So we did the wonk bit and the corporate finance tricks in this post, what about the dirty power politics?
One thing the leaked heads-of-terms doesn’t talk about at all is personal politics. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s getting which job? That’s all been left for the formal phase and probably to the final frenzy at that. It’s possible, though, to think through some of the issues ahead of time, especially as they’re strongly linked to the whole question of how to reconcile Green and FDP ambitions.
First up, the Greens will want a clear recognition of their status as the biggest of the other parties and one that was literally challenging for the status of Germany’s biggest party as recently as the spring. This is especially important as it still wasn’t that long ago that they weren’t considered a respectable entity. They will want to control the ministries that touch on their core issues. Control of the big investment programme will be a drop dead veto issue, not least because it looks like most of the discretionary spending available will be in it. It’s quite possible they might want to create a super-ministry for it, maybe linking environment and transport or even economic affairs. Being the second coalition partner usually comes with the title of Vice-Chancellor, not a powerful office in itself but a nice ego trip, although if the superministry was on offer it’s possible the Greens might trade it away.
Secondly, the FDP have been saying for ages they want the Finance Ministry as a drop dead veto issue. The policy consequences might be fixable with enough delicious fudge, but the problem is that giving it up is a big concession from the SPD at a time when they are the party in possession and surely feel they should be getting some reward for winning, and one that implies a similar concession to the Greens, who after all are bigger and more popular than the FDP. Handing over both Finance and the government’s biggest policy priority to coalition partners leaves the SPD element of the government looking a bit thin, reduced to its Mastermind specialist subject in social policy, the Foreign Ministry, and, oddly, the security portfolios like Interior, Justice, and Defence. The latter, notoriously, is a ministry nobody in German politics actually wants and Interior, like interior ministries everywhere, is one where it’s difficult to do anything popular and easy to be destroyed by events.
The real complexity here, though, comes from the Greens’ dual leadership structure and the slowly increasing animosity between Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck. Usually, a coalition partner’s leader gets whatever top job is going, but if it’s the Greens there are two of them to look after. If Habeck got Environment++, Baerbock would have to get something similarly grand, implying that the SPD has to give up Foreign Affairs.
A twist on this is that since the election, Habeck has lost absolutely no time in asserting that it’s a co-leadership, dammit, and that the special role of candidate doesn’t have any further relevance now the elections are over and the Greens certainly aren’t going to get the Chancellor’s job. Seeing as he voluntarily gave up the candidacy when the party was doing better in the polls than the SPD did on election day, and Baerbock’s campaign turned into something of a Bärendienst*, you can see why. You can also see why that wouldn’t go down so well in roughly half the Green party. Very quickly after the election, Habeck got it leaked that he would get the Vice-Chancellor’s hat, before rowing back a bit, but it surely hasn’t helped that Baerbock lost the head-to-head in her direct constituency too. The quotes are vicious and the photo even more so.
A further twist is that, of course, the guy in this poster, even though it’s a spoof, doesn’t look like he’s immune to the glamour of international diplomacy and access to a squadron of VIP jets:
The downside of the combination of high style and intense earnestness is that it's easy to take the piss. This is superb: every 11 minutes, a Liberal falls in love with himself pic.twitter.com/1RC7rJ83dS
— Alex Harrowell (@yorksranter) September 27, 2021
It’s also true that the FDP has something of a history of distinguished foreign ministers – Walter Scheel during the Willy Brandt years, even if Egon Bahr did most of the work, and the great Hans-Dietrich Genscher at the end of the Cold War – and it would probably help with a whole lot of coalition-making problems, at least from an SPD point of view. On the other hand it’s been a while since a German foreign minister has managed to “Profil machen” (name the incumbent – quick!) and the FDP’s clientele, although it does care about the EU and NATO, really loves tax allowances so Lindner would be well advised to cling to the Finance Ministry. Which, of course, implies digging into the bag for some more of that fudge.
An important detail here, of course, is that the Greens and the FDP were the first into the so-called soundings, the informal phase of talks. Seeing as both parties have a veto on either the traffic-light or Jamaican options, it was logical that they should come to an agreement between themselves before going any further. If you were looking for either the fudge, or the deal on personal politics, that would be where to look, and unlike the twelve-point plan, that was very much not leaked.
*I did not know this common phrase for screwing something up out of an excess of zeal is a reference to the fables of La Fontaine