Merkel’s reign threatened by coalition chaos

Strong & stable: Britain has had four Prime Ministers since Merkel became chancellor. © Getty

Is this the end for Angela Merkel? Coalition talks in Germany have broken down leaving Merkel with the “worst crisis of her career”. Some think that her days as chancellor are numbered.

She has been known as the “Iron Lady of Europe”. But suddenly, Angela Merkel’s grip on power is extremely fragile.

After a disappointing result in September’s election, Merkel had been trying to form a coalition government between her own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and three others: the Christian Social Union (CSU); the Free Democratic Party (FDP); and the Greens.

But now FDP leader Christian Lindner has dramatically pulled his party out of the talks, leaving negotiations in tatters.

Lindner blamed a lack of “common vision”, having clashed with the others on climate, immigration and tax policy. Some were angry at his decision. CDU MP Marco Wanderwitz called the FDP a “circus troupe” and “a bunch of irresponsible narcissists”.

Whether this is accurate or not, Merkel cannot form a majority government without them.

She could make a minority government with just the Greens or the FDP, but this would make it extremely hard for her to govern in the long term. Merkel herself claimed she was “very sceptical” about this option, and that new elections would be a better path.

Nobody knows how a new vote would turn out. Merkel’s leadership has been increasingly criticised, mainly on the issue of immigration. Between 2015 and 2016 over a million refugees were let into the country. This proved extremely controversial — Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), blamed it for “dividing” the nation and encouraging the rise of far-right groups.

It was not always like this. Merkel became German chancellor in 2005. At that time her international counterparts included Tony Blair and George W. Bush. Both have faded on the international stage, their legacies tarnished by controversial conflict abroad.

By contrast, Merkel won four elections to become the longest serving EU head of state. The Economist described her as a “steady hand in a turbulent world”. And earlier this month Forbes named her the most powerful woman in the world for the seventh year in a row.

But as this new crisis dismantles her power at home, is it the end for Angela Merkel?

Auf wiedersehen, Angela

She will not last long, some claim. In September she led her party to their worst election results since 1949. A rerun in the polls will only see her fall further behind. What is more, leading a minority government would severely dent her political authority. The days of Merkel’s dominance are over.

She will bounce back, others say. Modern Germany has a culture of coalitions, and Merkel has a talent for compromise. If anyone can get the parties back around the table, she can. Even if there is another election, her strength and political skill will bring her enduring support.

You Decide

  1. Is Angela Merkel the most powerful woman in the world?
  2. Are coalitions a good way to govern?

Activities

  1. Think of as many world leaders as you can. They can be current or former presidents and prime ministers. How many can you think of? What countries are they from? List the leaders in order from who you think is the most powerful, to the least powerful. Where does Angela Merkel come in that list?
  2. Read the articles from The Economist and Deutsche Welle in Become An Expert. After you have understood them, write down in no more than three sentences why the coalition negotiations broke down, and how Merkel could respond.

Some People Say...

“Controversial disputes are a part of democratic culture.”

Angela Merkel

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Merkel has a number of options. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) came second in the election with 20% of the vote. Merkel would secure a majority in an alliance with them; however, the SPD has refused to form a coalition. She could also attempt to rule in a minority government, or try to convince the FDP to return to the negotiating table. If no solution is found, Germany’s president could call new elections.
What do we not know?
What course of action Merkel will choose, and what the outcomes will be. If elections are held again, there is no guarantee that the electoral deadlock will be broken.

Word Watch

Disappointing result
Her party won 32.5% of the vote — the lowest it has achieved since 1949.
CSU
The CSU is a sister party of Merkel’s CDU, forming an alliance in the German parliament. The CSU only contests elections in Bavaria, while the CDU campaigns in the other 15 German states.
Majority government
At least 355 seats are needed to form a majority in the lower house of the German Parliament. Merkel’s party has 246 seats.
Minority government
A government in which the ruling party has the most seats, but less than half the total. It can be difficult for minority governments to pass legislation because opposition parties can form alliances to vote down laws.
Rise
The far right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) came third in the election with 13.5% of the vote. Before the election, politician Sigmar Gabriel compared them to “Nazis”.
Controversial conflict
Bush and Blair led the invasion of Iraq in 2003, accusing the nation’s President Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction. No weapons were found and many have since questioned the legality of the invasion.

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