Germany not famous for easy way outs from political stalemates

German Parliament, the Plenary. (© German Bundestag).

And now ‘Frau Bundeskanzlerin’ what? The truth is though whatever the future holds for the German political landscape, is no good. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s failure last weekend to form a government, with a viable parliamentary majority has irreparably stained the so far pristine scenery of the country’s politico-economic affairs. The unsuccessful attempts to convince liberal FDP party leader Christian Lindner, ‘l’anfant terrible’ of German politics, means Merkel’s reign has ended.

This is an unfortunate development at a time when the European economy “recovery is strengthening and broadening appreciably”, according to the International Monetary Fund. As for the German economy itself, it’s at its best for many decades. However, this doesn’t help resolving the political Gordian knot. It doesn’t help either some wider political problems of Europe like the Brexit and the attempt to reshape the future of the EU, as the French President Emmanuel Macron wants. In any case, France appears quite happy about FDP not governing Germany, because Lindner barely stomachs Macron’s efforts to revitalize the EU.

Now what?

Counting the possibilities for a breakthrough from the current Berlin deadlock there aren’t many. Last Tuesday, Bundeskanzlerin said she would prefer a new legislative election than a minority government. It’s not her style to ask a lot of people for every single legislative item she wants the Bundestag to pass. If she is soon to exit politics she probably prefers to be remembered as she was until today; a calm force able to offer results on a national and global basis.

The four-partite government coalition between the two Christian parties (CDU/CSU) plus the Liberals and the Greens, was definitely excluded last weekend. The next possibility to form a government from the present parliament is the extension of the CDU/CSU ‘grand’ coalition with the socialists of the SPD party. Since 2005 the Christian Democratic Union and her Bavarian sister Christian Social Union together with the Socialists have governed Germany for eight years, in two out of the three parliamentary periods. The last time was from 2013 till now.

The ball in SPD’s court

Together they brought the country from the least enviable position of the ‘European Patient’ of 2005, to today’s well oiled export machine. However, they are both paying a heavy political price for their austere fiscal policies and the deregulation of a well protected labor market. For the Socialists the political cost was even greater. The party had to abandon its labor class roots and support the center-right neoliberal policies in government finance and labor market legislation.

For this reason exactly, Martin Schulz, the President of SPD has ruled out a new four-year term in government with the Christian groups. After Merkel’s failure last Sunday to form a four-partite administration, Schulz rushed to say “We do not shy away from new elections”. Obviously, in this way he was overruling the possibility of a new ‘grand coalition’ government, which can probably ruin SPD’s possibility to win an election for the foreseeable future. The very next day Merkel also appeared to favor a new election in the next few months, and remain as an interim Chancellor in the between.

Badly cornered

As things stand now, the two main political forces, the Christian unions and the Socialists are in a very difficult spot. If the next elections were to take place this Sunday – according to a number of polls – both those political formations would lose something compared to their showing on 24 September elections.

As a result, a new vote can very possibly further strengthen the extreme right, xenophobic, anti-European almost fascist Alternative for Germany party (AfD). Those populists got 13% two months ago and formed a massive group of deputies in the Bundestag. They may be more of them there after a new election. Yet, the Christians and the Socialists both seem to agree on a new election soon. But let’s see if this is to their benefit.

Why a new vote?

In case they form one more ‘grand coalition’ government, it’s highly possible their problems will become less pressing. This is mainly because the immigration issue, which cost them a lot of votes last September, may be resolved or forgotten after four more prosperous years. This is especially true for Angela Merkel’s CDU and the CSU Bavarian sister. For the Socialists, the fall of their electoral showing is not primarily related to immigration. Their political losses are more related to their following of neoliberal policies in finance and the labor market.

This old sting will continue making them bleed. In reality, if they want to survive as a major political party they have better avoid a new coalition government with Merkel. The same is true for all the European socialist parties. A standard example of this sequence of events is the quasi disappearance of the once powerful PASOK socialist party of Greece. After a few austerity years in a coalition government with the center – right New Democracy, PASOK has disappeared and parts of its leadership have joined other political groups.

In short, the problems of the German socialists are exactly of this kind, that is, sharing the burden of neoliberal policies. That’s why Schulz rushed to say the SPD won’t participate in a new ‘grand coalition’ government with Merkel. However, he is strongly pressed to ‘serve Germany’ rather than the party. The German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a socialist himself, indirectly favors the formation of a ‘grand coalition’ government though.

Saved by the socialists

It’s not the first time the German socialists are serving their country first. In 2005 the then powerful Chancellor Gerhard Schröder caused his own fall, in order to promote a much needed groundbreaking economic growth program his party was refusing to adopt. After the early election of 18 September 2005, this program was applied in the subsequent legislative period by a ‘grand coalition’ Christian – Socialist government under Merkel and saved Germany from marasmus.

Not at all unlikely then a ‘grand coalition’ government is finally formed again in Berlin, by the two major political groups of Germany. In such an eventuality, it will be also a surprise if Merkel continues holding the Chancellorship. Schröder didn’t participate in the 2005 -2009 government at all. If the SPD is to participate in the next government, the Socialists will very probably ask Merkel to step down. They need a conspicuous sign that they actually can change things.

All in all, in one way or another, Germany has being stained and Berlin is not famous for easy ways out from political stalemates.

 

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