Merkel Facing "Night Of The Long Knives" On Coalition Talks

In October, Merkel won what was dubbed as the “nightmare victory” in the German elections. The weaker expected showing from the CDU/CSU forced her into complicated coalition negotiations with the FPD and the Greens. This process is coming to a head due to tomorrow’s self-imposed deadline to find enough common ground to press forward with the alliance. This alliance is the so-called “Jamaica” coalition since the colours of the parties mirror Jamaica’s flag. As Reuters reports.

Talks on forming a new German coalition government “can work”, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday ahead of a long night of negotiations at which she must forge a three-way alliance or risk seeing her 12-year stint in power come to an end.

 

Merkel, 63, is trying to form an unlikely alliance between her conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the ecologist Greens - a combination untested at national level - to allow her to govern for a fourth term as chancellor. She wants exploratory talks on forming the coalition to end on Thursday so the would-be allies can move on to formal negotiations.

Unfortunately for Merkel, the three parties have not been able to agree on high-profile and emotive issues, immigration, EU finances and carbon emissions. On the constructive side, however, there is a political incentive to reach agreement. All three are loathe to allow the talks to fail as they fear fresh elections would further bolster the AfD, as Reuters notes.

Failure to clinch a deal could lead to new elections - a scenario none of the negotiating parties wants for fear the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) could make further gains after surging into parliament in the Sept. 24 national vote. AfD co-leader Alice Weidel criticised the three-way coalition talks for failing to produce results, telling daily Die Welt:

 

“If the (conservative) Union, FDP and Greens don’t reach an agreement soon, there should be new elections.” Guenther Oettinger, a Merkel ally and the EU’s budget commissioner, told a business conference in Berlin that failure to reach a deal would strengthen far-right populism. “That would hurt us in Europe,” he said.

Not only would failure to form the Jamaica coalition hurt Germany’s presence in Europe, it would seriously damage Merkel’s leadership position. As the German newspaper, Bild, put it.

“A failure of Jamaica would be her failure.”

According to Reuters, some members of the CDU/CSU are flagging the potential for the talks to fail.

“I don’t know if we can resolve all the discrepancies, all the disagreements,” said Joachim Herrmann, a senior member of the CSU, sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

 

Jens Spahn, a senior CDU member, told the Passauer Neue Presse: “There won’t be a coalition at any price.”

 

Negotiators are holding several rounds of talks in different formats before they convene in the evening for what German media are calling “the night of long knives”. Merkel is a skilled negotiator, renowned at European Union summits for building pressure on her negotiating partners and playing on their fatigue.

When pressed, Merkel was philosophical on prospects for an agreement.

”We have very, very different positions,“ Merkel told reporters. ”If it works - I think it can work - there can be a positive result at the end of today’s negotiations. But this is a difficult task. “I expect the negotiations will go on for hours ... I am ready to make my contribution,” she added. Merkel is under pressure from her own conservative bloc, in particular her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), not to compromise too much to secure a coalition deal - in particular on the touchstone topic of immigration. At stake is a plan by Merkel’s conservative bloc to cap the number of people Germany will accept per year on humanitarian grounds at 200,000 - a limit the environmentalist Greens reject.

Merkel is known for her endurance when it comes to negotiating, especially in matters relating to the Eurozone. However, her potential coalition partners will no doubt be on guard to allowing fatigue to weaken their bargaining positions. The German media is dubbing the talks “the night of the long knives”, although there will be several rounds of negotiations before the final phase this evening.

It’s still not all over if the “night of the long knives” goes well for Merkel, as Reuters highlights, since   underlings in other parties will need to ratify any agreement.

Even if negotiators agree a deal after Thursday’s talks, it must still pass muster with lower-ranking party officials. A key test will be a Greens conference on Nov. 25, when the party’s rank-and-file will examine any coalition pact.

Of course, tomorrow’s deadline is self-imposed, so it could be pushed, although some of Merkel’s allies are sceptical.

Despite the challenges facing negotiators, some have no appetite to extend the exploratory talks in the event of no deal overnight. If, after three weeks of negotiations, we can’t say we can go into a stable governing alliance with each other, then three more days aren’t going to help,” said Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU premier in the western state of Saarland.

It’s not exactly “Jamaica or bust” for Merkel but, as Bloomberg explains, the alternatives are unpalatable for both her and the German public who haven’t experienced this situation for decades.

Should the talks fail, Merkel’s options will narrow. The Social Democrats, with whom she governed since 2013, say they aren’t interested in another alliance with her after the party fell to its worst electoral defeat since World War II. That would leave Merkel with two scenarios that postwar Germany hasn’t yet seen: a minority government or an election repeat.