Germans Are Not Thrilled with New Coalition

The shift towards a more right-wing government seems to be backfiring for Angela Merkel.

Gabriela Perdomo – She used to complain that the alliance with the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD) made things insufferably slow and inefficient. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel must be missing the former junior partner in the Grand Coalition these days.

The SPD was not invited to form a government with Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) and its associate Bavarian Christian-Social Party (CSU) following last September’s election to the Federal Diet. Though the SPD had joined the previous CDU-CSU government, this time Merkel extended her hand to the pro-business and right-leaning Free Democratic Party (FDP), thinking that its support would be crucial in liberalizing Germany’s economy and introducing fiscal and labour reforms opposed by the SPD.

The new team has not been getting along as well as expected. Merkel and FDP leader Guido Westerwelle, who is also the foreign minister, have locked horns over a number of issues, many times in public. Westerwelle has been aggressive in pushing for increased tax cuts, for instance, while making the chancellor rebuke that his approach is too much too soon. It has become evident that Merkel is at odds with a junior partner that might be too ideological for her more pragmatic style of governing.

Meanwhile, the public is not pleased at all. For a number of reasons, including the government’s much-criticized approach to Greece’s debt crisis earlier this year, many people are discontent with Merkel’s administration. The new alliance with the FDP might also bare some blame.

The FDP got 14.6 per cent of the vote in the last legislative election, securing 93 seats in the Diet. The most recentpoll by FG Wahlen shows a dramatic drop in support since, placing the FDP dead last in voting intention with only five per cent. If an election were held today, the FDP would have no chance getting an invitation to form a government.

Support for the CDU-CSU duo remains relatively stable, always around or just under the 33.8 per cent achieved in the past election. But the FDP drop is big enough to turn some opposition parties into real threats, especially the SDP and the Green Party (Grune).

The same FG Wahlen poll has the SDP almost tied with Merkel’s conservatives at 32 per cent and the Greens at 15 per cent—their share of the vote in September was 23 per cent and 10.7 per cent, respectively. Another survey by Forsa released in late July paints an even more striking picture, with the SDP at 28 per cent, and the Greens at 19 per cent.

The SPD and the Greens once held the reins of the German Diet, from 1998 to 2005, in a coalition administration. Their newfound strength will without a doubt re-ignite memories of their time in power, and speculation over their possible comeback as a team.

The renewed spotlight on the SPD and the Greens also begs a clarification. Both parties are far from being completely on the left of the political spectrum. The SDP—now under the leadership of Sigmar Gabriel—and the Greens—under co-chairs Cem Özdemir and Claudia Roth—have recently governed in local and federal coalitions with right-leaning parties.

In a local election in Saarland in 2009, the Greens rejected forming a government with the SPD and the Left Party (Linke) to favour an alliance with the CDU and the Free Democrats. It was a first in German local politics, and a reminder that the Greens have been moving to the right, or at least the centre, over the past years.

For now, the rise of the opposition might have more to do with a disgruntled electorate affected by a slow economic recovery than with a bright political comeback of the centre-left. But it might also be a sign that Germans are second-guessing their decision to support a government that had explicitly offered a shift to the right—some people might just be missing the centre.