Merkel will be Chancellor, but in what government?

There has rarely been a more likely largest party outcome in a German Federal election than that predicted for the poll later this month. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) led by incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently polling in the early 40s in most opinion polls of likely voters, with the Social Democrats (SPD) trailing back at 25-30% in the latest polls.

The CDU’s current coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), a liberal ‘third party’ and historic kingmaker in German politics, may struggle to reach the 5% threshold or 3 Bundestag seats required to give them a share in the proportional allocation of seats in Germany’s mixed-member electoral system. Approximately half of the Bundestag’s Members are elected by the same method as we are accustomed to here in Britain, the other half are distributed proportionally to those parties clearing either threshold via national party lists.

The right-of-centre CDU and the business-friendly FDP have long been natural bedfellows and have entered into numerous governments together since the Republic was founded in 1949. However, the FDP are feeling the rough side of being the junior partner in a coalition government. Having been involved in all but 2 governments formed between 1949 and 1997, the FDP now – and especially since German Unification – have considerable competition from smaller political parties on the left – most notably the Greens, for the role of coalition kingmaker.

The Social Democrats haven’t enjoyed sweeping nationl appeal since being replaced by the CDU in 2005 as the largest party, even though the two parties governed together in a grand coalition between 2005 and 2009. At the last election in 2009, Merkel extended her party’s lead and returned it to its more natural alliance with the FDP. However, with the considerable fall in popularity of the FDP since 2009, and the rise and rise of the Greens in national as well as regional elections, there is talk of an historic CDU-Green coalition, which would command a parliamentary majority. Merkel has always responded cooly to such speculation, and a wonderful quote from one of her colleagues perhaps summed up the likelihood of such an outcome: “can you really see Angela Merkel in dreadlocks?”

I would not be astounded by a CDU-Green coalition,  for stranger things have happened in politics (and German regional politics is home to a diverse range of coalitions). However I still think that another CDU-FDP coalition (Merkel’s preferred option) will ultimately prevail, just. i say this even though there is apparently some public appetite for a grand coalition between the two largest parties for the third time in the Republic’s history.

This is Merkel’s election to lose. The safe ‘Manager’ of Europe’s largest economy is also a safe electioneer, and the SPD, under Peer Steinbruck, lacks much of a kick, or a particularly effective opposition to Merkel’s CDU. They seem a long way from the heady dream days of a left alliance – when the SPD and the Greens governed between 1997 and 2005. All that said, keep an eye on the vote in Europe’s powerhouse later this month, the outcome will shape the direction of the EU over the next four years, and depending on the mathematics, the negotiations in the government formation process could be very interesting Indeed.


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