Nobody in Germany and Europe really understands why attempts to form a new government in Germany have actually failed. After weeks of preliminary coalition negotiations, the center-right, pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) surprisingly walked out of the talks.
“It is better not to govern, than to govern falsely,” FDP chief Christian Lindner proclaimed standing in front of astonished journalists, from whom other political parties negotiating the coalition learnt about the decision.
It delivered a big shock, not least because the four political parties that engaged in the talks had already managed to clear up the most difficult sticking points hindering an alliance. The failure to agree on the formation of a government triggered the usual blame game and sent a message of helplessness.
It will take a long time for Germany to find an alternative, and until it becomes clear how the future German government will look like.
It is not unusual to face difficulties while forming a government. In some European countries, it has taken many months or even years to come up with a viable governing coalition or, in some cases, minority government. But these were mostly relatively small countries. Germany, though, is Europe’s economic powerhouse and a country that bears increased international responsibility at a time when the world is facing growing political and economic uncertainty.
Free trade, for instance, is confronting rising protectionist tendencies worldwide, while international problems like the conflict in Ukraine, the Iran nuclear deal or the refugee crisis are high up on the global agenda.
To resolve these issues, Germany is needed as a capable partner. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) is facing dramatic upheaval due to the refugee crisis and the British exit from the bloc, among other reasons. The EU needs to be drastically reformed for the European idea and spirit to survive and sustain.
Waiting for a functioning German-French engine
France’s bearer of hope, President Emmanuel Macron, has put forward ambitious but controversial proposals on how the EU, touted as a community of values, should respond to the challenges of the future.
If he wants to implement these ideas, or at least some of them, the French president needs above all Berlin’s backing. So M&M, the tandem of Macron-Merkel, need each other.
Currently, though, Macron is sitting at the front of this tandem, struggling and trying to steer it. The present political state in Berlin, however, only allows Merkel to sit behind and move cautiously. But in this way they will get nowhere fast. And Germany will not be able to shape or influence this direction either.
Neither Europe nor Germany can afford this kind of gridlock, particularly given that this political paralysis is largely unfounded.
Although the parties stress their respective party profile and highlight the differences they have with their political opponents, it must be said that Germany has a luxury problem because the differences between these outfits are not that big.
Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, and its sister party CSU, are a little more conservative than others; the Social Democrats (SPD) are a bit more left-leaning; the FDP defines itself as a liberal party; and the Greens advocate a more greener environmental policy. The Left party (Die Linke) sees itself as a socialist alternative.
Only “Alternative for Germany,” which newly entered parliament and is known for its conservatism and right-wing ideology, is not acceptable to the other parties as a coalition partner.
More similarities than differences
Of course, there are differences between the parties when one looks into the details of their party manifestos. But when it comes to agreeing on common values and pressing issues, there is broad consensus among them and that’s why it’s completely incomprehensible to the voters why they fail to turn this broad consensus into an effective government, without reneging on their party identity.
That is precisely the great strength of democracy, which, despite all the differences, is in a position to bring together the different and sometimes reluctant views, and arrive at a result through compromise with which all can live.
Now it is up to the president, the supreme constitutional office in Germany, to push the various political camps to come up with a quick solution.
Quite unmistakably, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has reminded all parties to live up to their responsibilities and find a solution. He is not in a hurry to call new elections.
First, all parties should intensively rethink the new situation and move away from their maximum demands. After all, it’s about more than party interests or public profiles. It is about the fulfillment of the electoral will, because it’s not the parties, but rather the voter that is the supreme sovereign.
The current situation is complicated, but not irresolvable.
If the electoral mandate is not worded so clearly because of the ambiguous election outcome, then the parties need to find a solution that makes the best out of the result, in a bid to form an effective government. It’s important not for the parties’ sake, but for the benefit of the country.