Elections 2017: “Jamaica” pre-coalition talks dragging on

The Jamaica negotiators of FDP, Greens and CDU

After late September’s not-so-flattering election victory by the Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, the exploratory pre-coalition negotiations between CDU/CSU and their potential coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats (FDP) and the Green Party, continue to prove difficult, with no significant progress in sight. Whether they liked or not – with the Social Democrats unequivocably opting for the opposition benches on the same night of their catastrophic defeat, this seemingly unlikely assembly of eco-liberal-conservative parties received the electorate’s mandate to form Germany’s next government.

The differences, of course, from the right wing of the CSU demanding a cap on refugee numbers, to the left wing of the Green Party, referring to refugees as “presents for our country”, span as far as the political spectrum goes.

As expected then, the influx of refugee to the country, as well as climate policy, will continue to rattle the shaky grounds of the talks. As it stands, the negotiating parties have postponed the definite address of these controversial issues and agreed to discuss them in smaller circles.

To avoid further controversy and discord for the time being, the topics of refugee and migration policy was removed from the agenda for this week’s round of discussion. Climate protection, the second source of major dispute, will be briefly addressed, however, a joint position paper is not expected to be issued.

The negotiations regarding migration/refugee policy and climate protection were aborted last Thursday without results. Whereas CDU/CSU and FDP positions seem to align relatively closely in this respect, the Green Party’s stance differs substantially. The key points of conflict are the so-called “Familiennachzug” (allowing asylum seekers to bring their closest family members to Germany) and the abandonment of coal-powered energy production.

FDP leader Christian Lindner confirmed that migration and climate policy would not be discussed anymore this week. In an interview with the tabloid BILD, however, Lindner criticised the Green Party’s stance on refugee policy and labeled it a “stimulus package” for the right-wing AfD party. The ring-wing populist AfD gained a staggering 12,5% of votes in the September elections, thus becoming the third-strongest party in Germany and entering the Bundestag with a bang. Its success is largely attributed to a protest vote by parts of the population that has felt neglected by the mainstream parties, with the refugee crisis since 2015 playing a catalysing role in its rise to prominence. According to Lindner, the Familiennachzug, which is estimated to bring some 400,000 additional refugees to Germany, is hardly feasible, particularly in terms of schooling, and will create additional tensions within society.

Özdemir wants to reinvent the automobile

Additional topics of controversy debated this week were agriculture and transportation. Green Part leader Cem Özdemir called for an e-revolution in the automotive industry, whereas as the CSU’s former transportation minister Alexander Dobrindt expressed his stark opposition to the abolition of the classic combustion engine. Özdemir argued that the topics of transportation and climate protection are closely linked, and that the monumental transformation of the automotive industry must be reflected in German politics. Dobrindt’s CSU opposes any radical policy changes that could threaten the livelihood of the German economy, and with it employment, wealth and economic growth.

Agricultural minister Christian Schmidt (CSU) commented the debate over agricultural policy, reinstating that his party wants conventional and sustainable agriculture, and questioned that ecological agriculture is generally more climate-friendly than conventional farming. Green party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt on the other side called for a transformation of agriculture in Germany that should be implemented in cooperation with German farmers.

In the meantime, Peter Altmaier of the CDU expressed little to no hope for potential coalition negotiations with the Social Democrats in case of a premature end to the current talks. “If Jamaica fails, new elections should be held”, SPD leader Martin Schulz recently commented in an interview with the weekly newspaper “Die ZEIT”.

Given the non-negligible sticking points of the current discussions between these profoundly different parties, it requires a fair share of optimism to envisage the black-yellow-green banner to be hoisted at the Kanzleramt. Then again, it is probably advisable not to underestimate the appeal of power. Either way, should the exploratory talks conclude positively, the actual coalition negotiations will be a long and bumpy ride, and a new government can hardly be expected before the end of 2017.


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