23rd Mar 2018

German coalition talks collapse

  • FDP leader Lindner (c) pulls out of coalition talks with the conservatives and the greens (Photo: FDP/Matthias Hornung)

The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) pulled out of coalition talks in Germany on Sunday (19 November), leading to an uncertain political future for the EU's largest member state.

The move is a blow to Angela Merkel, leader of the centre-right CDU and chancellor of Germany since 2005, who was expected to lead the coalition government for a fourth time.

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But talks between CDU, its Bavarian sister party CSU, the Greens, and FDP, progressed slowly and missed a self-imposed deadline last Thursday.

FDP's leader Christian Lindner said on Sunday that after weeks of talks, there were still many open issues and conflicting goals, but "no common basis for trust".

"It is better not to rule than to rule wrongly," said Lindner around midnight on Sunday.

Merkel, however, said that the four parties had been "on a path where we could have reached an agreement".

Following the 24 September parliamentary elections, the combination of these four parties quickly emerged as the only feasible option for a majority coalition.

The centre-left SPD suffered such a historic defeat that its leader, former president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, decided not to enter government.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party entered parliament for the first time, with 94 of 598 seats, but has such extreme views from the political mainstream that it is almost unthinkable that it would join coalition talks.

Mathematically, the FDP could be substituted by the former-communist Left party in coalition talks, but it is unlikely that the base of the conservative CDU/CSU would accept such a way forward.

The four-party combination which now failed, also called the Jamaica coalition because of the combination of their party colours, was never one born out of strong political alignment.

In particular the FDP and the Greens, which won 80 and 67 seats respectively, were far apart in their views on immigration, climate action, and Europe.

Days after the election, FDP leader Lindner already said the four parties "each have their own election mandates. Whether these can be allied without contradiction ... remains to be seen".

Yet it is unclear what precisely triggered the FDP to blow up the talks.

In his speech, Lindner only spoke in general terms, saying for example that the four parties "could not develop a common vision of the modernisation of our country".

But according to German media, the other parties saw it differently.

Just hours before Lindner's statement, Green politician Michael Kellner reportedly was still optimistic about where the talks were heading.

One CDU MP told Rheinische Post Online that the negotiators of the other parties were "completely surprised" over the FDP walkout.

Cem Oezdemir, one of the Green party leaders, said that the FDP rejected "the only possible constellation that was democratically possible after the elections."

The FDP "simply is afraid" to govern, German Greens MEP Reinhard Buetikofer later added.

Meanwhile, Germany continues to be ruled by Merkel's former coalition – CDU/CSU with the SPD – as a caretaker government.

Germany's options include a period of reflection with the hope of bringing FDP back into the fold; a minority government; or new elections.

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