Germany's Chance for a Reset

Why the Failed Coalition Talks Could Be a Good Thing

Chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Christian Lindner, leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) Angela Merkel, leader of the German Green Party Katrin Goering-Eckardt, and Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery Peter Altmaier are seen on a balcony of German Parliamentary Society offices during the exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government held by CDU/CSU in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. Axel Schmidt / Reuters

Over the weekend, Christian Lindner, the young, camera-loving chairman of Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP), dashed hopes that Berlin would form a black-green-yellow “Jamaica” coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Greens. After two months of negotiations, following the CDU’s clear but muted victory in the parliamentary elections in September, Lindner walked out on the talks, saying that the parties had failed to find a way to govern together. As he told the press Monday morning, they were unable to agree on “a common idea of how to modernize Germany.”

Nobody said it would be easy for this eclectic quartet, with the conservative CDU, its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business FDP, and the leftist Greens, to cobble together a coalition agreement when their core issues—immigration, taxes, and the environment—were on the line. With the collapse of the coalition talks, and calls for a snap election, Europe’s largest economy, and its stable center, enters uncharted territory just as the continent awaits Berlin’s direction on a host of tough issues, such as European defense, Eurozone reform, and Brexit.

The normal path to forming a government in postwar Germany, however acrimonious the election campaign, is for a center-right and a center-left party to join together with a junior partner. This has not been the case for most of Merkel’s time in power; she has governed twice in a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). Governing from the middle has altered the German political landscape, enabling populist parties to emerge on the fringes and hobble the formation of natural majorities. This time, however, the SPD, led by Martin Schulz, rejected the formation of a grand coalition. The party needs to recuperate from a historic loss at the polls and also rightfully prevent the populist, right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), which grabbed seats in the Bundestag for the first time after the September election, from capturing the coveted role as

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