The German parliamentary elections last September made obvious the growing disillusionment of more and more Germans with the stagnant government presided over by Germany’s perpetual Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
The two parties which made up Merkel’s government – the CDU/CSU and the SPD – suffered the worst results they have each experienced since the Second World War.
A new party – the AfD – gained prominence, so that Germany’s two ‘non-system’ parties – the AfD and the leftist Die Linke, which is the inheritor of Germany’s very old and very strong Communist and left wing tradition – now between them command around a fifth of the vote.
The proper outcome to such a result would have been for the two party leaders who presided over this debacle – Angela Merkel and the SPD’s Martin Schulz – to go, making room for some of the impressive younger politicians to be found in both their respective parties.
If it still proved impossible to construct a government after those two leaders had gone, then new elections should have been called, as regularly happens in all other mature democracies.
Certainly there was no cause to treat the situation as a crisis, and it was absurd to treat the result as one.
Instead Merkel and Schulz are still there, and despite previous promises that he would not do so, Schulz allowed himself to be strong armed into negotiating with Merkel to reconstitute what despite denials is effectively the same government that did so badly in the September elections in order to avert a ‘crisis’ the threat of which never existed.
The paradox is that it is precisely this course – undertaken purportedly to avert a crisis which was never threatened – which could potentially create a crisis in Germany.
It should be said clearly that in effect denying the verdict of the elections is the worst possible response to the elections in September. Inevitably and rightly, it will be seen by much of the German population – including many of the grassroots members of the SPD – as an establishment stitch up against the voters at a time when the voters are becoming increasingly angry and disillusioned.
Far from bringing stability to Germany, a government reconstructed in such a way would be bound to be weak and unpopular, and would be unlikely to survive very long.
In effect, by trying to extend the existence of Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ government beyond its natural life, Germany’s political establishment is undermining the very political stability in Germany which they say they are consolidating.
The result is an all but certain eventual unravelling, leading to fresh elections, which will result in a further significant increase in the votes for Die Linke and the AfD, which will make formation of a government by the traditional ‘system’ parties – the CDU/CSU, the SDP and the Free Democrats – much more difficult, setting the scene for a real crisis in Germany.
The primary blame for this unhappy situation rests with Merkel and the conservative establishment of the SPD.
In Merkel’s case the results of the September election and the subsequent failure to create a ‘Jamaica’ coalition with the liberal Free Democrats and the Greens should have made clear to her what was on any objective analysis obvious: that her time as German Chancellor – like all things – is over and she should go. It was the moment when she should have stepped aside and made room for someone else.
In the case of the conservative establishment of the SPD – which includes the nation’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier – it ought to have been obvious that their party was in need of fresh thinking and new leadership, which it could only successfully achieve in opposition.
Instead Merkel – all too characteristically – has chosen to cling on, though the September election revealed the degree to which she has lost support and is now bereft of ideas, whilst despite Schulz’s protestations to the contrary the conservative establishment of the SPD comes across as far too comfortable in government and far closer ideologically to Merkel than it is to the SPD’s grass roots and its voters.
It is still not certain that this conspiracy by Germany’s neoliberal political establishment against the wishes of most German voters – which is what this proposal to revive Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ effectively is – will succeed.
The SPD conference which voted to support Schultz’s proposal to negotiate the terms of another ‘grand coalition’ government with Merkel gave him only tepid support.
Not only was Schulz received unenthusiastically at the conference – there were even moments during his speech when he was actually booed – but the conference appeared evenly divided on the issue, forcing a ballot which Schulz won with the support of only 58% of the delegates.
With the SPD’s youth wing strongly opposed to a coalition deal with Merkel, and with powerful sections of the SPD in places like North Rhine Westphalia also opposed – it is far from being a foregone conclusion that if or when a final coalition deal is put to a ballot of the SPD’s membership – as it must be = they will approve it.
Needless to say if the SPD votes against a coalition deal with Merkel, then I would expect her to resign and after a short time a new election to be called.
It is to be earnestly hoped in Germany’s and Europe’s interests that this is what happens.
The view that because the German economy appears at the moment to be doing rather well political instability in Germany does not matter is far too complacent.
Firstly, I doubt that Germany’s present economic good times will last for much longer.
Secondly, one of the reasons why I doubt they will last for much longer is precisely because of the stagnation of policy which has been the hallmark of Merkel’s long reign as Germany’s Chancellor is allowing problems to accumulate.
What Germany needs is new strong leadership that can chart a clear course ahead, not a prolongation of a rejected and increasingly discredited status quo.
Whether they realise the fact or not the intensely risk averse neoliberal political establishment in the name of ‘stability’ is creating the conditions for a future political crisis in Germany