Merkel set for uncomfortable electoral victory
By Olaf Storbeck
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The parliamentary election Germany will hold next year will be both boring and exciting. Chances are high that Angela Merkel will win a third term. But voters won’t give her conservative CDU party a clear majority, and they still haven’t made up their mind about her coalition partner. The result’s implications for Germany’s stance in the euro crisis will be limited, no matter which party is in government.
Merkel’s first choice is continuity. However, the free-market FDP, her partner in the current “black-yellow” coalition, is at risk of finishing below the 5 percent threshold necessary for parliamentary representation. It has been trailing at 4 percent for months. But its electoral base may be larger than that. Early next year, the party could replace its unlucky leader, economy minister Philipp Rösler. A fresh face – and the prospect of looking into the abyss – might energise its supporters. So the jury is still out on the FDP’s fate. Even if it survives, the outgoing coalition could still lose its Bundestag majority. Merkel then has two options.
The most likely is another “black-red” alliance with the Social Democrats (SPD). Both parties see such a “grand coalition” only as a last resort. Both stand to lose, because the lack of a vocal opposition nurtures voters’ disaffection. After the last experiment, which ended in 2009, the SPD sunk to its lowest level since 1930.
Finally, Merkel could think of replacing yellow with green. This would have been inconceivable a few years ago, but the cultural divide between the Conservatives and the Greens has narrowed of late. Both parties collaborated constructively in a number of cities and – at least for a time – in the state of Hamburg.
By deciding to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, Merkel moved the biggest obstacle to “black-green” out of the way last year. On the Green side, the party base surprisingly nominated Katrin Göring-Eckardt, a moderate east German, as one of their top candidates. Nevertheless, “black-green” is still a long shot. Staunch supporters of both parties would find it hard to swallow. It might result in a less stable government.
Both the SPD and Greens are less austerity-inclined than the FDP is, and both center-left parties are staunchly pro-European. Hence the stricken periphery would either prefer “black-red” or “black-green” to “black-yellow”. But black there will be.