German government: what are the chances of a coalition “at the traffic lights”? | German Elections 2021 – All the News, Data & Facts You Need | DW


“The SPD and the Greens have a program which is a burden on citizens and businesses. It is not working for us.”

The declaration of the late Guido Westerwelle, then leader of the Free New Democrats (FDP), dates nine days before Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) defeated the Social Democrats (SPD) in the 2009 German elections. He led his party to its best result, which placed him in the Foreign Ministry in Merkel’s second government.

The SPD and the Greens plan to tax the rich

Much has changed since Merkel’s conservative bloc, the CDU, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the FDP, together formed the government.

Now the political pendulum has shifted towards a “traffic light coalition” – named after the colors of the parties involved: red for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), yellow for the FDP and green for the Green environmentalists.

But there are fundamental differences in party platforms. The FDP is against the plan of the SPD and the Greens to increase the taxes of the richest to deal with the pandemic and the resulting national debt. At first glance, the Liberals also seem to disagree with their climate policy, which envisions a stronger government hand. The FDP wants market-based solutions to the climate crisis.

The three parties seem most aligned with European, foreign and security policy.

Relations between the United States and NATO

Prospective coalition members agree to maintain a strong partnership with the United States and NATO, including when it comes to confronting China, Russia and Iran. Differences remain on certain points, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

How viable the three-way coalition could be is what the parties want to clarify from the start of their talks together.

FDP leader Christian Lindner expressed the most skepticism and made no secret that his party was more naturally aligned with the conservatives. However, he said he was open to the possibility of a traffic light coalition. During the pre-exploratory talks with the Greens, he seems to have made peace with his opponents, whom he has long considered to be a “prohibition party”.

What Scholz stands for

The talks have shifted from bilateral to trilateral, bringing the SPD – and Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s hope – on board. All eyes, including abroad, are on the fight to form the first German government without Merkel for the first time in almost 16 years.

“From the point of view of the European partners, Scholz presents a certain continuity for the post-Merkel era and, with it, stability and reliability,” Antonios Souris, political scientist at the Free University of Berlin, told DW.

Given the pro-EU tendency of parties, Souris said, any German modernization program could have a ripple effect across Europe.

“But how sustainable this could be depends a lot on the outcome of the presidential election in France next year,” he said.

Germany and the G7

The lack of focus of the electoral campaign on European politics was due to “many internal problems”, Souris added, which should remain the case for the new government. However, Germany takes the lead of the G7 in 2022, which could make a difference.

“It will be interesting to see what the government focuses on next,” he said.

Exploratory talks are only the first step towards negotiations. But there is a precedent for a state-level traffic light coalition, which Lindner’s party colleague Volker Wissing is well aware of. Until May, he was Minister of the Economy of the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate in West Germany.

SPD’S Dreyer (center) leads a coalition of traffic lights in Rhineland-Palatinate

Learn from state politics

The traffic light arrangement there worked so well under the leadership of Malu Dreyer of the SPD, that it was maintained after the state elections earlier this year. Wissing’s experience in a traffic light and his involvement now in negotiations at the federal level could give the talks a boost, said Souris.

The story of the traffic light is not positive everywhere. The city-state of Bremen in northern Germany had the very first such coalition – in 1991. The alliance broke down due to a disagreement between the FDP and the Greens over the efforts. conservation versus industrial development.

Efforts in other states over the years to forge a three-way alliance between these parties failed even before the government was formed.

Souris explains the luck of Rhineland-Palatinate: The SPD is clearly the favorite party there, and Dreyer is popular.

“It has established a style of governance that allows parties to excel in their respective key issues,” he said.

black and white photo of the Bremen coalition partners at a press conference in 1991

The first German traffic light coalition, in Bremen, collapsed before its mandate ended in 1991

The Dreyer model

Dreyer sees herself as a moderator on a leadership team, said Souris, which perhaps sets a good example for the federal level.

“Olaf Scholz will follow his style very closely,” he said.

So far, the conditions seem right for the three to find a way to work together. However, differences remain, which could lead to a “very thick coalition agreement with many detailed details”, he added.

In search of common ground

The negotiations will require finding something that largely unites the three parties; So far, those involved in the talks have echoed words like “reform” and “modernization.” Souris said they should avoid giving the impression that they are settling for the lowest common denominator to strike a deal and tinker with a government program.

“It will be up to the SPD and Scholz to find compromises that all those involved can present to their parties and voters,” he said.

This article has been translated from German.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW’s editors summarize what’s going on in German politics and society, with the aim of understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here, to stay abreast of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.


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