So, that’s all sorted then. Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance is to form a ‘grand coalition’ with the Social Democrats (SPD), giving her a parliamentary majority that certain former German leaders might have found acceptable.
Germany doesn’t have a ‘Loyal Opposition’ in the British sense, but the largest opposition party in the Bundestag will now, for the first time, be the Left Party (Die Linke or Linkspartei) – a direct descendent of the ruling Communist Party of the former GDR.
In fact, if the Linkspartei were to team up with the SPD and the Greens, then this ‘red-red-green’ coalition of the German left would have a majority and Angela Merkel would be out of a job. The reason why the SPD has opted for a left-right coalition instead is explained in a briefing from Spiegel Online:
“The SPD has until now ruled out forming a national government with the left-wing Left Party because it regards the latter’s policy pledges as unrealistic. For example, the ultra-pacifist party… wants an end to all foreign military missions… and the dissolution of NATO.
“A national alliance of the SPD and Left Party hasn’t been taboo for just policy reasons. ‘The SPD resented the Left Party for luring away thousands of voters disenchanted with the Agenda 2010 welfare cuts enacted by the last SPD-led government beginning in 2003. The animosity was worsened by the defection of former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine to the Left Party, which he co-led until 2010.”
Yet, in a development that has gone largely unreported outside Germany, this taboo is on its way out:
“The Social Democrats sowed mistrust among Angela Merkel’s conservatives last week by declaring themselves open to a future alliance with the left-wing Left Party. Her new government could be more fragile than thought, with the SPD already positioning itself for the post-Merkel era.
“The decision by the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) to open itself to a possible future alliance with the Left Party has unsettled coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, and is a ticking time bomb that could topple her third government before the next general election, in 2017.”
Angela Merkel isn’t under any immediate threat. But the very possibility of an alternative ‘red-red-green coalition’ will give the Social Democrats greater leverage than they otherwise would have had. (It should also be said that the SPD’s membership still have to be balloted on the coalition deal.)
The relevance of all of this to Britain is two-fold:
Firstly, it makes the task of renegotiating Britain’s membership of the European Union that much harder. When she was in coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats, Merkel had more room to push Europe in a market-friendly, decentralised direction. But now that she has to share power with the Social Democrats (or lose power altogether), Germany will be less well-disposed to the idea of a semi-detached and deregulated Britain within the EU.
Secondly, Germany provides an example of what happens when the right is divided. Together, the main centre-right parties outpolled the centre-left parties. But because neither the Free Democrats nor the moderately Eurosceptic ‘Alternative for Germany’ crossed the five per cent threshold required for seats in the Bundestag, their votes were wasted. Much the same could happen in Britain, with Con-to-UKIP switchers handing scores of seats to Labour.
The irony is that the less friendly that Europe looks to British interests (imagine a Eurozone in which the leading country is, in part, governed by Communist ministers), the better it will be for Nigel Farage and, by extension, Ed Miliband.