What next for GroKo after Thueringen fiasco?
Updated: Feb 17
The decision by the German Liberal Party (FDP) to take the Premiership of the German land (region) of Thueringen (eastern Germany) has landed a bomb-shell on German democracy, where the new Minister-President, Thomas Kemmerich, was able to get into his position, in part due to the votes of the far-right AFD.
Whilst votes from the CDU (the party of Angela Merkel) also allowed Mr Kemmerich into his position, nevertheless, the pictures of Mr Kemmerich shaking hands with the AFD’s Thueringen leader, Bjoern Hoecke, sent schock-waves across German politics. The CDU’s leader (and potential future German Chancellor) Annegret Kramp-Karenabuer underlined that she had been against the decision of the Regional CDU to support Mr Kemmerich, given the fact that by association the CDU had aligned themselves with the votes of the AFD. As a solution to the impasse, she suggested that fresh elections might be required. Christian Lindner, the FDP’s leader (who famously walked out of coalition talks with Angela Merkel after the 2017 German elections) gave a short press-conference stating that he hoped that other “centrist parties” such as the CDU, SPD and the Greens would come to support Mr Kemmerich and that the FDP would never align themselves with the AFD.
The SPD (the junior coalition partners of the CDU) has also taken a strong stance against this decision with both the German Foreign Secretary as well as the country’s Europe Minister distancing themselves from the decision. Co-leader of the SPD in Germany’s Parliament, Saskia Esken, even went as far to suggest that it would pose serious questions about the coalition Government. Meanwhile the CDU’s sister-party, the CSU, also distanced themselves from the decision.
But what does all this mean in practice? The face-saving option might well be for fresh elections, as called by Kramp-Karenbauer. Whilst the SPD might not like the fact that the CDU votes (together with the AFD) enabled Mr Kemmerich to become Minister-President, it would be difficult for them to seriously call the grand coalition (grosse Koalition or “GroKo” in German) into question unless they were to actually follow through with such a possibility. Latest federal opinion polls, however, put them vying for 4th place with the AFD, both hovering around the 13-14% mark. If the SPD were to decide to pull the plug on the GroKo (they would need to seriously make political gains out of this mess in the process) then most likely, Germany would be looking at fresh elections. (The next federal elections are not scheduled until the Autumn of next year). The only other coalition which would numerically reach a majority at Federal level is the “Jamaica” coalition, so-called due to the fact that the colours of the parties (CDU-black; Green-Green; Liberal-yellow) which would be involved, make up the Jamaican flag. However, such a coalition failed to materialise after the decision by Christian Lindner to pull the Liberals out of the talks after the last German elections and the Greens, 2nd in federal opinion polling at the moment, equally frustrated by the decision of Mr Kemmerich, would unlikely want to go into talks with the Liberals at this stage.
Today’s decision will put a dampener on the Liberals election chances in the short-run and will offer election ammunition fodder to the SPD and the Greens in particular. The first test of the fall-out will come in Hamburg state elections scheduled for the end of the month (The SPD and Greens are in coalition there). As for the AFD, despite the fact that none of the other parties have any desire to work with them, it put them further in the political limelight and allowed them the opportunity to present themselves (as they did) as the only party which could allow CDU and the FDO ever to take power. One thing is clear: German politics has been severely rocked by today’s decisions.