It has been very quiet in Berlin after the general election of 24 September. Yes, Angela Merkel officially won the election with 26.8% or 200 seats in the new Bundestag. However, her Christian Democrats (CDU) together with the Christian Social Union (CSU) — a provincial party from Bavaria that works with the CDU on the national level — lost 7.4% (minus 55 seats) over the election four years ago, with a CSU loss of 9.8% in Bavaria, making it undeniably responsible for the disappointing election results at the federal level.
Any reasonable politician with decent respect for the institutions of the country would take responsibility for this loss and resign from office. The election results clearly show that Germans have voted the previous government out of office. At the end of the day a loss of this magnitude for the conservatives is the responsibility of its leader, Angela Merkel. She should resign.
All this domestic political turmoil and after-election exegesis would not normally concern people outside of Germany, or Europe for that matter; however, times are not normal. Just after the election in Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron laid out an extremely visionary plan of the future of the EU. His proposals are not only significant and far-reaching, they also require a politically strong Berlin as a counterpart. Repeatedly, the past sixty-plus years of EU integration have proved that this political project can move ahead quickly and significantly only if the French and Germans pull on the same string. The times are dire for the EU with problems of economic crisis, social crisis, refugee crisis, and right-wing extremism, to name only four of the most important ones.
In a speech given at La Sorbonne in Paris, Macron touched upon the very institutions that currently govern the EU. He also stated clearly that he wants to work on these ideas with Germany. Such a French–German alliance is certainly not new. It goes back to the “old” days of the European Coal and Steel Union, formally established in 1951 by Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg to regulate industrial production under a centralized authority. It thus became the first supranational organization and started the EU integration process, which ultimately led to the European Union. French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, and others were the first to outline a vision for Europe that not only reduced bilateral tensions between the two countries but also brought lasting peace and prosperity to the continent. These were, in simplistic terms, the “governance ancestors” of the current EU.
This is not the place to babble over the history of EU integration, but rather to carve out the synergies of the four parties (CDU, CSU, Liberal, and Green) who began negotiating behind closed doors on 18 October the first “Jamaica coalition” in Germany (so called because the individual colours of the parties involved match those of the Jamaican flag). Why? Because if the coalition negotiations are not successful, Macron’s ideas for EU reform will flounder, furthering the EU path to failure rather than modernization.
So, where are synergies and where can we expect controversy or even impasse?
First, we need to recognize that traditionally conservative voters have moved to the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany), an ultra-right-wing, almost nationalist party. This protest vote was in direct response to the previous Merkel government, especially her reaction to the so-called migration crisis. In short, the conservative milieu is eroding, massively — a phenomenon not unique to Germany.
The CSU’s answer is to move further to the right in order to integrate those voters back into the CDU/CSU family. This impacts the negotiations, with the CSU demanding a fixed quota for how many refugees should be allowed into the country even though such a policy would clearly be illegal under international law and certainly contrary to the “Christian” values that the CDU/CSU pretend to cherish. The Green party clearly stated that such a quota is non-negotiable under the principles of the Geneva Convention; the Liberals (FDP) are also against it.
In managing the so-called refugee crisis, three other very controversial topics are on the table. The first is the issue of family reunification. The CDU is against it, the FDP is undecided, and the Greens are for it. Regarding a new immigration law, the CDU is against it, especially because of the dual-citizenship clause and the naturalization of immigrants that the Greens demand; the FDP is for it. Lastly, the list of so-called safe-states in Northern Africa (Libya, Morocco, etc.) where refugees could be deported back to should be expanded according to the CDU and the FDP. The Greens are against it.
Other highly controversial topics are energy and climate change. The Greens want to expand investments in renewable energies, shut down coal-fired power plants, and phase out the internal combustion engine that runs most of the vehicles that we currently drive. Both the CDU and FDP are against these ideas.
The Greens also favour creating an EU finance minister, introducing Eurobonds to allow states to refinance themselves in times of economic downturn, and drawing up new social programs to increase employment. Both the CDU and FDP have rejected this idea along with any attempts to further deepen the process of EU integration.
Thus, if this “Jamaica coalition” succeeds, it will be a “coalition of differences” where each party holds signature ministries to promote the key values of their party rather than a coalition of inspiring new ideas that might overcome the blockade on reforms that has hampered progress for the past eight years. After Christmas, we will have a clearer picture of where Germany, and thus the EU, is heading.