Green is the new black

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German chancellor Angela Merkel’s best bet for a stable third term could very well be a coalition with the Green Party, writes Kevin Lees.

Kevin Lees is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and the editor of the comparative politics blog

"Though German chancellor Angela Merkel spent the past four years steering the eurozone through a massive financial crisis, the key to Merkel's reelection may run not through Brussels but through Jamaica.

With just over two weeks until Germany's election, Merkel seems a lock to win after perhaps the most boring election campaign in Germany since reunification.  But while most commentators are focused on whether Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will be able to continue its current governing coalition with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) or alternatively be forced into a 'grand coalition' with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), a third possibility could provide Merkel and Germany an even more stable government – a government with Germany's Green Party.

While both Green and CDU leaders publicly downplay the possibility, there’s a strong argument that a CDU-FDP-Green coalition could be the strongest outcome of all.  

The possibility, long been referred to as a 'Jamaica' coalition because the colors of the three parties are those of the Jamaican flag — black (CDU), yellow (FDP) and green, has never happened in the Bundestag.  State-level examples aren’t promising – Germany’s first ‘Jamaica’ coalition in Saarland collapsed after just 26 months later, and a purely ‘black-green’ coalition in Hamburg didn’t fare much better between 2008 and 2010, ending after difficulties enacting education reforms.

But on September 23, when Merkel turns to coalition arithmetic, she will find that the two more traditional paths to a majority pose significant problems.

Polls show the Free Democrats should win around 5% of the vote, the threshold for winning seats through proportional representation, but if they squeak back into the Bundestag, they are unlikely to retain their current 93 seats.  

So even if Merkel can build a majority with the FDP, her governing margin will certainly shrink.  A tiny majority could pose problems for Merkel’s European agenda, given the rising level of euroscepticism within the CDU and especially its more conservative Bavaria-based ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Furthermore, a 'grand coalition' could be worse for Merkel.  The SPD's chancellor-candidate Peer Steinbrück may suffer the party’s worst postwar election result next month, following difficulties drawing contrasts with Merkel on Europe and economic policy after serving as finance minister in the prior ‘grand coalition.’ A CDU-SPD reunion would make government more acrimonious, with the SPD looking for the first opportunity to engineer early elections.

In contrast, there's never been a better time for Merkel to make a historic turn to the Greens.  With the Green Party polling almost 15%, it is likely to win enough seats that even a two-party ‘black-green’ coalition would provide Merkel a deep cushion of parliamentary support.

Merkel's 2011 decision to phase out nuclear energy and to boost solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy made her an immediate ally of the Greens on their top policy priority, clearing what had been the chief obstacle to a CDU-Green partnership.  Otherwise, the Greens have long been among the most pro-European of Germany's political parties, and former Green leader and foreign minister Joschka Fischer championed greater European federalism.

The biggest policy difference is the Green Party’s pledge to raise taxes, which Merkel’s CDU would oppose under any circumstances.  But the tax plan is controversial even within a Green Party that remains split between centrists and leftists, and Green minister-president Winfried Kretschmann  has governed pragmatically in Baden-Württemberg.

Over the past eight years, the radical 1960s-era Green leadership has given way to a more moderate leadership, personified by Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Cem Özdemir, a son of Turkish immigrants.  While a significant portion of the leftist Green base is anathema to partnership with Merkel, a younger, more pragmatic wing is more amenable. 

Polling data shows that the Green electorate isn't incredibly dissimilar to the upper-class, middle-aged CDU electorate — and nearly half of them already prefer Merkel for chancellor.

A CDU-Green union could give Merkel the best of both worlds — a more stable majority than the FDP and a more reliable coalition partner than the SPD. 

But it could also be an even better deal for the Greens, who could attract new centrist supporters from within the CDU, the FDP and the SPD.

It would also be good news for proponents of a more united eurozone. While the immediate crisis has receded, the next four years will be a crucial period for reform. With a stable German government, Merkel could pursue more coordinated fiscal and banking policy — and it's a CDU-Green coalition that could give Merkel the freedom to accomplish that goal."

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