The collapse of coalition talks in Germany has made a new general election much more likely:
Just days ago, Angela Merkel seemed a shoo-in for another term as leader of Europe’s most powerful country. Now, with the breakdown of talks on forming a coalition government, Germany is rudderless and the chancellor is facing perhaps the worst political crisis of her career.
The weak performance of Merkel’s party in September’s general election made the formation of a so-called “Jamaica” government (black-yellow-green) with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-wing Greens the only way for the Chancellor to obtain a majority. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received its lowest share of the vote since 1949, and its current coalition partner, the Social Democrats, ruled out participating in another “grand coalition.” That forced Merkel to try to cobble together an unwieldy coalition that proved to be unworkable. This was an entirely unprecedented predicament in modern German politics, as Paul Hockenos explains:
Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Greens, and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) had been hunkered down in tense, complicated negotiations for nearly five weeks, by all accounts the going was extremely tough: Never before had such a broad, diverse constellation of parties been the only workable coalition option possible in light of the outcome of a national election.
There were simply too many disagreements on policy among the would-be coalition partners to form a functioning government. That places Germany in the unfamiliar position of having to hold another election to produce a governing coalition or putting up with a minority government. A new election would probably produce a result similar to the one in September, so Germany might find itself back in this same position in a few months’ time.
It is difficult to see how Merkel hangs on to power for much longer under the circumstances. After twelve years in power and seventeen years at the helm of her party, it is probably time for her to go, but it is even harder to see who would be able to replace her. More than anyone else, Merkel has herself to blame for her party and her country’s current predicament. Her response to the migration crisis contributed directly to the surge in support for the nationalist-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), and that surge came at the expense of the Christian Democrats. The AfD is now the third-largest party in the Bundestag, and it stands to benefit from the CDU’s continued drift under Merkel.
A few months ago, some pundits had started dubbing Merkel the new “leader of the free world,” but that was never true. The last few weeks have shown that it is no longer a given that Merkel will retain her leadership position in Germany. As long as Germany is going through its current political convulsions, its government won’t be able to provide much leadership in the EU or in the wider world for the foreseeable future.