German Chancellor and leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Angela Merkel speaks with Sigmar Gabriel, Foreign minister of the Social Democrats Party or (SPD) during for the first session of the Bundestag, the German parliament, since the collapse of government coalition talks on November 21, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo:VCG)
For the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, negotiations over the country's next coalition government collapsed, after the Free Democratic Party (FDP) on Sunday pulled out of talks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday signaled her readiness for a new election.
According to reports, the three parties - Merkel's Union (the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and Christian Social Union in Bavaria, or CDU/CSU), the FDP and the Greens - are divided on issues related to immigration, climate policy, the economy and EU reforms. The FDP for example has been consistently advocating to focus on national economic development, while being reluctant to accept stricter measures on environmental protection.
If it were the Greens instead of the FDP that abandoned the talks, it could be understood, because the Greens and CDU/CSU have never worked together in a coalition government. Yet the FDP has cooperated with CDU/CSU before and there has been nothing majorly irreconcilable between the two. The current gulf between the parties today, however, seems unexpectedly too wide to bridge.
After World War II, German political parties have showed a strong capability to compromise when needed. There have been three periods of what is known as a "grand coalition" between CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), namely 1966-69, 2005-09, 2013-present, which seems unimaginable for many other countries.
The combination of both left and right wing parties in a coalition government embodies a sense of responsibility by German political parties to set aside their differences and collaborate for the greater good. This time, again, a coalition government could be formed if the parties display more willingness to compromise and cooperate. However, FDP leader Christian Lindner has shown unwillingness to compromise, articulating that "it is better not to rule than to rule badly."
Following the German general election in September, CDU/CSU won majority in the country's parliament, meaning that it can form the next coalition government. Merkel has two options - a Jamaica coalition (given its name due to the fact that the colors of the Union, the FDP and the Greens together make up the colors of the Jamaican flag), or a grand coalition with the SPD. But the SPD has already ruled out to partner with Merkel in a new coalition, and the FDP pulling out of talks means no Jamaica coalition, which may lead to a re-election next year. Of course, Merkel can continue to persuade the FDP or SPD, but the result is uncertain.
The internal structure of the parties involved in coalitions has been stable since WWII, be it a combination of one big and one small party or the grand coalition, re-election has never happened before.
Nevertheless, the recent incident demonstrated that Berlin's political system, which used to be renowned for its stability, has entered a new phase of instability, with parties becoming increasingly divided. This mirrors sharp and growing divergences over a number of key issues in German society and has a huge influence on not only the national level, but also on the entire political, economic and social stability of Europe.
Over the years, especially since the European debt crisis that broke up at the end of 2009, Germany has been outstanding in its economic performance, political and social stability. In today's world where Europe has been struggling to heal itself after troubled times due to a sluggish economy, the rise of populism and terror attacks, people are regarding this German election as a weather vane, an indication of Europe's stability in the years to come. They believe that there won't be an unexpected black swan event in the nation.
Indeed, there is no black swan, more so a grey swan. Although Merkel won the election, she has been yet unable to form a government.