Germany Can Do Better Than Gridlock
It would be an exaggeration to say that the future of Europe hinges on the outcome of talks to form a coalition government in Germany. But not by much.
The collapse of those talks has led Chancellor Angela Merkel to call for new elections, though it’s not her decision to make. A more constructive approach would be for Merkel’s former coalition partner, the Social Democrats, to join negotiations.
After suffering a historic defeat in last September’s elections, the SPD decided to go into opposition. The party is mistaking widespread discontent with the status quo, which the election certainly validated, for popular support for gridlock. That’s what the SPD is inviting by refusing coalition talks.
Germany’s other options are far from optimal. A minority government could work if Merkel’s Christian Democrats joined with the Greens, for example, and sought support from other parties on an ad-hoc basis. But a weak and fractious government would present an irresistible opportunity for mischief-making for the far-right AfD. New elections, meanwhile, would be time-consuming, costly and probably about as decisive as last fall’s vote.
Admittedly, convincing SPD leader Martin Schulz to give coalition government another try is a tall order. The party is going through something of an identity crisis, and has consistently opposed joining Merkel’s government since September. And no doubt a new coalition with two weakened mainstream parties would be difficult.
But it would be worth trying to resuscitate a proven formula for stability before forming a minority government or scheduling another vote. And given that the SPD’s participation would forestall either of those possibilities, the party might find itself with more influence than it had in previous governments.
Germany’s political crisis pales in comparison to the upheavals that the U.K. and U.S. are experiencing. And its political and economic strength is such that it can withstand a period of instability. Addressing the euro zone’s many fiscal and other policy challenges, however, will require the steady and engaged leadership of the continent’s largest country.
--Editors: Therese Raphael, Michael Newman.
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