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Last updated: September 30, 2013 7:13 pm
At decisive moments in her political career, Angela Merkel has stood out for courageously breaking with the past. She may very well be about to do so again. Germany should start considering the prospect of a coalition between her Christian Democrats, which won handsomely at this month’s elections, and the Green party.
This may shock outsiders, who often think of the chancellor as a safety-first candidate. But consider her record. In 1999, she called on Helmut Kohl, the national reunifier who then still towered over her party, to resign. Then, in 2011, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Ms Merkel ended the decades-long run of nuclear power in Germany. Again, many people, especially in conservative circles, were shocked. But she got her way.
A third opportunity to prove her mettle could present itself if she selects the Green party as her preferred coalition partner. She would shock many conservatives. But Ms Merkel, a former environment minister, regards the energy-environment issue as key for the future. After all, she initiated the Energiewende, the transformation of the energy sector that is now under way in Germany. It is also fair to assume that a replay of a grand coalition, which governed Germany under Ms Merkel from 2005 to 2009, would look like a boring repeat in her own mind. Been there, done that. Where is the challenge in that? It is at least as likely that Ms Merkel would opt for something new.
In any case, the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic party combined would account for almost 80 per cent of all the members of the Bundestag. A government with both of them would not so much be a “grand coalition” as a stifling behemoth – a unity government unbefitting a modern democracy. The opposition, given those overwhelming numbers, would become a travesty. At a minimum, it is not becoming to democratic sanity.
Furthermore, a profound political strategist, Ms Merkel knows that, by joining forces with the Greens, she would alter the German political landscape for good. In particular, by pushing the SPD into opposition, she would possibly reconsolidate the left wing of German politics. Parts of the SPD are already very torn over joining forces with the Left party. By pushing the SPD to the left, Ms Merkel would change the shape of German politics, essentially establishing the Greens as the new centre element.
Now that the party has shed its leftist leaders, they could occupy space formerly held by the liberal Free Democrats, who were thrown out of parliament at the last election.
There are many who assume that the Greens would never join the CDU in a coalition. But the party must assess soberly its own future prospects. Under Ms Merkel, the CDU adopted in effect a core plank of Green policy. By joining forces with Ms Merkel now, the party will be able to reclaim ownership of the idea – and share in the trials and tribulations of making it a policy and economic reality.
For Ms Merkel there are downside risks to choosing that option, including the voting in the German Bundesrat, the upper house. And the Greens were just chastised at the polls. The resounding message the party received, albeit begrudgingly, is that tax levels are high enough by any measure and that it is not a promising position to suggest a yet again higher tax take. Ms Merkel and the CDU would be broadly comfortable with that position. The Greens, needing some reinvention, could focus on administrative reform – using “smart government” to modernise the public sector, making it more efficient and accountable.
Since Ms Merkel has done little on the domestic front over the past four years, adding the Greens to the political mix should be really interesting – and should interest the Greens a lot. Topics such as real education reform and improving Germany’s physical infrastructure could only benefit from having a Green seal of approval.
In short, there are plenty of reasons for Ms Merkel to show once again that she really is capable of rocking the boat. She has proved to be a daredevil before at times when it really counted and when transformative moments of German politics lay right in front of her, ripe for the taking.
Now is precisely such a moment. None of that means that Ms Merkel’s party should not be negotiating with the SPD first. That’s all a matter of negotiating tactics. But a grand coalition should not be a foregone conclusion.
The writer is publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist
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