Germany after Angela Merkel: the long negotiations begin

It could be a protracted wait to find out what form Germany’s next government will take

Olaf Scholz
Olaf Scholz: Merkel’s natural heir?
(Image credit: Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)

Will it be “traffic light”, “Jamaica”, or even another “GroKo”? That’s what Germans are asking about the make-up of their next government after knife-edge elections last week, said Der Spiegel (Hamburg).

In pole position to be chancellor is Olaf Scholz, whose centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) won 25.7% of the vote – the most of any party. He’ll hold talks with the Greens (who came third with 14.8%) and the free-market FDP (fourth, with 11.5%) over forming a “traffic light” coalition – a nod to the parties’ colours.

But if those talks fail, other scenarios arise. Armin Laschet, of Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), could lead a “Jamaica” coalition (black, green and yellow, like that country’s flag) with the Greens and FDP – despite his party winning its lowest-ever vote share (24.1%).

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Or the two main parties could even repeat their “Grand Coalition” (GroKo) partnership of the last four years. Either way, “Germany’s democracy is in for a difficult, strenuous few weeks as the parties wrangle for power”.

One thing’s for sure, said Manuela Kasper-Claridge in Deutsche Welle (Bonn): after 16 years of Merkel, it’s clear that “Germany wants change”. The influence of the two main parties has waned while smaller parties have improved their standing.

But balancing their competing interests won’t be easy, said Thomas Sigmund in Handelsblatt (Düsseldorf). The Greens and the FDP have “huge rifts” over key policy areas. The Greens want to relax Germany’s strict borrowing rules to invest in going carbon neutral; the FDP opposes that and favours cutting taxes (which is a no-go for the Greens). Yet with a “GroKo” the alternative, neither party “can afford to fail” in the quest for common ground.

Just don’t expect them to find it soon, said Le Monde (Paris): after the last election, in 2017, a coalition took 172 days to emerge. Yet whatever form the government does finally take, it’s unlikely to be a huge departure from the status quo. Fringe parties like the far-right AfD and leftist Die Linke fared badly; the four best-performing parties are all centrist and favour EU integration.

Some see the SPD’s success as a “harbinger” of a revival of Europe’s centre-left, said Marc Santora and Melissa Eddy in The New York Times. That’s premature. Instead, what this poll shows is that personality trumps party loyalty for today’s voters. In Laschet, the CDU fielded a flawed, lacklustre candidate with an air of entitlement. That allowed Scholz, the current finance minister, to cast himself as the natural heir to Merkel – “despite being in another party”.

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