Two days after the general elections, negotiations have begun in Germany to form a new governing coalition, which this year seems more complex than usual. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, center-right – are the ones that have obtained the most votes, and both would have the political weight and numbers to lead an eventual coalition. To do so, however, they will necessarily need the support of both the Greens and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), which came in third and fourth respectively with 14.8 and 11.5 percent of the votes.
It is not clear if and with whom the Greens and the FDP will decide to ally themselves, who are courted by both the SPD and the CDU: the German newspapers write that they could choose the SPD, which among other things in the new parliament will control the relative majority of the seats, but it is not even clear whether they will be able to agree and coexist with each other.
Although they have a similar electoral base, in fact, they have some notable program differences. During a televised debate after the elections on Sunday evening, FDP leader Christian Lindner hinted that his party and the Greens could consult with each other before figuring out “what comes next”; the reaction of the leader of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, was rather vague, even if not categorical.
In Sunday’s elections, the SPD received about 25.7 percent of the vote, while the CDU stopped at 24.1 percent. With its 206 seats, added to the 118 of the Greens and the 92 of the FDP, a hypothetical coalition with the SPD would reach a total of 412 seats in parliament, exceeding the threshold of an absolute majority of 368 seats out of 735 (in Germany the number of seats is never fixed).
To date, the hypothesis seems to be a more probable thread.
The reasons are basically three: Olaf Scholz, the leader of the SPD, enjoys a good popularity and after years of crisis has managed to revive the party’s consensus. Scholz would therefore have a rather clear-cut political mandate, unlike CDU leader Armin Laschet, who led the party to one of the worst results in its history. Among the main parties that presented themselves in the elections, among other things, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP are the only ones to have increased the consensus; moreover, Verdi and FDP would have a more solid majority with the SPD than a possible coalition with the CDU, which won 196 seats in the elections. Both, however, have entered into negotiations with the SPD and CDU to form a new majority.
According to an analysis by the Berlin Center for Social Sciences (WZB) cited by German wave, Verdi and FDP have a similar electoral base, made up mostly of young people, residing in large cities and with a high degree of education. Both have progressive views on socio-cultural issues, such as human rights and gender equality, but express substantially different positions on economic policies, in particular regarding one of the main topics covered in the election campaign: the fight against climate change.
Limiting itself to the goal shared by the European Commission of achieving so-called “carbon neutrality” by 2050 – that is, being able to remove as much carbon dioxide (or other greenhouse gases) as we put into the atmosphere – the FDP is the German party with the less ambitious goals on combating the effects of global warming, according to the assessments of the WZB.
The German Greens, on the other hand, are aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2041 and among other things they hope to stop coal mining activities by 2030, eight years before the current limit. Furthermore, the Greens have proposed measures attentive to social equity, while the FDP, of neoliberal orientation, is historically opposed to the increase in taxes for the richest, which the Greens instead share with the SPD.
At the same time, according to the analysis of the WZB, over time the Greens have become the most centrist of the center-left parties, and this could make them particularly receptive to possible solutions proposed in the context of a possible coalition with the Liberals.
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At the moment, however, it seems extremely unlikely that one will form again Big coalition (grand coalition) between the SPD and the CDU, which has ruled Germany for 12 of the past 16 years. While neither party wants to step down, both have made it clear that they do not intend to form a coalition government together.
Scholz’s SPD proposals concern in particular new social policies for work, housing, family and pensions. Scholz is known for his pragmatism and among other things he has insisted a lot on traditionally progressive social policies, such as increasing the minimum hourly wage from € 9.60 to € 12 and precisely raising taxes on higher incomes to finance ambitious environmental transition projects. He has repeatedly said that he does not intend to ally with the CDU, but at the same time, thanks to the years of rule with Merkel, he managed to convince German voters that a center-left government could prove not too dissimilar to those of the chancellor.
Laschet, on the other hand, has always been very attentive to the rights of migrants, publicly supporting Merkel’s policy of openness during the migration crisis linked to Syria, and has shared with the Chancellor the conciliatory and open positions for cooperation with China. Many proposals in his program revolve around the most urgent issues that the next chancellor will have to address, including reviving the economy after the pandemic, adopting more sustainable environmental policies and strengthening integration between the countries of the European Union.
These are not promises that are incompatible with the commitments of the FDP and the Greens, but it would probably take several weeks to find the necessary compromises.
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