German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s future hangs in the balance after her conservative CDU/CSU bloc failed to forge a coalition with the centrist Free Democratic Party and environmentalist Greens.
Germany is locked in a political stalemate after parties failed to agree on forming a coalition government before a weekend deadline.
The collapse of the talks has thrown Angela Merkel’s future as chancellor into jeopardy as the country enters a new phase of uncertainty not seen since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had been hoping to forge an alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and environmentalist Greens after the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) ruled itself out, having shared power with the CDU for the last four years.
Commentators referred to the putative CDU-FDP-Greens pact as the “Jamaica” coalition, as the colours of the three parties – black, yellow and green – combined to make the colours as the Caribbean island’s flag.
The German chancellor might still stay in office if President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opts to allow her party to form a minority government in the 709-seat parliament. But Merkel has already said she would prefer new elections.
TRT World explores the key players in German politics and what they stand for.
Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
The CDU, backed by its Bavaria-based counterpart, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has been in power since 2005. Its chairwoman Angela Merkel has served as chancellor since then, making her the longest-serving incumbent leader in the European Union.
Despite dropping 8.6 percentage points compared to the last election in 2013, the party took the largest proportion of the popular vote in the September 2017 polls, with 32.9 percent.
Although well-short of the 355-seat mark required for a parliamentary majority, the CDU/CSU’s combined 246 seats put it in the best position to build a coalition and secure a fourth consecutive term for Merkel.
But as a party hit hard by the sudden rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which played its populist anti-immigration propaganda off Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow over a million asylum seekers into the country, the CDU/CSU has sought to alleviate the fears of disillusioned voters by promising to cap the acceptance rate for future arrivals.
This has unsettled the immigration-friendly Greens, who became potential coalition partners after the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) said it would not renew its coalition with Merkel’s conservatives.
While Merkel may still form a minority government following the collapse of talks with the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), she has expressed her preference for snap elections.
Social Democratic Party (SPD)
The centre-left SPD, led by the former president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, took the second largest proportion of votes, with 20.5 percent. It is also the second largest party in parliament, with 153 seats.
Having served as a junior partner in the previous government, the SPD could once again join forces with the CDU/CSU in a 'grand coalition'.
But the party suffered a loss of 5.2 percentage points in the September 2017 election in comparison to the 2013 poll, making it the worst result in the party’s history.
Schulz has therefore refused to engage in coalition talks with the CDU/CSU, instead steering his party into the opposition.
The withdrawal of the SPD from the government leaves the coalition of the CDU/CSU, the FDP and the Greens as the only other option for a majority government that does not include the far-right AfD.
Free Democratic Party (FDP)
Christian Lindner’s FDP pulled out of coalition talks with the CDU/CSU and the Greens having failed to reach an agreement on key issues outlined in the centrist party’s pro-business manifesto.
The party’s 80 seats, earned after winning 10.7 percent of the popular vote, are necessary to form a majority coalition, as the CDU/CSU and the Greens do not have enough seats between them.
"It's better not to govern than to govern falsely," Lindner said after talks with Merkel collapsed. He had been pushing for lower taxes, a more flexible workforce and increased immigration controls.
Lindner also opposed the Greens' calls to meet what he said were expensive and constraining climate protection targets. He instead said that Germany could make a greater impact on the climate by helping other countries to cut their emissions.
The Greens marked an increase of 0.5 percentage points compared to the 2013 election to secure 8.9 percent of the popular vote in 2017, thus taking 67 seats in the German parliament.
The SPD’s refusal to again team up with the CDU/CSU opened the door to the Greens to become a junior coalition partner for the third time since 1998.
However, it would be the first time that the Greens enter a coalition with Merkel’s conservatives.
On the previous two occasions that the left-leaning party were part of the government, they served as junior partners to the centre-left SPD, which is arguably a more natural alliance than a coalition with the pro-business and pro-industry CDU/CSU.
However, a deal between the Greens and the SPD, along with the far-left Die Linke, was not possible this time, as a left, environmental and centre-left coalition would still be 66 seats short of a majority.
Although the Greens seemed willing to compromise with both the CDU/CSU and the FDP throughout the negotiations, especially on taxes, there remained a gulf between the former and the two other parties on environmental and immigration policies.
Notably, the Greens did not pull out of the negotiations, which collapsed due to the FDP’s withdrawal. Yet, without the FDP, the CDU/CSU and Greens together would still need 42 more seats to reach a majority.
The Left (Die Linke)
Die Linke, or 'The Left' in English, is co-led by Sahra Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch. The party was not included in talks to form a coalition with the CDU/CSU, but with 69 seats in the parliament, the party could take on the role of kingmaker in future negotiations.
It won 9.2 percent of the popular vote, up 0.6 percentage points from the last election.
The far-left party, seen as a radical remnant of the formerly Communist-ruled east of the country, opposes Germany’s participation in NATO as well as German military missions abroad.
The party has welcomed calls for a snap election, but is unlikely enter a coalition with any right-of-centre parties, including the CDU/CSU.
Alternative for Germany (AfD)
The far-right AfD is a newcomer to the German Parliament, sweeping up votes lost by the mainstream CDU/CSU and SPD parties over the coalition’s stance on migrants and refugees.
The AfD emerged from the 2017 election as the third-biggest party in parliament, but still a pariah to most Germans, as the last far-right party to have significant electoral success in Germany were the Nazis.
Although the German government has adopted a relatively tougher position on immigration after granting asylum to more than a million migrants and refugees in 2015, an increasing minority of the German population seem open to the populist rhetoric of the AfD.
The anti-immigration party used a number of terror-related incidents in the country in 2016 as ammunition with which to attack Merkel's immigration policy.
The party won 94 seats in the German parliament, with 12.6 percent of the popular vote, making it the third most popular party in the country.
Former CDU member Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel led the party to win its first seats in parliament after replacing the party’s former lead candidate Frauke Petry earlier this year.
While the party allowed Petry to run as a lawmaker, she defected from the AfD to hold on to her seat as an independent in protest against far-right extremist elements in the party, even though Petry herself was known for her hardline anti-Islam, anti-immigration comments.
The other parties in parliament have rejected any coalition with the AfD, despite the latter's large presence in the parliament.