Merkel’s coalition partner back in business

Angela Merkel's coalition partner the Free Democratic Party (FDP) is back above the crucial five percent mark in a major opinion poll – but that would still not be enough to provide the German chancellor with another government.

Merkel's coalition partner back in business
Photo: DPA

The latest weekly opinion poll by state broadcaster ARD gave the FDP a much-needed psychological boost after months as a political pariah.

The poll, published Friday, puts Vice Chancellor Philipp Rösler’s party one percentage point up, with five percent of the population saying they would vote FDP if there were an election on Sunday.

Five percent is a vital electoral hurdle in the German system – less than that and a party cannot generally return MPs to the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag.

The FDP’s reinvigoration is apparently down to moderate successes in two recent state elections – in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, where the business-friendly party scored 8.2 and 8.6 percent respectively, despite miserable poll predictions.

But while this is good news for Merkel, her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) dropped back a point to 33 percent – leaving the government coalition on a combined 38 percent, well behind a potential centre-left coalition made up of the Social Democratic Party and the Greens, who together boast 42 percent.

While there has been a clear swing towards the centre-left in Germany in recent weeks, especially with the triumph of Hannelore Kraft’s Social Democratic Party in North Rhine-Westphalia last week, that poll suggests a potential “red-green” coalition would not have enough seats to form a national government.

That’s because the Pirate Party would – if there were an election on Sunday – sail into the Bundestag, and split the parliament into six, rather than five, factions.

According to ARD, the Pirates are currently holding a steady course on 11 percent, and have become Germany’s fourth biggest political party in the past few months – ahead of both the FDP and the socialist Left party.

Germany’s next general election is scheduled for autumn 2013. The current political climate in Europe – particularly in France, which elected a Socialist president earlier this month – suggests that Merkel has every reason to fear for her post.

The Local/bk

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Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama, clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing against a verdant Alpine backdrop.

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Her successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in domestic opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders gather again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven rich countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation and energy supply complications have put his government to the test while sending his approval ratings plunging.

READ ALSO: Opinion – Scholz is already out of step at Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday he was ready to seize the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain resort – the same remote, picturesque venue Merkel chose in 2015 – to burnish Germany’s global image and the standing of the West.

“In Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades, Germany as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU is assuming special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

A series of summits in the coming days must show “that G7, EU and NATO are as united as ever” and that the “democracies of the world are standing together in the fight against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz said.

READ ALSO: Germany tightens border controls ahead of G7 summit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Olivier Matthys

‘Merkel tradition’

Joachim Trebbe, a professor of political communication at Berlin’s Free University, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war began, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a little bit in the tradition of Ms Merkel,” a
still-popular conservative the Social Democratic chancellor has sought to emulate, Trebbe said.

She also “tended to manage crises and didn’t pay much attention to informing the media at every step”.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 as part of the G7 summit.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 during the G7 summit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After accusations of foot-dragging, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were on display during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by the leaders of France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung travelling with the chancellor noted that he had a tendency to make gaffes under pressure – like “an old tap that either releases ice-cold or boiling water”.


His trouble finding the middle ground had led him to exercise too much caution when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine, or too little, as when on a visit to Lithuania this month he significantly overstated German arms deliveries.   

The chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself outflanked in his own unwieldy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed that the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, both credited with clearer messaging on Ukraine — were leading the SPD in voter intentions for the first time since July 2021.

Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticised Scholz’s Ukraine and energy policies as too timid.

READ ALSO: Why has Germany been so slow to deliver weapons to Ukraine?

Trebbe said that initiatives at the G7 bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues including future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate
protection and strengthening democracies worldwide were crucial if he hoped to gain political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the gathering was nearly as much about generating images, such as the instant meme of Merkel, arms outstretched, explaining her world view to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“That’s where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of professionals ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”

By Deborah COLE