It has been a little over four months since the Bundestag elections in Germany and it seems that there might have finally been some progress in the Grand Coalition negotiations between the Union, consisting of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). This Tuesday, it was announced that the Union and the SPD had come to an agreement on one of the central points of conflict in the Grand Coalition negotiations, namely regarding the reunification of migrant families in Germany. Could this be a step towards the formation of a new government run by Germany’s two largest parties?
Due to the SPD’s decision not to form a Grand Coalition with the Union after the September 24th elections, the CDU/CSU found themselves in coalition talks with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party. Yet after two months of negotiations, the attempt to form the so-called Jamaica Coalition fell through, the head of the FDP, Christian Lindner, explaining that they were unable to cooperate on matters with the Union and so would not agree to forming a government with them. This left the chancellor and head of the CDU, Angela Merkel, and the head of the CSU, Horst Seehofer, to face the uncertainty of the future of the German government. Martin Schulz’s, the SPD’s head, adamant claim that the SPD would still not agree to form a Grand Coalition became yet another hurdle in the post-election saga.
But what is it that makes the SPD so reluctant to agree to a Grand Coalition? As explained by Monika Pilath in Die Zeit, the party has come to the conclusion that forming a government with the Union does not help strengthen the SPD’s presence in the government. Rather, the impact and popularity of the SPD seems to have decreased as a result of being a member of the past Grand Coalition, leading to the party receiving a mere 20.5% of votes at the September election. Additionally, as part of the Grand Coalition, the party has a tendency to be overpowered by the CDU/CSU in mutual decisions, causing the SPD to worry about itself becoming an increasingly meaningless party and losing its individuality as well as a growing number of votes. The SPD seems to be pushing for a fresh start and forming a Grand Coalition is not the solution.
At least, this seemed to be the case until last Sunday at the SPD conference in Bonn where 600 SPD delegates gathered for a final vote on whether or not to take up Grand Coalition negotiations with the Union. Despite a strong opposition from the party’s youth fraction, a narrow 56% voted to begin coalition talks with the Union. However, Schulz promises to be tough during the coalition talks in an attempt to convince coalition opponents that the formation of a Grand Coalition will not be detrimental to the party.
With February 4th as the set deadline for the end of negotiations, the parties are currently immersed in heated discussions over a number of issues. Yet the deciding date is February 6th, the day on which the 440,000 SPD members have the chance to vote for or against accepting the terms for a coalition. While the party leaders seem to agree on the fact that forming a government together would be the best option for Germany, the divisions within the SPD regarding the party’s participation in the Grand Coalition leaves the question of whether a coalition will actually happen unanswered.
If the Grand Coalition does end up falling through, there would be two other options. The one alternative is the so-called minority government, an option that Germans worry would give the right-wing party, AFD too much say in the government. The other alternative seems to be supported by many opponents of the Grand Coalition, namely the initiation of new elections. While many SPD supporters seem to think that calling for new elections is the only way to preserve the SPD’s individuality as a party, others worry that this could increase the AFD’s power too. Furthermore, new elections do not necessarily mean that a second-round of negotiations regarding a new government would be easier. Instead, a new set of elections would initiate another long period of discussions, continuing to make this the longest period in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany to go without forming a government.
While Merkel, Seehofer and Schulz remain optimistic about the success of the Grand Coalition, it seems that it lies in the hands of the people whether the formation of a Union/SPD government will become a success. One can only hope that the leaders are able to convince voters that the decided coalition terms would not threaten the SPD’s individuality and power so that the Grand Coalition can finally be agreed upon and the German government can finally be formed.