Opinion: Are German politics becoming unstable? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.03.2012
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Opinion: Are German politics becoming unstable?

There will now be early elections in three German states. It's all down to the problem of forming stable coalitions in a multi-party system. DW's Peter Stützle says such problems also affect national politics.

North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, is set to elect a new government, along with the states of Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. Every case is different, but they all have one thing in common: extremely complex majority stakes. With the emergence of the Greens and the Left party there has been an erosion of support for more traditional parties, the ruling center-right Christian Democrats(CDU), their conservative Bavarian sister party, the CSU, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the opposition center-left Social Democrats (SPD). With the recent advent of the Pirate party it may become even more complicated in the near future.

The Social Democrats have been particularly affected by the emergence of these parties. First, they lost voters on the left to the Greens, then they lost support from lower income families and leftist intellectuals to the Left party. It's particularly hard for the SPD in western states, where the Left party is made up of former Social Democrats who have broken away from the main party. Partly because of self-respect, partly because of irreconcilable political differences, the Social Democrats have, up til now, avoided forming coalitions with the Left party. In eastern Germany, where the party is essentially made up of reformed members of the SED, the former East German communist party, there is no such lack of unity.

The threat of unstable coalitions on a national level

Peter Stützle

DW's Peter Stützle

Two years ago in North Rhine-Westphalia, the SPD and Greens just missed out on a majority. Because the Social Democrats didn't want to become junior partners to the Christian Democrats, or to team up with the Left, they gave the so-called Red-Green (SPD-Green) minority coalition a go. For a while, it worked well, but divisions emerged over the recent budget vote. The Left party said no, because they thought the coalition was saving too much. The FDP and CDU also rejected it, because they wanted more cost-cutting.

Now there will have to be new elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. In the worst-case scenario, there could be similarly unstable coalitions at the national level, although initially, this decision has little effect on nationwide politics. There is currently a clear majority for Angela Merkel's ruling coalition, which is made up of the CDU/CSU and the liberal, pro-business FDP.

But in recent years, there was one national election outcome which did not allow for the formation of a traditional coalition constellation, like the current "Black-Yellow" (CDU/CSU-FDP) or even "Red-Green" (SPD-Greens) - and that was all because of the Left party. The government ended up being a grand coalition of CDU and SPD, which gave a boost to the smaller parties, including the Greens and the Left on the one hand, and the Liberals on the other. The Social Democrats were severely weakened.

Even shortly before the last parliamentary elections, the polls pointed to the fact that it would again be difficult to form a majority Black-Yellow or Red-Green coalition. For the Social Democrats the prospect of a thankless role in a grand coalition led by Angela Merkel is looming once more. Or they could throw all their principles and promises overboard and get on together with the Left party. Neither of these are particularly appealing prospects.

Author: Peter Stützle / ji
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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