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German coalition talks have a long way to go

Kommentarfoto Kay-Alexander Scholz Hauptstadtstudio
Kay-Alexander Scholz
October 19, 2021

The road to a new German government has become clearer: The SPD, Greens and FDP have agreed to coalition talks. So far, things may have gone well, but negotiations won't be easy, writes DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz.

https://p.dw.com/p/41r1H
Robert Habeck, Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz, Christian Lindner at a press conference
Green Party, SPD, FDP announced their willingness to form a government coalitionImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

Less than a month after the federal Bundestag elections, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) have successfully completed the so-called exploratory phase ahead of full-fledged coalition talks.

During these talks, the goal was to sound out whether there is enough common ground to enter into official coalition negotiations — and it seems there is. The target of having a new government by Christmas seems within the realm of possibility. Germany, but also the EU and other international political players, could be spared a drawn-out impasse.

And there is one more piece of good news ... before the bad news.

How much change does Germany need?

As promised, the formation of the government has so far not become a vanity project of individual politicians or parties played out in the media. It is worth remembering previous coalition talks when the media were constantly fed exclusive internal information.

This time there is discipline. That conveys solidity. But not everything that glitters is gold.

The vaccination rate in Germany is not as high as in other EU countries and the course of the pandemic in the coming winter is uncertain. Self-sufficient energy production through renewable energy is under discussion, but the technology is still completely inadequate. Instead, dependence on Russian gas is increasing.

And the center-right Christian Democrats, the second traditional big tent party alongside the SPD, is in the midst of the greatest crisis in its history. This is shaking up decades of certainties in cooperation at the grassroots level in the municipalities.

A three-party alliance of SPD, FDP, and Greens, known as the "traffic light" coalition because of their party colors, is appearing as a "coalition of the future." But the parties have thorny issues to tackle, not to mention the question of how all the plans are to be financed. Germany's coronavirus plans have cost billions. Financial reserves have been used up.

German parties enter formal coalition talks

Politics makes strange bedfellows

There is a lot of talk at present about a new type of cooperation. For the first time in the history of Germany, there is likely to be a three-party coalition at the federal level. Admittedly, the players can draw on some experience from governments at the state level. But finding compromises among three parties is not going to be easy.

Moreover, there is no overpowering partner in negotiations. Between them, the Greens and the FDP outnumber the SPD, the largest party.

Behind the main players in the front row, powerful factions with strong opinions on things like tax policy may begin to agitate. It will not be easy to get them all to fall in line. These are the players who can sometimes generate their own dynamics.

This has just been demonstrated in the city-state of Berlin, where a new senate was elected at the same time. In the capital, Franziska Giffey of the SPD ran for mayor with the prospect of forming a fairly centrist coalition, with the CDU and/or FDP. Now she has had to bow to pressure from within her own party — and is seeking a new iteration of the left-wing alliance with the Greens and the Left Party.

The coalition negotiations will also be about who gets which government portfolio. The finance portfolio in particular is seen as key. This is where the real battle for future power in governing begins. And this is where we will see whether the much-vaunted solidity and solidarity can withstand it.

This article has been translated from German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year's elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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