Triggering a process which could see the end of the long reign of Angela Merkel as German Chancellor, the centrist FDP party led by ambitious rising star Christian Lindner have pulled out of talks to form a new coalition government.
Lindner has explained his decision by citing “irreconcilable differences” with Merkel’s other suggested coalition partner: the Greens.
Today there was no progress but rather there were setbacks because targeted compromises were questioned. It is better not to rule than to rule falsely. Goodbye!
Merkel was badly weakened when her CDU/CSU party crashed to its worst result since the 1940s in last September’s parliamentary elections. Her former SPD coalition partner also had an extremely poor result and has ruled out forming another coalition with her.
Merkel has since sought to patch a government together by forming a so-called ‘Jamaica coalition’ bringing together her CDU/CSU with the FDP and the Greens.
However the FDP and the Greens have been at loggerheads over the Greens’ insistence on cutbacks in coal use for Germany’s electricity generating mix, and this appears to be the issue which resulted in the FDP’s walkout from the coalition talks today.
This leaves Merkel in a potentially very difficult situation.
With the SPD categorically ruling out a further coalition arrangement with her, she could in theory try to form a coalition solely with the Greens. That would however probably be unpopular with her own CDU/CSU party, many of whose members are as antagonistic to the Greens as the FDP is. Such a coalition would anyway only have a minority in the Bundestag, inaugurating a period of very weak government.
The alternative would be to try to reopen negotiations with the FDP. However after the FDP’s walkout that might prove difficult, and even if successful it now looks like it could only result in a fractious and unstable government.
Lastly, there is the option of another election. However in Germany the mechanism for calling a second election so soon after a first inconclusive election is complex and difficult, requiring a vote of no confidence by the Bundestag in the existing government.
Whilst such a thing could of course be staged, it would nonetheless amount to a vote of no confidence in Merkel as Chancellor, which would still be a blow to her prestige.
Beyond this it seems that there are real concerns within the ruling CDU/CSU that as things stand a second election would merely result in a further increase in the vote of the right wing AfD, whose vote surge in the September election came mainly at the expense of the CDU/CSU.
It would be extremely unwise to underestimate Merkel’s extraordinary staying power as Chancellor.
However her performance in the September election was lacklustre and it is generally agreed that she has cut a passive and unimpressive figure in the coalition talks.
If there is a serious risk of a second election requiring a vote of no confidence in her government, the temptation for the CDU/CSU to replace her as leader will be very strong.
Having lost so much ground to the AfD in September’s election under Merkel’s leadership, there will surely be people within the CDU/CSU who will say that Merkel – whose refugee policy is blamed for triggering the backlash that led to the AfD surge – is simply not the person to lead the CDU/CSU in a new election where it will face a renewed challenge from the AfD.
If so then it is not inconceivable that Merkel could be asked to go, in which case she may be in her last weeks as Chancellor.