Last night, the negotiations between the Christian Conservative parties (CDU & CSU), the Greens and Liberals (FDP) to form a government officially failed as the Liberals withdrew from the talks. With the totally not prepared and 110% spontaneous words “Besser nicht regieren als schlecht.” (Better not to govern than to govern badly) the Liberal party delivered the political crisis to Germany that everyone so desperately needed.
After last night’s deluge of notifications about impending doom, the electorate woke up curious about what was to come next – and unlike everyone else, the Liberals came prepared. Starting an image campaign with said slogan of “Better not to govern than to govern badly”, the FDP gave a gift of gifts to everyone but themselves.
Admittedly, the so called Jamaica talks (for the colours of the parties involved: black, yellow, green) were an ambitious project to begin with:
- The conservatives CDU/CSU had to deal with inner struggles due to Bavarian elections in 2018 and its prime minister who is fighting for his survival due to an abysmal performance in September’s federal elections, leading to a push to move the party even further to the right, in an attempt to combat the Alternative for Germany (AfD)
- Additionally, there is the question of Merkel’s succession; Angela Merkel’s fourth term will likely be her last one – and so far no one is any the wiser about who can or will succeed her as historically the contenders for such a position have been tossed aside by Mrs Merkel without too much of a thought
- The Greens, who once said that for them to become part of a coalition the CDU needs to become more ecological, the FDP more social and the CSU more liberal, have to explain to their base why exactly it is the right move for them to venture into a coalition with a party that openly courts anti-migrant sentiments
- The FDP (Liberals) only just returned to the federal parliament, four years after a disastrous run as junior partner to the conservatives (and a self-fulfilling implosion of the party), so while they are the party who has been in government longer than any other in Germany, they were justifiably cautious about putting all their efforts into rebranding themselves (as what, I have yet to understand, the ‘party that knows how to use Instagram filters’, maybe) to the immediate test of government responsibility
So, what’s next? New elections, likely as not. At this point the other possible government coalition, between Conservatives and Social Democrats, has been rejected by the SPD out of hand. and after having suffered badly after four years in that very coalition. Similarly, a minority government of the remaining ‘Jamaicans’ seems unlikely at best as their existing frictions will serve them ill when shopping for other parties’ votes (and frankly, Germans aren’t that adventurous). So new elections, then.
Who stands to gain:
- The AfD – Germany’s far-right party has just been given living proof that establishment parties are not trusted, spontaneous estimate: +5-10% votes
- The Social Democrats, maybe, as they for once didn’t budge and discontinued a coalition that cost them dearly. This past election was a historic low for the party, hard to imagine them not recovering in a re-run, provided their campaign is done right. Estimate: +2%
Who will stand their ground:
- The Federal Conservatives (CDU) – dealing with their Bavarian brethren was a necessary act of coalition building before Jamaica, and a slightly disappointing run in 2017 will probably not be enough to overcome the unifying power of Angela Merkel in her last run at staying the course in national and international politics. Chance of returning voters that protest-voted for other parties. Estimate: +2-5%
- The Greens – they tried, they stood their ground, while still putting in the effort of making Jamaica work – and they have the Liberals as a beckoning scapegoat. Their conservative members will be happy that they genuinely tried and their more progressive members will be happy that they held onto their beliefs. +/- 2%
- The LEFT (die LINKE) – were less visible than the other parties of late, did their usual thing of discussing strategy, personnel and all that jazz. Might benefit from off-center sentiments and end up in a left-off center coalition in 2018, should the SPD do the impossible. +/-2%
Who stands to lose:
- The Liberals – running a fancy Instagram campaign which focusses on the oh so hip and modern head of the party with dreamy pictures is good and fun if you are on a budget, but you might wanna deliver on the ‘being a party of substance’ thing. The very same chairman who after having led his party to a historic result in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, humbly announced that he’d be in Berlin from September onwards anyways now blinked first. As it seems this “scandal” was long-planned as indicated by the well-prepared graphics essentially saying “Wasn’t us!”. This could cost them dearly, if too many voters go for “Yes, it was.”. Will likely stay in parliament, but only just. Ergo: -2-5%
Too soon to tell:
- The Bavarian Conservatives (CSU) – the CSU has many troubles these days, finding common ground with their more centrist sister party followed by Jamaican talks was a strain on a party that is yet to agree on a strategy for how to deal with this September’s bad results and the surprising inroads that the AfD made on their territory. The prospects of current chairman and prime minister Horst Seehofer are far from certain as he is facing ongoing challenges and calls for a generational change in the top position, especially from his ill-liked crown prince Markus Söder who has been waiting for his turn for some while now – and who is firmly to the right of the man who wants to prevent his ascension. Federal AND state elections could be a make or break moment for Bavaria as the CSU has to stand united (wherever they stand) against far right and centrist challenges at the same time
- Angela Merkel – the newly minted leader of the free world had the task of keeping politics sane on the national (prevent the AfD from becoming a thing) and international (prevent Trump’s thing from becoming THE thing to do if you want to be successful). She then stumbled on the home front, first with her own parties’ results in the September elections, then in the Jamaican talks. Christian Lindner’s FDP can easily be blamed for the end of Jamaica, but the September election? For now, Merkel is still too strong to be challenged, but for how long yet? If the 2018 elections go ill, and the CDU needs to reinvent itself, Mrs M. might find herself retired before she intended to
In short: the German liberals just made a show of painting a target on their back, and while no one in their right mind would want new elections, at least everyone has a common scapegoat. Or as Aaron Sorkin might say: FDP, boy I don’t know.
Moritz Borchardt has a Master of Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt, Germany. A native German from Lower Saxony, Moritz spent his under-graduate years at the universities of Erfurt, Vilnius and Jena, graduating with a degree in Governmental Studies in 2011. Having a weakness for old school hats and civil society, he is interested in those areas where personal development is positively or negatively affected on a larger scale (i.e. Impacts/challenges of digital media, suppression of civil society) and structural shifts in societies writ large. He wrote his master’s thesis on a compliance-based understanding of society and chances for change in contemporary Belarus.
Cover Image European Union 2012 – European Parliament ‘EU Summit – Schulz and Merkel walking towards the family photo‘ under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license.