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POLITICS

Jamaica or Traffic Light: What’s next for Germany and what does it mean?

After Sunday's stunning federal elections, Germany is at a crossroads: stuck between a traffic light and a Jamaican flag. But which is more likely to happen - and what would each of them mean?

Jamaica or Traffic Light: What's next for Germany and what does it mean?
The leadership of the Greens meets FDP leadership and secretary general for initial talks on September 28th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/FDP | Volker Wissing

Just as they promised, the Greens and FDP have wasted no time at all in getting to know each other better after Sunday’s election.

The results of the parliamentary elections were confirmed in the early hours on Monday, and by Tuesday evening, Green Party leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck had met with FDP leader Christian Lindner and Secretary General Volker Wissing for exploratory talks.

Posting a picture of the group on Instagram after the chat, they wrote: “In the search for a new government, we are sounding out common ground and bridges over dividing lines. And are even finding some. Exciting times.”

It was a picture of unity between the climate-friendly Greens and business-friendly FDP, with Baerbock and Lindner even opting to apply a similarly futuristic choice of Instagram filter when posting the picture online. As some pointed out, this suggested that they might have found some common ground – as least as far as digitalisation was concerned. 

But didn’t the SPD win the election? 

That’s right. In a result that was unimaginable just six months ago, the SPD swept to victory on Sunday with 25.7 of the vote. The CDU/CSU, meanwhile, dropped almost nine points on their 2017 results and came out in second place, with 24.1 percent of the vote. 

However, since neither of the big parties got enough of the vote to form a two-party coalition (unless they go into coalition with each other again, which nobody wants) the first option on the table is for either of the big parties to work with both the Greens and the FDP in forming a government.

READ ALSO: How is the race to form a new German government shaping up?

That could result in a ‘traffic light’ (Ampel) coalition, named after the three colours of its constituent parties: the Greens (green), FDP (yellow) and SPD (red). As some commentators have pointed out, a ruling traffic light would in many ways fit perfectly with the German psyche.

READ ALSO: Is it ever acceptable to cross the road at red light in Germany?

On the other hand, it could result in a ‘Jamaica’ coalition with the conservatives, where the parties’ colours would match those of the Jamaican flag: CDU/CSU (black), FDP (yellow) and Greens (green). 

Since the Greens and FDP both have to be on board for each coalition to work, they’ve decided to bypass talks with the SPD and CDU/CSU to start with. They first want to agree on basic lines of political cooperation, which will serve as a prerequisite for a “new start” in government policy in Germany. Only later do they want to approach the party they think could go into government with.

So which is more likely – Jamaica or Traffic Light? 

Both are on the cards at the moment – but there are big issues with both, which have led some commentators to suggest that the fresh-faced politicians could be looking rather less fresh-faced by the time any of them can actually agree with each other.

“Now the coalition talks will begin,” one wrote, after news of meetings between the FDP and Greens broke on social media. “Traffic light or Jamaica, we’ll know by 2024.” 

Even at this stage, it’s obvious what each of the party leaders want.

SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz has spent every hour since the election pushing hard for an Ampel led by his party, something he’s terming a ‘progressive’ coalition. 

“Something fits together if you have the desire to bring it together,” he said at an event of the Parliamentary Left in the SPD parliamentary group in Berlin. “It can be a government where three parties come together that have different but overlapping ideas of progress.”

With the SPD having gained the most support in the election, along with the FDP and Greens, there certainly looks like there’s a democratic mandate for this type of coalition. And 55 percent of people recently polled said this would be their preferred option – as opposed to 33 percent of people in favour of Jamaica. 

Nevertheless, Armin Laschet, the leader of the CDU, is going against others in his party and forging ahead with his attempts to build a Jamaica coalition. 

This constellation has the benefit of being the FDP’s clear preference, as it would fit better with their liberal brand of economics. But the leadership of the Greens would face fierce opposition from their own members if they opt to go ahead. 

READ ALSO:

In fact, even before talks had officially begun, the Green’s youth wing called on Baerbock and Habeck to firmly reject a coalition with the CDU/CSU.

“The Green Youth would not go along with a Jamaica coalition with the CDU/CSU,” the national spokesman of the youth organisation, Georg Kurz, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Wednesday. “Under no circumstances can we hoist the party that was explicitly voted out back into the chancellery.”

With all the headwinds facing Jamaica right now, it seems like the traffic light option could be marginally more likely. But in either case, there’s bound to be months of difficult coalition talks ahead.

What would each of the coalitions mean in practice?

That’ll be thrashed out behind closed doors over weeks, or even months. But here’s roughly what we might imagine each would look like:

Traffic Light

  • Socially liberal on issues like crime, gender, and immigration
  • Big investments in digitalising Germany’s infrastructure and making it more business and start-up friendly
  • Climate targets obtained through a mixture of innovation and regulation, with emphasis on the latter
  • Minor or no tax rises on the top and tax relief for middle- and lower-income earners 
  • Some kind of voting rights or parliamentary reform 

Jamaica

  • Stable taxation with some tax breaks for higher earners 
  • Generous business and start-up subsidies
  • Digitalisation of state departments and administrative offices 
  • No major reform on crime, immigration, or electoral system 
  • A focus on reaching climate targets through a mixture of innovation and regulation, with emphasis on the former 

With three-party coalitions on the cards, however, there’s no telling what might happen to each of the pre-election manifestos once ferocious and negotiations get underway. For the next few weeks at least, expect to be reading between the selfies to gain any kind of clue about what’s going on.

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POLITICS

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”.

‘Symbols’

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

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