Germany: What if the coalition breaks?

One obvious question, now the CDU succession is open, is whether an already creaky coalition government can go on with both constituent parties suffering in the polls. Gerhard Schröder has already suggested that Merkel should call a vote of confidence in herself, while many SPD voices (notably its deputy leader Ralf Stegner) are calling for the party to walk out of the coalition.

This Der Tagesspiegel piece is therefore really useful. The Green co-leaders rule out the idea of using a confidence vote to replace the CDU/SPD coalition like the Liberals did in 1982. On the other hand, they leave open what might happen if the SPD walks out. The question would really be whether to try another attempt at the so-called Jamaican option, a CDU/Green/Liberal coalition, or to push for new elections.

It’s a good problem to have, being a choice between getting back into office or cashing in their surge in the polls into seats in the Bundestag. However, the surge makes it more complicated – the original Jamaica concept was one of rallying minor parties to put a CDU-dominated government over the top, but an election today would have the CDU and the Greens as near-equal partners. A major motivation for the Jamaica talks was also the fear that the AFD would win big if there was another election, but the Bavarian and Hessen elections have provided a well-defined estimate of the AFD threat. If they had made it over 20 per cent, nobody would dream of risking new elections, but instead it was the Greens who broke through. The whole thing also speaks to the tension between their pride in civic responsibility, the mayor’s chain in every activist’s Fjallraven rucksack, and the risk of looking like a bunch of unprincipled office-seekers.

A follow-up piece asks the co-leaders themselves. These say that they can’t imagine why Greens would want to involve themselves in this chaos. However, they have also been scenario-planning various possibilities. If Merkel was to call a confidence vote, they would vote against, being after all in opposition. Before going to new elections, though, they would be willing to consider joining the existing coalition or forming a new one with the CDU and SPD. Jamaica, however, is out. This reminds me that the Greens’ internal consensus rests on a realist leadership swinging to a more radical position on social and economic policy. The SPD is important to the legitimacy of any coalition, within the Greens. It’s a pretty sad role for the SPD, but it is a role.

At the same time, the whole thing interacts with the CDU leadership transition. Everyone is at pains to deny that individual names are important, but Spahn is harder for the Greens, who say they expect European policy and immigration to be the most difficult issues. Friedrich Merz has never had any ideas about the environment, and his idea of Leitkultur now seems a bit quaint. AKK would be the easiest.

Merkxit Rollup!

We repeatedly warned you about believing people who said Merkel was finished, but on the 30th of September, it was time to sound the alarm:

However, the interesting bit is precisely that the challenge came from the perfectly normal, EU-and-NATO Christian Democrats of northern and western Germany, Angela Merkel’s bedrock support. Had it come from ultra-conservatism, Saxony, or Bavaria, you would expect this classical CDU to rally round Merkel, just as it did unanimously against Horst Seehofer back in June. This time, the call is coming from inside the Ludwig-Erhard Haus. This is a bigger threat and one different in kind.

It was, and the point that the Hessen state elections might be more significant than the Bavarian ones also stands up rather well. On the other hand, my Twitter summary of Hessen’s election night was that the river came up to the top of the dyke, but no further. As in Bavaria, the Greens surged, the AFD hit their mark from the general, and both the SPD and CDU suffered. As in Bavaria, it wasn’t quite enough to flip the statehouse, and in fact it wasn’t even enough to change the coalition.

Unless, of course, it was. Incredibly, the state of Hessen didn’t manage to organise a proper election within its own capital. Not only are they having a recount, but urgent talks are going on between the parties in case it becomes possible to put together a traffic-light coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and Liberals.

You might wonder if the CDU had a good idea from canvassing data or exit polling that Hessen was going wrong, but on the other hand, this Der Spiegel story says that Angela Merkel consulted with her old political buddy Annette Schavan as far back as the summer about quitting after the Hessen elections.

At the end of the day, though, even if the river didn’t quite get over the dyke, the key issue is that the core CDU vote is eroding and it’s doing it across the centre. The polling data is clear – the most recent poll puts the Greens only three points behind the combined CDU/CSU. As we pointed out here, the effect is worse for the CDU as such ex the CSU. My rough estimate is that the Greens are gaining half a million votes a poll, which puts a potential crossover weeks away.

So it’s absolutely no surprise she pressed the button to initiate an orderly succession.

The bells are ringing in the CSU, too – here’s the federal minister responsible for international aid calling for Horst Seehofer to resign and specifically demanding a turn to the centre. Müller says that the CSU has become obsessed with refugees and law-and-order and needs to remember it has a broader mission, notably the protection of God’s creation, the fight against hunger, and the question of social justice in Germany and the world. (I told you the Greens manage to speak to the churches; here’s an example of the opposite.) Seehofer himself is unwisely congratulating himself on not being in Merkel’s cemetery of men; there’s plenty of time for that.

The party rules require a special congress to be held on the 7th of December in Hamburg. Before then, they have agreed to stage a succession of regional conferences, to which all members are invited. Big halls are suddenly in demand. Deutsche Welle has English-language profiles of the candidates here, but they have already sorted themselves into the following three:

Friedrich Merz. This is the guy Merkel beat to get the party leadership. That’s his best selling point but also his worst; he’s been out of politics for more than a decade. The audience he wants is the business world, and what he will offer them is a tax gimme. Back in the day he was famous for wanting to get the tax code on a beermat, but who now believes in that early 2ks/late 90s shiny stuff?

Also, his business career isn’t necessarily an asset. The Marxist blog Nachdenkseiten offers a profile of it that’s savagely hostile but not inaccurate; they share much of their critique with the German finance ministry, which sent policemen to search his employer BlackRock’s offices this week for evidence of tax evasion. It’s really not what you want in the middle of a campaign.

He’s widely seen as Wolfgang Schäuble’s candidate (see here) but Schäuble denies this, offering praise for all the candidates and saying very clearly that there’s no going back on the Merkel era’s changes.

Jens Spahn. The current federal health minister, he speaks to the desire to swing to the populist right and win back the AFD voters, in so far as they ever voted CDU. In case anyone wanted a new Pim Fortuyn, he’s gay and he really hates refugees and people who speak English, yes, really. His biggest problem is simple: nobody actually wants him to be party leader and still less chancellor, on 9 per cent in the polls.

Annegret Krampf-Karrenbauer. Would it astonish anyone that Angela Merkel planned carefully for the succession? Having been picked out herself by Helmut Kohl, she picked out a succession of successors. As in all the best successions, though, they failed to live up to her standards or indeed anyone else’s.

First there was Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the aristocratic defence minister disgraced as a plagiarist. Then she turned to a woman, education and research minister, personal friend, and CDU apparatchik Annette Schavan. She also turned out to be an academic fraud, despite a huge and deeply embarrassing effort by the chancellor and a range of academic establishment figures to make it not happen. Merkel lined up her new defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who is still there despite being yet another plagiarist. Tellingly, she isn’t a candidate.

At the fourth attempt, Merkel eventually picked out the Saarland minister-president, dipped her in a ministry, and sent her to be the CDU general secretary. AKK is the blindingly obvious candidate of continuity and that rare bird, a CDU leader from a working-class background. She is either slightly more popular than Merz or in a tie with him, and in any case much more popular than Spahn. And she is considerably more popular with Germans than the party. She also opened the door to Merz, either as a minister or to head a major project.

There is just the faintest crack of light for another candidate, as the Süddeutsche Zeitung points out. Anyone who wants to take part in the regional congresses has to be put forward by a local CDU branch or one of its national, vertical organizations. But this doesn’t hold for the final, decisive congress. Any delegate on the day in Hamburg can nominate any other delegate or indeed any party member, so the possibility of a coup de theatre exists up to the whistle.