The chancellor is in another fine mess which will have consequences in both Germany and the UK. But rumours of Merkel's demise are greatly exaggeratedby Matthew Qvortrup / November 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
CDU chairwoman and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) comments on the failure of ‘Jamaica’ exploratory talks between the parties CDU, CSU, FDP and the Greens. Photo: PA The BBC was in no doubt: “the end of the Merkel era” was the way the Today Program began. The flagship program reported that the negotiations over a new German government had collapsed and that the “most likely outcome was new elections.” It was difficult to square this with reports in the German media. As Angela Merkel’s biographer, the undersigned spent most of the night listening to “B-Funf Aktuel” (the German equivalent on BBC Five Live). They did not talk at all about the demise of Merkel. Nor were new elections seen as the most likely scenario. Instead, the breakdown of the talks between the Greens, Merkel’s CDU, the Bavarian CSU and the Liberal FDP were seen as a tactical move by the latter party’s leader Christian Lindner. How does that work? For those who don’t want to spend the night listening to German radio, here is a run-down of what happened—and a prediction of things to come. At midnight Christian Lindberg—surprisingly—called a press conference, where the youthful Liberal declared: “It is better not to be in government than to pursue the wrong course in government.” The other parties were aghast. Horst Serhofer of the Bavarian CSU was disappointed, but not surprised. Merkel, likewise. Cem Ozdemir—the co-leader of the Green Party—accused the FDP of playing a tactical game. “Their hearts were never in it,” said the politician who had been set to become the first German cabinet minister of Turkish descent. The latter assessment is plausible. “We were touchingly close to a deal”, said Serhofer. Perhaps so, but the Liberals were not interested in a deal. Lindner had a lot to lose by going into coalition and he knew it. The Liberals suffered when they were previously in government with the CDU and CSU, from 2009 to 2013. Merkel ran rings around Guido Westerwelle, then FDP leader. The result was that the liberals lost their representation in the Bundestag. Lindner’s party only regained their seats in the German Parliament eight weeks ago—and their now-leader does not want to repeat his predecessor’s mistakes. His aim, instead, was to strengthen the party. Opinion polls show that FDP would gain votes at the expense of CDU if new elections were to be held. Being in opposition allows you to establish a profile. That is Lindner’s aim. And yet new elections are unlikely. The constitutional procedure for calling new elections is convoluted and Frank Walter Steinmeier, the German President, is not in favour of dissolving parliament. The most likely scenario now is a minority government. True, there has never been a government without a majority since the establishment of the German Federal Republic in 1949. But now the Social Democrats have ruled out a Grand Coalition. They too suffered from playing second fiddle to Frau Doktor Merkel. The most likely outcome is a minority government of CDU/CSU and with possible participation by the Greens. The two parties are already in coalition in The Rheinland-Palatine. And the chancellor will still be Angela Merkel. There is simply no alternative to the current ‘Kanzlerin.’ There are currently no other credible CDU politicians who could take over from Merkel. And, in any case, she is still popular and trusted. The situation is not ideal. And yet, there is no sense of gloom. The DAX index—he Frankfurt stock market index—fell by a mere 0.3 points this morning. The new government will not be stable. Merkel will need to negotiate. But, then again, that is her main skill. Germany under Merkel has been characterized by crisis: Greece, refugees, the financial collapse in 2008. Moreover, Merkel has always had to negotiate with the Senate, the Bundesrat, where she has rarely had a majority. She will carry on. But will she survive in the longer term? It is difficult to see anyone taking over from her. The Social Democrats would want to regroup and hope for a better results in 2021. And the hopefuls in CDU will need to build up their credentials before they move against Merkel. And what will all this mean for Britain? The result will be a more recalcitrant German government. Merkel will not be able to give concessions to the British. Conversely, with the moderately Eurosceptic FDP out of the picture, the parties in government will be closer to French President Macron and his plans for an “ever closer union.” It will be an interesting time for Germany. Merkel will be in a more difficult position. And once again, the outcome will make life even more difficult for Britain’s hope for a deal post Brexit. But for the foreseeable future Angela Merkel will remain the head of the German government—and the most influential leader in Europe.