With the center strengthened and the fringes weakened, the Germans decided to vote for political stability. This is good news and should not be underestimated when compared to other countries where far-right and populist parties have gained a lot of support in recent years. However, while putting up stop signs to the radical parties of the right and left, the voters also abandoned the two popular parties, CDU and SPD, the Conservatives and the Social Democrats.
The Social Democrats have been struggling with this downward trend for many years and now they even enjoyed a kind of comeback, but it was down to parties. in the 20 percent bracket it is a first for the CDU, the stronghold of Angela Merkel herself. Until last weekend, they both saw themselves as the last Big Tent party standing. The illusion is now broken.
In fact, voters handed over real power to two smaller parties, the Greens (The green) and the liberal FDP, who are now guaranteed to be part of almost any possible coalition. If they can find common ground, together they could wield great power. But the burning question is: can they commit?
The Greens and the Liberals are widely separated on a wide range of issues. The most divisive is probably more of a philosophical debate: What is the role of the state and to what extent should the state be able to interfere in people’s individual lives? While the Greens are willing to draw numerous red lines and even fine citizens for crossing borders, the Liberals reject excessive state intervention as an ill-advised approach.
This divergence becomes more obvious in the way both sides want to tackle one of Germany’s most pressing problems: the fight against climate change.
The Greens advocate setting clear limits for CO2 emissions and tight deadlines for companies to meet them. Liberals, for their part, prefer to use market-based tools, such as emission certificate trading, to achieve the same goals. The FDP believes that the market knows what works best and should be left alone to decide whether electric batteries or hydrogen will drive industry and mobility. It is not the overarching goal, climate neutrality, that is in dispute, but the means to achieve it.
The two parties also disagree on taxes and expenses. Liberals fear that higher taxes could further damage Germany’s image as a place of investment. According to OECD dataGermany already ranks second for labor taxes in Europe, with only Belgium setting higher tariffs for its citizens and businesses. The FDP fears that another tax hike, such as the introduction of a wealth tax and a property tax proposed by the SPD and the Greens, would scare off foreign entrepreneurs and investors. In addition, the FDP wants to curb state debt that has skyrocketed due to the fight against the pandemic and will reach 75 percent of GDP next year.
Even if it is still difficult to see how future partners can bridge these huge gaps, there are commonalities. The Greens and the Liberals agree that digitization and education in Germany must be renewed. Germany is lagging behind in digital infrastructure; both sides fight against data monopolies. Education and research require strengthening. The Greens and the FDP are also in favor of modernizing and liberalizing immigration policy.
There is also considerable overlap on the role that human rights should play in foreign policy. Both sides view China and Russia with a critical eye.
In particular, China could spark a significant conflict with Olaf Scholz, the SPD leadership, and German industry that relies heavily on sales to and from Beijing. Scholz, the current finance minister, knows very well how important relations with China are to maintaining jobs in Germany. Volkswagen, for example, is selling more than 40 percent of its cars to China. Scholz and his fellow socialists will not accept a “dissociation” from China or even a sharp reduction in economic ties.
The situation is equally complicated with respect to Russia. While the two small parties are not reluctant to call on President Vladimir Putin for turning the country into a de facto dictatorship deprived of free speech, the Social Democrats are following a much softer line. The SPD supported the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which, once activated, will bring more natural gas from Russia to Germany and Western Europe. The Greens strongly oppose the behavior, arguing that it exacerbates dependence on fossil fuels.
There is still another point in common. Since both parties were largely supported by the youth, the FDP and the Greens represent an electorate that is here to stay, while the SPD supporters are older and much more traditional in their thinking.
Still, the question remains whether all this common ground is enough to offset ideological divisions. The leaders, Christian lindner of the FDP and Robert Habeck and Annalena baerbock de los Verdes, therefore, must forge a solid platform that will last for four years. The SPD, which sees itself as the real winner of the elections, is suspicious of the rapprochement of the two possible coalition partners. However, there is not much they can do. For them, practically no other coalition option is viable.
And what about the so-called Jamaican coalition, which brings together the CDU, Greens and Liberals?
This is a highly unlikely option to materialize given the scope of the Conservative defeat. Nor is it feasible how the Greens could explain to their supporters why they want to help a weak CDU candidate like Armin laschet enter the chancery. Nor would that move in any way benefit the green cause, which is the vigorous fight against climate change. Faced with a solid bloc of politicians from the FDP and CDU, the Greens could find themselves in an awkward situation.
Also, Jamaica 2021 is not the same constellation as Jamaica 2017 that almost came true when Angela Merkel ran the show. Merkel, who had great sympathy for the Greens, will soon be leaving and therefore will be a strong advocate for such a coalition.
These days, the Germans clearly see Jamaica as the second best scenario and show little appetite for it. This is partly because, after the last election, voters already had the second best option: the grand coalition between the CDU and the SDP, which was formed only because there was no other alternative in sight. This time, the Germans only want the first course.
Markus Ziener is a member of Helmut Schmidt in the German Marshall Fund of the United States
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism