Rethinking Europe

Germany: Why a Jamaica Coalition Deepens the Division of Society

The Jamaica coalition consists of representatives of the globalization and modernization winners. It pitches urban elites against the less successful.

Credit: Paul Blair www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The September 24th Bundestag elections yielded disastrous results not just for the SPD, but notably Chancellor Merkel’s CDU.
  • To form a dependable coalition, Merkel is now dependent on the Greens and the FDP.
  • Last week’s election results in Bavaria were disastrous: The CSU obtained only 38.8% while the AfD scored 12.4%.
  • The CDU, FDP and Greens’ voters, as well as many CSU voters in Munich, are the people with well-paid jobs.

The September 24th Bundestag elections yielded disastrous results not just for the SPD, but notably Chancellor Merkel’s CDU. It has to contend with an even steeper percentage loss than the Social Democrats.

For its part, the SPD – vowing to reconnect to its roots – has decided to serve as the main opposition in the new parliament.

The potential key effect of the outcome of the German elections, however, may well be something quite different. If the effort to form a Jamaica coalition (so called because of the parties’ color black-green-yellow, for the CDU, Greens and FDP) succeeds, this will actually end up advancing the division of German society.

As to the CDU, given the dramatic nature of the losses in a campaign entirely focused on her, in normal times Merkel’s days in office would be counted. Of course, Merkel has always seen to it to load up the party leadership with her loyal followers.

FDP and Greens: Beware Merkel’s embrace

Political survival is one thing, the actual act of governing quite another. To form a dependable coalition, Merkel is now dependent on the Greens and the FDP, both of which are very much aware that Merkel tends to “swallow” (read: greatly weaken politically) whoever is her coalition partner.

Even the liberals will be anything but tame. Christian Lindner must have learned the key lesson from the electoral debacle his party encountered in 2013: As a junior partner, one cannot afford to surrender a millimeter from core liberal positions.

Serving Merkel as a “Mehrheitsbeschaffer” – i.e., as a party that gets nice ministerial posts in exchange for throwing Merkel their support – is a prescription for disaster.

Reconciling a pointedly liberal political understanding with Green Party programming will also prove quite difficult, although it is not impossible. For the Greens, the likely key issue is not to cede to the security and social policy wishes of a CSU that is looking quite desperately to protect its right flank.

Merkel is well equipped

As complex as finding a bridge to that brave new world looks, Merkel is well equipped to pull this off. She has a knack for dealing with really delicate political issues.

Stunningly, Merkel’s main political problem in pulling this off is called CSU. For the CSU leadership, fixated on preserving its absolute majority in its home state of Bavaria, there is only one political direction: to the right, with or without a CDU.

Last week’s election results in Bavaria were disastrous: The CSU obtained only 38.8%, while the AfD scored 12.4%. If those numbers hold in next year’s state elections, hell will break lose in Munich.

How a coalition can be formed under these circumstances – with the Greens who are adamant about refugee rights and with an FDP, which wants to stand firm as a civil rights party – is anyone’s guess.

Jamaica as a modernization alliance?

Having said all that, the potential charm of a possible Jamaica coalition is that it can present itself as a modernization alliance, which aims to bring Germany forward technologically, ecologically and on social policy.

Envision a determined bit of digitization from the FDP, a clear step toward more sustainability from the Greens, garnished with a blob of socially quite progressive CDU thinking. After the morass of the grand coalition, which mostly served the vested interests, that looks like a tempting political offering.

A socially divisive coalition?

Such a coalition can contribute to pragmatism in many fields of policy making. The problem lies elsewhere: Socioeconomically speaking, the Jamaica coalition consists of representatives of the broad-based bourgeois elite, the globalization and modernization winners.

The CDU, FDP and Greens’ voters, as well as many CSU voters in Munich, are the people with well-paid jobs. Their vision of the Tauber-Lindner-Özdemirs – the key drivers of such a coalition – is to drive with an electric car to the natural foods market.

This entails the risk that the economic division of society will be aggravated in the political sphere. It also pitches urban elites against the less successful.

This emerging division of society is further accentuated by the fact that the SPD appears keen to rediscover its roots as a workers’ party – a dubious goal at a time when that cohort is shrinking in society.

SPD will call out Jamaica as neoliberal

But that won’t keep the SPD from trying to expose a possible Jamaica coalition at each and every opportunity as a neoliberal and anti-social cabal.

The SPD’s de facto new leader, Andrea Nahles, is determined to deliver on her promise that Germany now needs a real polarization between left and right. Suppose that would be right (which it is not): What would the SPD have to win?

The place of higher-taxes-for-the-rich-and-more social expenditures is already occupied. The mere fact that the SPD wants to encroach on the Left Party’s turf does not expand the number of voters potentially attracted to such a message.

The SPD loves to emphasize that its current course has yielded it more party members. That is scant consolation for the disastrous results in the federal elections. That is one more reason why having overthrown the possibility of a coalition with the CDU may well add up to a serious strategic mistake for the SPD.

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About Alexander Grau

Alexander Grau holds a doctorate in philosophy and works as a freelance cultural and scientific journalist.

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