It had been nicknamed the "traffic light coalition" but now one of the partners in this potential political alliance has given it the red light. The prospective coalition is named after the colors associated with the German political parties -- red for center-left Social Democrats, yellow for the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and green for, unsurprisingly, the Greens.
Whether the coalition could ever come to fruition anyway is obviously dependent on the outcome of German federal elections to be held this coming weekend. However, at a party conference held by the FDP over the weekend the party seemed to rule out any kind of alliance with the SPD. The Social Democrats, who have been steadily gaining in the polls as the election nears had been making overtures toward the FDP.
For the last four years, the SPD have been governing Germany together with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU -- these are the two biggest parties in Germany -- in an uneasy "grand coalition." And the chairman of the SPD, Franz Müntefering had said the SPD and the FDP had some things in common on issues like education, foreign policy as well as their support for small businesses. The SPD's candidate for Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier had also said a coalition with the Greens and the FDP could be an option.
According to the latest polls, the SPD, which now has 26 percent support, could in theory form a coalition with the Greens and the left-wing Left party after Sunday's vote; they would have had 47 percent of the vote altogether. But this has always seemed highly unlikely. The SPD has already firmly ruled out forming a coalition with the Left Party -- the latter formed in 2007 after a merger of the successor party to the East German communists, left-wing groups in western Germany and disaffected former SPD voters -- at the national level. Which is why they had been making overtures toward the FDP.
However at a party conference in Potsdam on Sunday, Guido Westerwelle, the head of the FDP, which had never been completely enthusiastic about the SPD's suggestions anyway, rejected the idea again, saying that "socialists and communists" must not be allowed to rule Germany.
Currently the FDP is the preferred coalition partner for Merkel and the CDU. The two parties are sitting on around 14 and 35 percent of the German vote respectively. Which means that together they could rule by a slight margin. By all accounts, the FDP has also been poaching conservatively inclined voters from the CDU, stealing away supporters upset by compromises the CDU has made in their four-year coalition with the Social Democrats.
The FDP has always been the CDU's preferred partner for government. In fact, in 2005 Merkel wanted to bring them onboard but a slump in her support close to the election saw her forming a far less comfortable coalition with the Social Democrats instead. While the SPD has suffered a sharp drop in support since 2005 it has managed something of a comeback in recent weeks and now analysts are asking whether this weekend's election will be a repeat of 2005.
And while the SPD and the Greens said on Monday that they didn't believe what Westerwelle has said and that they thought he might still change his mind come Sunday's results, German commentators are not surprised by Westerwelle's intransigence. They say that the relatively right-wing FDP would never have been able to compromise with the SPD or the Greens. To do so would have made Westerwelle look like even more of a political "lightweight" -- he has been described as such by his opponents before. In fact, say some, it's a good thing he has said this because such a coalition would have been very hard for everyone to live with.
Whatever happens next, commentators argue, there is still plenty of wrangling to do when it comes to forming political alliances after the election. It is almost certain that will retain her seat in the chancellor's chair now and they point out that another coalition option for the CDU is also the so-called "Jamaica coalition" -- a combination of black (CDU), yellow (FDP) and the Greens -- named after the colors on the Jamaican flag.
The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"Outside of all tactical considerations (about coalition formations) the FPD's credibility would be at risk in the traffic light coalition. There are commonalities with the SPD and the Greens in social policies and in the area of human rights. But when it comes to economics, financial matters and health care the FDP would have had to bend over backwards to make the coalition work. They want to abolish the health care fund, cannot even contemplate the general minimum wage; they want to lower taxes and they have their sights set on more nuclear power for Germany."
"None of that fits with either the SPD's election manifesto, nor the Greens'. It won't just be Angela Merkel who is breathing a deep sigh of relief at Westerwelle's decision yesterday. Merkel is almost certain to remain in the chancellor's chair now. But the German citizenry and German businesses should also be happy. Not because of some kind of inter-party rivalry, but because a continuously conflicted ruling coalition would be bad for everyone. Whoever gets into government will have heavy burdens to bear -- cleaning up parliamentary processes, fighting unemployment and securing the country's future energy sources. An instable coalition could not cope with any of that."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"The FDP is ensnared as never before in the German federation -- they already rule in six state governments and they have seats in practically all of the state parliaments. As he did in 2005 in parliament and in 2008 in Hesse (state elections) Westerwelle is placing all his bets on one horse."
"The all-important question now is whether Westerwelle can stand the pressure from inside his own party should there not be enough support for a black-yellow (CDU-FDP) coalition. Or will the shadow foreign minister actually be prepared to make a deal with the SPD?"
"If this happens, it would not be the first time that the FDP have made an abrupt and radical change of course, which has, in turn, led to devastating trench warfare within their own ranks. At the very least Westerwelle will be destroying his own hard-fought-for credibility. There will never be a traffic light coalition with him at the head of the party. The FDP only has room to move on this without Westerwelle."
Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Westerwelle has restricted his political movement of his own free will. With this one sided outlook on free market policies he is steering the party toward the outer right edge of the political spectrum, in terms of social and economic policies. Today his party is the mirror opposite of the Left Party while the Greens have taken up a position in the traditional middle. Paradoxically this change of roles has not upped the FDP's potential to achieve their goals. Rather, it has had the opposite effect. Now Westerwelle no longer has any way to pressure the CDU. And he is dependent on Merkel -- but she is not dependent on him."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"For four years Westerwelle has provoked Angela Merkel: she is turning into a social democrat during the financial crisis, she is enacting social democratic policies. Yet she is still his preferred partner."
"What we will get is an administration that has to deal with the consequences of the financial crisis. How they do this, Westerwelle will have to work out together with Chancellor Merkel. And with Horst Seehofer (leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister party). Because Merkel is a political bride one can only marry with the permission of her little brother. Those Social Democrats who are upset about Westerwelle's announcement can console themselves with thoughts of this spectacle."