|Merkel gives her New Year's address - Michael Tantussi|
Before I get into the details of the coalition talks, I think it is important to bring back the election results to understand Merkel's problem. The CDU won 246 seats in 2017, down from 311 in 2013. The Social Democratic Party declined from 193 to 153. This didn't bode well for Germany's political establishment. The big winners were the more ideological political parties, particularly on the right. The nationalist Alternative for Germany took third place, with 94 seats. The pro-business Free Democrats, after missing the threshold to enter the Bundestag last time, got 80 seats. The two major political parties on the left made gains as well. The Left won 69 seats (up from 64) and the Greens won 67 (up from 63).
In my post on results of the German election, I brought up what was being called the "Jamaica Coalition" by political commentators. The plan was for Merkel to unite her CDU (their color is black), the FDP (yellow), and the Greens (self-explanatory) together. The coalition had the same colors of the Jamaican flag. Merkel's dilemma was that she had to unite left-wing environmentalists with right-wing free marketeers. The migration debate was heated during the talks, with the FDP demanding a limit of 200,000 on the number of refugees who could enter the country and the Greens desiring something more flexible. Sure enough, the coalition talks fell apart when FDP leader Christian Lindner walked out. Getting to a majority of seats was not possible with the Green Party alone.
That left the Social Democrats, led by Martin Schulz. Following his disappointing loss, Schulz announced there would be no coalition with the CDU. Then the coalition talks came and he soon softened his tone. The SPD was full of infighting over whether to make a deal with the CDU or not. Several party members urged him to accept a grand coalition. At last, a deal was made on February 8. Merkel's strongest concession was giving the SPD the finance ministry. Merkel remained chancellor, but what of Schulz?
On February 13, the man who many thought could turn the Social Democrats around resigned from his position as party leader. He was leader for less than a year. In many ways, he had dug his own grave. After he became leader, the Social Democrats enjoyed a bump in the polls, running neck-and-neck with the CDU. As time went on, flaws in Schulz started to reveal. A member of the European Parliament, he was not used to domestic politics and tried the same old electoral strategy used by previous SPD leaders. It didn't work, which was one nail in his coffin. The sheer loss of his party was another. The final nail was the coalition reversal. Schulz had too many flaws and he paid the ultimate price.
The Social Democratic Party is now led by Olaf Scholz, who is the finance minister and was previously the mayor of Hamburg. He is an interim and will only serve as leader until April 22.
As for Merkel, it is probably for the best if she resigns in a few years. The decline in support for the CDU should be a wake up call for her. The migration issue is eating away at her popularity. What's most interesting about this issue is how many times Merkel changed her position on it. Back in 2015, the chancellor told a young Palestinian refugee that her parents could not enter the country because Germany did not have the ability to take care of everyone. The girl was brought to tears, but this was a logical approach to a difficult issue.
As the Syrian Civil War intensified, Merkel suddenly had a change of heart. She opened the doors to over 1 million refugees, who fled from the Middle East to Europe. Germany wasn't footing the bill either. The refugees spread out across Europe, angering the British and many eastern Europeans. The refugee crisis directly contributed to Brexit. Populist movements on the left and right became stronger. Merkel had to agree to a refugee cap in order to avoid a mass exodus of conservative voters from her party to the FDP and the AfD.
The consequences have been great. A study out of Zurich University found that police in the state of Lower Saxony dealt with a 10.4 percent increase in reported crimes in 2015 and 2016. More than 90 percent of the increase was from migrants. The age of the migrants was a contributing factor. Men between the ages of 14 and 30 were more likely to commit crimes and Lower Saxony's largest age bracket came from this group.
Four years ago, Merkel seemed to be indestructible, but the migration crisis and the formation of a lackluster government has put her in a difficult position. Now she has been embracing migration caps and has realized that many Germans were opposed to the decision of opening borders to everyone. Under Merkel, Germany has enjoyed a strong economic boom, but it is now suffering from a major demographic crisis. For the good of her country and her party, it is best for Merkel step aside in the coming years.