Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

The Key Players in Germany’s Complex Coalition Talks

Once dubbed ‘the queen of the backrooms’, Angela Merkel holds the cards despite her party’s losses.

Angela Merkel’s election victory on Sunday sets the stage for talks on which who will join her fourth-term government. With the defeated Social Democrats ruling themselves out, her Christian Democratic-led bloc is expected to explore a three-way coalition including the Free Democrats and Greens. Here’s a look at the likely key players in the weeks ahead.

Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble
Photos: Krisztian Bocsi and Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Angela Merkel, 63, once dubbed “the queen of the backrooms” by Der Spiegel, holds the cards despite her party’s election losses. Battle-hardened from governing with two different partners over the past 12 years, the chancellor says she enjoys banging heads together to get deals. Germany’s consensual politics (and the arrival of a populist party that wants to tear it down) plays to the former physicist’s strengths: she tends to solve problems step by step, doesn’t shy from experiments and sometimes surprises those who underestimate her with radical solutions.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, 75, has more negotiating experience than most, having helped broker the reunification of West and East Germany under Helmut Kohl in 1990. His 45 years in the Bundestag make him the nation’s longest-serving lawmaker and de-facto elder statesman, bolstered by 12 years as a loyal Merkel cabinet member, including the last eight as finance minister. Merkel, a Christian Democrat like him, is unlikely to pass up his political talents when her party names its coalition negotiators.

Clockwise from top left: Cem Oezdemir, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, Winfried Kretschmann and Juergen Trittin
Photos: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg, Paul Zinken/AP, Inga Kjer/Photothek, Florian Gaertner/Photothek

Cem Oezdemir, 51, the Greens’ co-chairman, heads the environmentalist party’s moderate, business-friendly wing. He invited Dieter Zetsche to speak at the party’s convention in 2016, where some delegates booed the Daimler CEO. Born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, Oezdemir stands for the party’s commitment to Europe and liberal refugee policies, which it broadly shares with Merkel.   

Katrin Goering-Eckardt, 51, represents Green fundamental values and co-led the party’s 2017 election campaign with Oezdemir, signaling the challenge of uniting the party’s ideological strands. A former head of Germany’s main Protestant synod, she cites waste recycling and global warming as major issues and says Merkel, a former environment minister, isn’t focused enough on climate change.  

Winfried Kretschmann, 69, is the face of Green Realpolitik. He’s governed the auto state of Baden-Wuerttemberg for six years (most recently with Merkel’s party), earning criticism from party activists for backing the industry and taking a conservative stance on migration. He was a player in talks with Merkel that almost led to a post-election coalition deal in 2013 and is expected to be at the table again this time.

Juergen Trittin, 63, a former Green environment minister, is the wild card in any attempt by Merkel to hook up with the Greens. Wolfgang Schaeuble blames Trittin for the last-minute collapse of a coalition deal with her bloc four years ago. In former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet, Trittin presided over Germany’s first program to phase out nuclear power. He’s been critical of a coalition that includes the pro-market Free Democrats.

Martin Schulz and Andrea Nahles
Photos: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Martin Schulz, 61, says he wants his Social Democrats to leave Merkel’s government and go into opposition after his defeat. As party leader, he has the power to reverse that decision if Merkel emerges empty-handed from talks with the Greens and Free Democrats. As former European Parliament president, he’s used to forging compromise, though he’d probably put any renewed coalition deal to a membership vote whose outcome is uncertain.

Andrea Nahles, 47, speaks for the Social Democratic left wing and is considered a possible contender for Schulz’s party leader job. Labor minister during Merkel’s latest term, she enjoys broad support among the rank-and-file and is versed in power struggles, including one that led the party’s then-chairman to resign in 2005. She’d be a combative voice on social and labor issues in coalition talks.

Horst Seehofer
Photographer: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Horst Seehofer, 68, is the voice of Bavaria in national politics, giving him clout as head of the regional sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Migration is his No. 1 issue, even more so after his CSU party lost votes to the populist Alternative for Germany in the national election. Seehofer called for a cap on asylum seekers, provoking a rift with Merkel that looks likely to complicate coalition talks in which the two parties are nominally allies. The son of a truck driver, who relaxes with a model-train set in his basement, has dominated the homeland of BMW and Siemens for almost a decade. 

Christian Lindner and Wolfgang Kubicki
Photos: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg and John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

Christian Lindner, 38, led the Free Democratic Party back into parliament after a four-year absence and says he’ll fight hard for its goals, notably to limit German financial risks related to the euro area. That may make Merkel’s coalition-building job more difficult. His leverage makes him “Germany's most powerful man,” according to Focus magazine.

Wolfgang Kubicki, 65, is the muscle behind the FDP’s revival. A lawyer who briefly held a parliamentary seat in the 1990s, he can loosen up an audience with folksy language and self-deprecating jokes about his drinking habits. More important, he helped forge a state government in tiny Schleswig-Holstein state this year with Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens, which may serve as a national model now.

— With assistance by Birgit Jennen, Rainer Buergin, Patrick Donahue, Arne Delfs, Hayley Warren, and Patricia Suzara

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