Parties in German Governing Coalition Stratify

CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks at CSU Party Conference, 2019 [Wikimedia Commons].

CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks at CSU Party Conference, 2019 [Wikimedia Commons].

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government, consisting of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the center- left Social Democratic Party (SPD), is entering a year fraught with political challenges.

The main problem the coalition faces is a lack of differentiation between the policies of the center-right and center-left, according to Politico. Many observers of German politics believe that the indistinguishability of the SPD, an ostensibly social-democratic party, from the CDU, a conservative party, is the cause of the decline in support for the current grand coalition, which has governed Germany from 2013 to the present.

The lack of contrast is partly a symptom of the relatively liberal Merkel helming the CDU, and of a series of moderates leading the SPD. However, following the 2017 federal election, the CDU and SPD both elected new party leaders, as Taz notes. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new head of the CDU, was Merkel’s favored successor, but is seen as slightly more conservative, particularly on social issues. The SPD is now headed by Andrea Nahles, who has criticized her party’s neoliberal past as well as its current coalition agreement with the CDU and CSU.

Nahles faces the immediate problem of declining support for the SPD, a problem partially attributed to compromises the party has made on core issues in order to maintain the grand coalition. Both Nahles and Kramp-Karrenbauer seek to win back voters who shifted to more radical parties by offering policies more in line with their parties’ roots: left- wing proposals from the SPD and conservative planks from the CDU.

The rest of the year will test the enthusiasm for the SPD’s new leadership. Besides upcoming elections for the European Parliament in May, there are also upcoming state elections in Bremen, Brandenburg, and Saxony, according to the website of the Federal Council. All three states have leftist coalitions either led or supported by the SPD. The SPD has controlled Bremen since World War II, but current polling indicates that the CDU could win the state for the first time, according to Welt. If the SPD founders in the European elections, loses both Brandenburg and Saxony, or suffers a historic loss in Bremen, the SPD would likely exit the grand coalition, leaving the CDU and CSU to pick up the pieces.

As Politico explains, Merkel signaled that she may not even serve out her full term as Chancellor if the coalition falls apart, leaving Kramp-Karrenbauer to either form a new coalition or lead the CDU in fresh elections. With the SPD unavailable as a potential coalition partner, Kramp-Karrenbauer could attempt to form a Jamaica coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic Party and the environmentalist Greens. This strategy failed in the aftermath of the 2017 federal election, and it may be impossible to reconcile the beliefs of parties with such a diverse range of views. Germany would then likely hold new elections, which could possibly lead to increased support for the far-right and further decline for the center-right and center-left.