Enough is enough, stop! The grand coalition government with power sharing between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Frank-Walter Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party (SPD) should no longer govern Germany. It should be relegated to the history books where it will receive worthy mention for services rendered during the financial crisis. But please don't give it a second chance. The option that should be given a chance is "red-red" -- the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the far-left Left Party -- as a means of combating the grand coalition.
This doesn't mean that the SPD and the Left Party should immediately govern together. It merely means that it would be a good thing if they finally sat down and reconciled their differences, so the five-party system can function in Germany. If it comes to a grand coalition once again, it won't function, because democracy would go off the rails.
The past four years have demonstrated this. There are five key elements of democracy that have not functioned well.
Parliamentarianism: Since the government could rely on an oversized majority, individual members of parliament and parliamentary groups hardly played a role anymore. The German parliament, the Bundestag, was crushed between an executive and a perceived public mood, which the executive was able to control.
The opposition: The Free Democratic Party, the Greens and the Left Party were each too small to be able to get through to the general public. Politics was reduced to the domestic business of the two governing parties. Nonetheless, the opposition probably ends up benefiting from its role as many voters who are fed up with feeble compromises are turning away from the mainstream parties of the grand coalition. The small parties are growing, through no merit of their own, and at the expense of the large parties, which need to focus above all on the collective interests of society.
Harmony within the government: Differences of opinion are desirable in a democracy, but the members of a government should all pull together. The SPD refused to accept Angela Merkel's chancellorship, which is why they continuously needled her. Domestic disputes are always particularly distasteful, and they reflect poorly on democracy.
The use of power: The grand coalition has to link the interests of two large, mainstream parties, and easily ends up making highly questionable compromises. There is a lack of decisiveness because the power of the chancellor is neutralized by the political aspirations of the deputy chancellor.
The election campaign: The great festival of democracy should be a time to settle old scores and offer alternatives. But the challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier couldn't really settle old scores with Merkel because he stood at her side for four years. He couldn't promote himself as a clear alternative, because he actively shaped and supported Merkel's policies. Germany was treated to a tepid campaign, which offered voters little help in making up their minds.
A Political Cartel
If things continue for another four years like this, democracy will transform into a cartel of mainstream political parties. This would also entail some rough years because Chancellor Merkel would have missed her second opportunity for a black-yellow coalition (of the CDU and the FDP) and would be in a constant struggle for survival. For its part, the SPD would be tempted to allow this dispute to escalate to the point where the party could form a red-red-green coalition -- of the SPD, the Left Party and the Greens -- and create a new government.
Nonetheless, Germany could have a wonderful five-party system, one that fits this country and these times. The grand coalition doesn't fit because it doesn't correctly reflect the political discourse that comes after the crisis. There is no 70-percent consensus on the key political question: How do we all achieve prosperity?
During the televised debate, Merkel and Steinmeier addressed this issue very differently. Merkel would rely on growth, and thus on strengthening the strong; Steinmeier would rely on social programs, and thus on redistribution. Even though the party system has drifted to the left, there still exists a muted version of the age-old conflict between left and right. This explains why a "traffic light" coalition would be a total waste of time and energy, because the SPD and the FDP have virtually nothing in common on the issues of prosperity and justice.
The Advantage of the SPD Working with the Left Party
All in all, however, it would be possible to put together a stable five-party system around this decisive topic. On one hand, there are the two conservative sister parties (the CDU and the CSU) and the FDP, which fundamentally favor strengthening the strong (with occasional disruptions from the unpredictable CSU). On the other hand, the SPD and the Left Party could really go to town, since they would only, at most, disagree on the size of the sums spent on redistribution programs.
The Greens could act as the hinge, if they were reasonable. Depending on their current political leanings, they could ensure sustainability in one of the two camps.
This would be the ideal five-party system for a modern Germany. It would make for a strong opposition and a good deal of determination in governing. Every party could try to implement its own concept, and would be voted out of office if this were proven ineffective. Unfortunately, Germany is far away from this ideal. A five-party system easily produces a grand coalition when there is a pariah that no one wants to invite into a government. The German pariah is the Left Party, with its ties to former communist East Germany.
There is no left camp because the SPD still bears a grudge against Oskar Lafontaine (the chairman of the Left Party and a former SPD party chairman), and because the Left Party thoroughly enjoys its role as the enfant terrible of German politics. Both parties thus promote the grand coalition, which is not conducive to democracy.
At the same time, there is a lot of talk in the SPD that involves the numbers 2011 and 2013. This is when red-red (with green) would be possible, after the grand coalition collapses, or after the next regularly scheduled election. That would be a pity. If all this is only about waiting out a quarantine period, then the current campaign could have also been conducted with a red-red option. There would have been a clear alternative, a lively election campaign and, without a doubt, no grand coalition in the end.