Falling apart — On Germany political crisis

The crisis over government formation in Berlin has raised the possibility of fresh elections in Germany and the ripple effect of instability in the European Union. The breakdown in talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and potential partners to get the requisite numbers in the Reichstag has dealt a blow to a time-tested post-War model of political compromise and consensus-building. A major sticking point in the coalition negotiations among the three ideologically disparate parties — the centre-right CDU, the left-wing Greens and the pro-market Free Democratic Party — was whether the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who migrated to Germany should be allowed to bring their families. Curiously, the CDU conceded the extension of the current freeze on family reunion, on the insistence of its sister party, the Christian Social Union. This is a substantial concession from a party that backed the government’s bold decision to open the doors in 2015 to rescue millions who had risked their lives to reach Europe. The Greens, key allies in a potential Jamaica coalition with the conservatives and the FDP, fell in line, despite their humanitarian stance on refugees. But the FDP dug in its heels, demanding the phasing out of a tax to support Germany’s eastern regions. Remarks by its leader that it is better not to govern than govern badly is a measure of the discord during the negotiations.

In this fluid scenario, another general election cannot be ruled out, especially as the centre-left Social Democratic Party has so far foreclosed the possibility of cohabiting with the conservatives in another grand coalition. After it received its worst-ever drubbing in the September elections, the party may be reluctant to revisit its position, lest it risk further erosion of its popular base. But in the unlikely event of it backing the CDU, the Social Democrats may insist on offering support to a candidate other than Ms. Merkel as Chancellor. A minority government led by the CDU is a theoretical possibility, but even the conservatives do not seem to warm up to it. That leaves the President with the responsibility of determining whether fresh elections are the only option. The far right Alternative for Germany, which emerged as the third largest party in the elections, believes it can further consolidate those unprecedented gains — something the mainstream parties will be conscious of during last-ditch attempts to cobble together a coalition. The proof of the efficacy of the German consensus model lay in solidifying the political centre-ground over the decades. The need for a strong middle ground could not be greater than it is at this point. Once the Netherlands and France averted political instability at the hands of populist and eurosceptic parties earlier this year, the outcome in Germany had appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Perhaps not.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 4:40:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/falling-apart/article20604209.ece

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