What’s in Germany’s “Traffic Light” Coalition Agreement

Olaf Scholz
German finance minister Olaf Scholz attends a debate in parliament in Berlin, July 8, 2018 (Bundestag/Inga Kjer)

Germany’s Social Democrats, Greens and liberal Free Democrats are ready to govern. Two months after federal elections almost to the day, they unveiled a 177-page coalition agreement that lays out their program for the next four years.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Olaf Scholz, who would succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, hailed the deal as the “biggest industrial modernization of Germany in more than 100 years.” It calls for major investments in decarbonization and digitalization.

Free Democratic Party (FDP) leader Christian Lindner would succeed Scholz at the Finance Ministry, despite his party being the smallest in the “traffic light” coalition (named after the parties’ colors).

The Greens get climate and foreign policy, and the right to nominate the next German EU commissioner. (Unless the conservative Ursula von der Leyen is reelected as commission president.)

Here are the highlights. Read more “What’s in Germany’s “Traffic Light” Coalition Agreement”

Germany Has Bigger Drug Problem Than Netherlands

Frau Antje
Illustration from the cover of Der Spiegel, October 16

Der Spiegel makes a mockery of the Dutch drug policy. Under the header “Käse, Koks und Killer” (Cheese, Coke and Killers), the German weekly portrays the Netherlands’ stereotypical Frau Antje with a joint between her lips, a Kalashnikov in one hand and a round cheese stuffed with cocaine in the other. The Netherlands, it claims, is “terrorized” by drug traffickers.

(An English version of the story can be read here.)

To Germans who are thinking of following the Dutch example and decriminalizing cannabis, Der Spiegel has a clear warning: don’t, or we’ll suffer the consequences. Read more “Germany Has Bigger Drug Problem Than Netherlands”

Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany

German parliament Berlin
Debate in the plenary chamber of the German parliament in Berlin, July 1, 2020 (Pixabay)

When Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats — who frequently split up to 90 percent of the votes between them during the Cold War era — fell to a combined 50 percent support in the federal election in September, alarm bells went off across the Atlantic.

The New York Times saw “messier politics” and “weaker leadership” ahead. The Washington Post feared a period of “limbo” as a result of Germany’s “Dutchification”. Harold James, a professor at Princeton University, lamented that Germany had acquired “the most destructive features of politics in neighboring countries.” The consequences, he argued, would be “complexity,” “endless negotiations” and “inevitably complicated coalition agreements.” Damon Linker, a columnist for The Week, predicted forming a “stable” government would be “challenging” and “decisive action” more difficult.

Some people never learn. We saw the same reaction after the European elections in 2019, and again when Stefan Löfven lost his parliamentary majority in Sweden this summer. Yet Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and liberals were able to quickly form a working majority in the European Parliament and Löfven remains prime minister.

Germany’s liberals and Greens — who can help either the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats to a majority — have already done a deal between them, clearing the biggest hurdle to a three-party coalition. Negotiations are now underway. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party leader, could become chancellor in a few weeks. So much for the “limbo” we were told to expect. Read more “Political Fragmentation Hasn’t Weakened Germany”

The Return of European Social Democracy

Olaf Scholz
German Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz attends a conference in Berlin, June 25 (PES)

Olaf Scholz has given German social democracy a new lease on life. For the first time in sixteen years, his Social Democratic Party (SPD) — Germany’s oldest — has defeated the center-right Union of Christian Democrats. Support for the SPD went up from 20.5 to 26 percent in the election on Sunday. Still below its pre-reunification heights, when it would routinely win up to 40 percent, but enough to make Scholz the most likely next chancellor.

His counterparts in Portugal and Spain have been equally successful. António Costa was reelected with 36 percent support in 2019. Pedro Sánchez won two elections that year. Both govern with the support of the far left. Four of the five Nordic countries are led by social democrats. The fifth, Norway, soon will be, after Labor won the election two weeks ago.

It wasn’t so long ago that commentators ruminated on the “death of European social democracy,” myself included. Now it’s back in swing in the north, south and center. What changed? Read more “The Return of European Social Democracy”

Outlines of a Green-Liberal Pact for Germany

Germany’s Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) are taking the lead in forming the next coalition government.

The two parties won a combined 120 seats in the election on Sunday, more than either the Social Democrats (SPD), who placed first, or the Union of Christian Democrats, who came in second. They would still need one of the two bigger parties for a majority. The Greens would prefer to team up with the SPD. The liberal FDP would prefer a coalition with the Union.

The best way to avoid gridlock is for the smaller parties to do a deal first and then see whether the SPD or Union could support it.

Here’s what such a deal might look like. Read more “Outlines of a Green-Liberal Pact for Germany”

German Election: Takeaways and Next Steps

German parliament Berlin
Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, July 5, 2021 (Unsplash/Kristijan Arsov)

Germans returned at least six parties to parliament on Sunday (counting the “Union” of Christian Democrats as one). The fate of The Left still hangs in the balance. Projections give the former communists exactly the 5 percent support they need to meet the electoral threshold.

The most likely outcome is a three-party government including the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens. The question is whether the Social Democrats (SPD) or Union will lead it.

If you haven’t been reading our live election blog, this explainer will get you up to speed on the results, takeaways and next steps. Read more “German Election: Takeaways and Next Steps”

Merkel’s Party Loses German Election, Left and Liberals Gain

  • Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats lost the election on Sunday.
  • The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) became the largest party for the first time since 2005.
  • The Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) made gains.
  • Three parties will probably be needed to form the next German government. Read more “Merkel’s Party Loses German Election, Left and Liberals Gain”

Sixteen Years in Power: Merkel’s Successes and Failures

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Berlin, November 9, 2016 (Bundesregierung)

Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection on Sunday after ruling Germany for sixteen years. (She remains chancellor until a new government is formed.)

Here is an overview of the most important policies of her four governments — and her biggest failures. Read more “Sixteen Years in Power: Merkel’s Successes and Failures”

German Left Has Wrong Ideas for Housing Market

Berlin Germany
View of Berlin, Germany from Alexanderplatz, March 28, 2020 (Unsplash/Stefan Widua)

Housing is one of the top issues in the German election on Sunday. Proposals reveal a traditional left-right divide: the Social Democrats and Greens seek to rein in prices with rent controls; the Christian Democrats and liberal Free Democrats call for more construction, including by relaxing planning laws and other regulatory requirements.

Coinciding with the federal election, a referendum in Berlin will decide whether the city-state expropriates about 200,000 homes.

The proposal is for private landlords owning more than 3,000 properties to be “socialized”. Supporters argue this would lower prices, as the houses would no longer need to be profitable, but this betrays a simplistic understanding of the market. If the government makes it impossible for developers and landlords to turn a profit, they will develop and rent out fewer apartments and the housing shortage will grow, not shrink.

That’s exactly what happened when Berlin froze rents last year: the number of apartments on the market dropped 57 percent. Owners kept their flats empty while the Constitutional Court reviewed the new law. It ruled in April that the freeze was unlawful. Renters had to suddenly pay a year’s worth of missed rent increases.

Now left-wing parties want to try the same nationally. Read more “German Left Has Wrong Ideas for Housing Market”

Liberals Would Lend Urgency to Next German Government

Christian Lindner
German Free Democratic Party leader Christian Lindner makes a speech in parliament in Berlin (Kevin Schneider)

With Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats neck and neck in the polls, and the Greens not far behind, no single party or combination of two parties is projected to win a majority in the election on Sunday. Germans should vote for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and make them kingmakers in the next Bundestag.

The liberals balked at a pact with the Christian Democrats and Greens in 2017, fearing that concessions to the center and left would prevent them from prying away voters from the far-right Alternative for Germany. They have wisely abandoned that strategy. Center-right parties across Europe have tried and failed to win back voters from the nationalist right by mimicking their policies and rhetoric. It’s unconvincing. The parties that did find their way back, like the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, did so by being true by their convictions.

The Free Democrats, in their manifesto as well as their campaign, have been outspokenly liberal, calling for equal adoption rights for gay couples, protecting personal data, reducing publicly-funded media to news and documentaries, and restricting unemployment benefits. These aren’t priorities for other parties, which is why the FDP needs to get back into power. Read more “Liberals Would Lend Urgency to Next German Government”