28th Feb 2024

Merkel's potential coalition partners drag their feet

  • SPD frontman Sigmar Gabriel is tipped to lead coalition talks (Photo: Valentina Pop)

A week after her election victory, Chancellor Angela Merkel is nowhere nearer a coalition government, with the Social-Democrats facing strong internal opposition and the Greens having lost their leadership.

Merkel needs a partner to form a majority government - either the Social-Democrats or the smaller Greens - because her "super result" gave her 311 seats out of 630 in the Bundestag, just short of a majority.

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But following the fate of her last junior partner - the liberal Free Democratic Party, who scored below the five-percent threshold and who are out of parliament - neither the Social-Democrats nor the Greens are too keen to join a new coalition.

The Social Democrats are holding an internal meeting on Friday evening (27 September) to decide whether to put the potential grand coalition to a vote of all their 472,000 members.

Their main demands could prove hard to satisfy, however.

"We want to be equal partners, 50-50. The Chancellor on one side, the finance minister on the other," Johannes Kahrs, an SPD deputy from Hamburg, told the ZDF public broadcaster Friday morning.

The finance minister post has grown in importance over the past four years of the euro-crisis and is now considered to carry more weight than the foreign minister post, traditionally the job earmarked for the junior partner.

Merkel's close ally and CDU veteran Wolfgang Schaeuble, 71, is tipped to carry on as finance minister if coalition talks go the way Merkel wants.

On the SPD side, a top name is that of Joerg Asmussen, a former finance ministry official under the last grand coalition who has since switched to the European Central Bank.

Asmussen is an SPD party member and might be a good compromise for Merkel, as he is no left-wing radical.

If talks with the SPD fail, Merkel still has the option of negotiating with the still more left-of-centre Greens.

But the Greens are currently in a leadership revamp, after most of their top figures resigned following the bad election result.

"We can't talk to the Greens, because they have no leaders left to talk to," CDU parliamentary chief Volker Kauder said on Wednesday.

A third option would be for Merkel to try a minority government which needs the support of the SPD or the Greens for each piece of legislation she wants to pass.

This would be a first in post-war Germany and would most likely lead to early elections.

Meanwhile, the leftist Linke Party - who became the third-largest group in the new parliament - is urging the Social Democrats and Greens not to go into a coalition with Merkel and to form a "red-red-green" government instead.

But Linke remains a taboo party nobody wants to govern with, because of its Communist past in East Germany and due to its radical ideas, such as nationalising banks or dismantling Nato.

According to the German constitution, the only clear deadline is 22 October, when the new Bundestag is set to have its inaugural meeting.

If no government is formed until then, the President can ask Merkel to continue as a caretaker leader for as long as it takes to bring a coalition together.

A survey published on Friday by the ARD public broadcaster shows that 48 percent of Germans are in favour of a grand coalition, while only 18 percent back a government made by the Christian-Democrats and Greens.

A red-red-green coalition is the least favoured option, on just 16 percent.


Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

In a fractious parliamentary vote, the level of party discipline often decides the fate of legislation. Party discipline among nationalists and far-right MEPs is the weakest, something potentially significant after the June elections. Data by Novaya Gazeta Europe and EUobserver.

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