After the recent election produced a fractured partisan situation, Chancellor Angela Merkel was widely expected to assemble the so-called Jamaica Coalition, including her own center-right Christian Democratic Union, the environmentalist Greens, and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party.
It was the three parties colors – black for CDU, green for the Green party, and yellow for FDP – that inspired the reference to the Jamaican flag.
Now FDP has dropped out of the talks, a surprising move for a party that has historically formed many coalition governments with the CDU.
Meanwhile, the center-left Social Democratic Party have rejected continuing in a “grand coalition” with Merkel. The far-right AfD, having surged to enter the legislature for the first time with 11 percent of the vote, are seen as an unacceptable partner for all other parties.
Two options for building a governing German coalition
That leaves two options for Germany. The first, would be a minority government, with Merkel governing together with the Greens.
Another option would be holding another early election, the outcome of which would be uncertain. Coalition governments are common in Germany, which uses a form of proportional representation, but a minority government would have no precedent.
FDP’s departure from the negotiations to form a government was seen by many as being driven by the concessions to the Greens on environmental and economic issues.
FDP has recently been on the rebound, re-entering parliament after a period of falling below the necessary 5 percent threshold. It is possible another election would see even more gains, potentially enabling an FDP-CDU coalition without the assistance of the Greens.
What’s good for the FDP may not be good for Angela Merkel
At the same time, Merkel’s future is uncertain. In this situation, it would be more usual for the incumbent chancellor or prime minister to resign. However, nobody else seems to be in a position to succeed her.
Merkel herself intends she will serve the full four-year term without calling an early election, which are exceedingly rare in Germany.
This might also be a simple negotiating tactic by FDP, playing hard-to-get to secure greater concessions from the eventual coalition deal. They may fear the trap that befell the SDP, historically the major left-of-center party, whose vote totals withered after years as Merkel’s coalition partner. Having fallen to just 20 percent of the vote, a postwar low, SDP cannot assemble a plausible coalition government either.
By making a show of opposition and extracting greater concessions for their pro-business market-friendly agenda, FDP may ensure that they can still rally their base from the precarious position of being the junior partner in a coalition.
This could backfire, however. A new election could mean further gains for the far-right AfD, a result feared across the political spectrum. It could also mean further losses for the CDU, and gains by the far-left Die Linke party, further narrowing the possibilities for a majority coalition.
(German Chancellor and leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Angela Merkel (center), standing with leading members of her party, speaks to the media in the early hours after preliminary coalition talks collapsed following the withdrawal of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) on November 20, 2017, in Berlin, Germany. The German Christian Democrats, its sister party the Bavarian Christian Democrats, the Free Democratic Party and the Greens Party had been slogging through three weeks of difficult talks that ended today when the FDP announced it could not find sufficient common ground with the other parties. The situation now makes the next German government uncertain. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.)