GERMAN COALITION NEGOTIATIONS ENTER NEW PHASE AS MERKEL STRUGGLES




Robert Harneis -TDO- (FRANCE) It is now two months since the parliamentary elections which paralyzed German political life and produced a hung parliament. The attempt by Chancellor Merkel to form a new coalition with the free market FDP and the anti-market Greens have predictably failed.

These negotiations took place because Merkel’s former partners, the left of center SPD, said they were not prepared to enter a new coalition after record losses in the elections, which they blame on the Chancellor and her well known skill as a political tactician.

The wily Merkel, who has ruled Germany for just over 12 years, is now faced with forming a minority government, calling new elections or persuading the SPD to change their minds and once more come into government. German President Franck-Walter Steinmeier, himself a member of the SPD, is urging his party to reconsider and party leader Martin Schultz has indicated that such a change of mind could happen providing that Merkel made major concessions.

An opinion poll indicates that 52% of Germans support the idea. Calling early elections is constitutionally complicated in Germany. The idea of a minority government is alien and reminds voters of the failed Weimar Republic that eventually let in the Nazi’s and Hitler. There has only been one briefly since the war under Willy Brandt, during 1972 during the Ostpolitik crisis.

The problem is that the concessions demanded by the SPD are likely to be unacceptable to some members of Merkel’s CDU and all members of her traditional Bavarian allies, the CSU. Notably the Vice President of the SPD Karl Lauterbach has explained ‘the acceptance of the abolition of the private health sector would be a precondition for the opening of negotiations.

As ever immigration is a serious bone of contention. It was Merkel’s super lax policy and the entry of one million refugees in 2015 that cause her loss of popularity. The CSU who have regional elections in 2018 want a ceiling on the number of people able to ask for asylum and limitations on families of migrants being able to come to Germany. In October 2015, Horst Seehofer, Bavarian State Premier and leader of CSU, criticized Merkel's policy ‘We're now in a state of mind without rules, without system and without order because of a German decision.’ Seehofer has attacked Merkel’s policies, threatened to sue the government in the high court, and hinted that the CSU might topple Merkel. Many MPs of Merkel's own CDU party have also voiced dissatisfaction with the Chancellor.

The SPD are unlikely to accept anti-migrant policies. An SPD member of parliament, Ralf Stegner, has said the party ‘could not agree to a ceiling on the number of migrants each year’ also adding ‘such a ceiling would be against the Geneva Convention.’

The anti-migrant and anti-Euro party AfD that surged into parliament with 90 seats from nothing and which only came into existence in 2013, is greatly enjoying the Chancellor’s problems. Alexander Gauland, AfD leader, told AFP that ‘Merkel must go’, she is ‘on the way out and that is partly thanks to us’. Gauland said that if a coalition cannot be formed and another election is called, he is ‘confidant of doing better’ than in September.

Just across the Rhine, President Macron of France is anxiously waiting to see whether whatever government emerges is likely to be sympathetic to his plans for ever closer union in the EU. He is likely to be disappointed.

In the meantime, Merkel has said that Germany would take a back seat for the moment on European issues whilst Germany only has a caretaker government.

An opinion poll of 17th November indicates that if a new election is held the results would be broadly similar to the present parliament but it is the votes in the ballot box that matter.