposal to allow refugees to bring their relatives to live with them in Germany.
  4. Immigration cap: In a concession to the right-wing Christian Social Union, Angela Merkel has agreed to a “soft” ceiling of 200,000 immigrants per year. The Greens reject this. Read more

German Free Democrats, Greens Drop Red Lines

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Valletta, Malta, November 11, 2015
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Valletta, Malta, November 11, 2015 (European Council)

Germany’s Free Democrats and Greens have each dropped demands in order to make progress in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Merkel has set a ten-day deadline to finish preliminary discussions and start negotiations to form a government.

  • The Free Democrats have accepted they will not be able to cut income taxes as much as they wanted.
  • The Greens no longer insist on fixed dates to shut coal-fired power stations and ban cars with internal combustion engines. Read more

Merkel’s Answer to Populist Challenge: Shift to the Left

German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a news conference in Brussels, March 15, 2016
German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a news conference in Brussels, March 15, 2016 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

Angela Merkel’s answer to the defection of right-wing voters is — counterintuitively — to shift further to the left.

Der Spiegel reports that the German chancellor recently told members of her Christian Democratic party (CDU) they need to do better on pay, pensions and housing.

They were expecting a harder line on immigration, which is the issue that galvanized the Alternative for Germany’s voters.

This new far-right party placed third in last month’s election with nearly 13 percent support.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats still won, but with only 33 percent support — their lowest vote share in over half a century. Read more

Election Reveals Brexit- and Trump-Like Cleavages in Germany

A far-right demonstration in Leipzig, Germany, September 22
A far-right demonstration in Leipzig, Germany, September 22 (De Havilland)

Germany’s federal election revealed many of the same cleavages we have seen in America, Britain and France, Alexander Roth and Guntram B. Wolff report for the Bruegel think tank:

  • Urban-rural split: Support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party was low in the cities but high in the countryside.
  • Old versus young: Districts with a higher share of elderly voters were more supportive of the Alternative.
  • Education: There is a strong correlation here. The better educated Germans are, the less likely they were to vote for the Alternative.
  • Income: Higher disposable household income is associated with lower support for the Alternative, however, areas with high unemployment were also less likely to vote for the far right. Read more

European Fears of “Jamaica” Coalition Are Overblown

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, March 17, 2016
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, March 17, 2016 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

A three-party “Jamaica” coalition in Germany may not be so bad for Europe as observers fear, writes Guntram Wolff of the Bruegel think tank in the Financial Times.

He recognizes that the liberal Free Democrats are more Euroskeptic than Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens. They have opposed Greek debt relief, are wary of a common eurozone budget and argue for strict enforcement the bloc’s fiscal rules.

But that also applies to Wolfgang Schäuble, the outgoing finance minister. His likely Free Democratic successor could hardly be more hawkish.

A Jamaica coalition (named for the colors of the three parties, which match the Caribbean nation’s flag) would be open to some of the other EU reform proposals French president Emmanuel Macron made this week, from enhancing defense cooperation to creating a single European asylum policy. Read more

German Election Shows Stabilizing Effect of Multiparty Democracy

Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech in the German parliament in Berlin, October 15, 2015
Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech in the German parliament in Berlin, October 15, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

The headline-grapping news from Germany this weekend was the return of the far right, which won back seats in the national parliament for the first time since 1961.

But the bigger — and more reassuring — story of the election was the fragmentation of the German political landscape.

The Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, once faraway the two largest parties, won only 56 percent of the seats combined. A record seven parties (counting the Bavarian Christian Social Union separately) crossed the 5-percent election threshold. Four parties will probably be needed to form a coalition government — another first in postwar German history.

This might look like instability at first, but it actually underscores the resilience of multiparty democracy. Read more

Germany’s Social Democrats Should Have Picked Side

German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1
German Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz makes a speech in Bavaria, March 1 (Bayern SPD/Joerg Koch)

Germany’s Social Democrats are going the way of the Dutch Labor Party.

Both parties tried to appeal to their working- and middle-class constituents in elections this year and both lost precisely because of this indecision.

Campaigning on liberal immigration laws, social justice and international engagement alienates blue-collar voters.

Campaigning on border controls and deemphasizing identity politics turns away college graduates.

Do both at the same time and you end up with with no supporters at all. Read more