Mutti Merkel’s Muddle


s there any sight more delicious than that of German Chancellor Angela “Mutti” Merkel squirming around like a worm on a hot sidewalk?

When the most recent German election yielded an inclusive result, Merkel was presented with several options – all of them bad (for her):

Plan A: Go back to the well for a Grand Coalition between her Christian Democratic Union / Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) grouping with the Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD immediately rejected that idea in light of a plunge in their party’s popularity that has tracked with Merkel’s. They no doubt had in mind the fate of the last party that spent too long shackled to Merkel, the Free Democrats (FDP), who in 2013 elections as part of a coalition government failed even to meet the five percent threshold for representation in the Bundestag and only were able to claw themselves back in this year under the dynamic leadership of Christian Lindner. Besides, a renewal of a CDU/CSU-SPD Grand Coalition would mean elevating the upstart populist-conservative, bring-back-the-Deutschmark, Eurosceptic, anti-migrant, anti-Islamic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) as the official Opposition.

Plan B: After the SPD’s telling her to “include us out,” Merkel’s next obvious choice was a Black-Yellow-Green “Jamaica Coalition” to form a majority with the FDP and the goofy Greens. It’s a combination as absurd it sounds. Conceivably, Merkel could form a coalition with either the FDP or the Greens alone – probably better with the Greens, given how far Left the CDU has drifted under Merkel, much to the chagrin of many in the conservative Bavarian CSU – but that wouldn’t be enough for a majority. But getting the Yellows and Greens to agree with each other proved impossible. Mercifully, FDP leader Lindner finally pulled the plug on what would have been an unviable, monstrous chimera.

Plan C: One option that has been mentioned as a hypothetical but evidently not given serious consideration is a minority government, possibly with the FDP (which would be unlikely to accept an invitation) but more likely with the Greens, with the SPD acting as the coalition’s guarantor without actually being in the government. This would be a novelty in postwar Germany and would run across the Germans’ legendary terror of instability. But actually, it has a lot of political advantages. For Merkel, it would give her what she wants most: to remain Chancellor. For the SPD, it would allow them the advantages of a governing party (no legislation could pass without their approval) without any of the responsibility. It would also allow the Socialists to pull down the government whenever they chose, which is maybe why Merkel is avoiding it. Happily for all the “respectable” parties a Merkel-led minority government would anoint SPD as the official “Opposition” – playing dog in the manger to keep the AfD from that starring role – while in reality being Merkel’s collaborator. If I were Merkel, this is the route I’d take. (I hope she doesn’t read this!)

Plan D: There has been some talk of new elections but it doesn’t seem to have gained much traction. The obvious drawback is the possibility another ballot would just be the longest, ugliest route back to the same stalemate that exists now, unless there is some dramatic shift in the results. For Merkel, the big plus might be that if she can budge a little to the Right, some disaffected Christian Democrats who had in the last round voted for the AfD (virtually all of AfD’s support has come right out of the CDU’s hide) might “come home” to Mutti on account of “buyer’s remorse” of causing “instability.” While a roll of the dice, new elections might be Merkel’s second best option. (Again, Angie, please don’t read this!)

Plan E: Surprise! It turns out that the last available scheme is right back to Plan A, a Grand Coalition with the Socialists. But for that, it appears Merkel will have to move even farther to the Left on migration policy, the key issue that has led to the CDU’s decline – and the AfD’s rise – in the first place:

‘German Chancellor Angela Merkel is determined to avoid a snap election by seeking another “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD), but she might have to scrap a proposed cap on immigration to secure her fourth term in office.

‘Merkel’s decision to open the doors to migrants has shaken up German politics during the fall. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), suffered its worst election result since the 1940s in September after some voters turned to anti-immigration party the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in protest of Merkel’s migrant policies. The chancellor is now struggling to form a new government because potential coalition partners disagree with her plans to put a cap on the annual immigration level. [ . . . ]

‘Immigration is set to take a central role in coalition talks. Merkel wants to cap the annual migrant influx at 200,000, which SPD considers to be a breach of the German constitution.’

Really, the show can’t get any better than this. What else could AfD ask for? If a new Grand Coalition is assembled, AfD will have a field day throwing bombs in what American military planners call a “target-rich environment.” They don’t need to accuse Merkel and the Christian Democrats of being the tired, stale clones of the SPD presiding over the demise of Germany, and with it the moribund “European Project” – that reality will be on display for all to see. I’m sorry if it sounds a little Bolshie, but the phrase “the worse, the better” comes to mind.

If Merkel had any dignity left, much left a shred of patriotism, she’d quit now and let history be her judge. If she vacated the leadership of the CDU, the possibility exists that a new leader would pull the party in a more responsible direction. The model, right next door, is Sebastian Kurz’s revitalization of the Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP), which hopefully will soon finalize a coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), Austria’s rough equivalent of the AfD.

For Germany, maybe it’s too soon to contemplate a post-Merkel CDU/CSU-AfD coalition, maybe also including the FDP. But we can dream, can’t we?