Collapse of German political consensus may ripple out over Europe

Global Times | 作者: Cui Hongjian | 时间: 2018-01-08 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
Adjust font size: + -


Both the failure of a three-party coalition between German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens, and that the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has not agreed to form a government, have generated a political storm in Germany. 

SPD chief Martin Schulz said Friday that his party had agreed to kick off exploratory talks with Merkel's conservatives. This has shed light on the hopes of a new coalition government early next year.

The political uncertainty means Germany is encountering change after long-term political stability. The uncertainty is likely to spread, not only harming the political agendas in Europe, but also affecting its partners, including China.

For many years, political stability in Germany relied on a postwar political consensus and social trust. Based on that, for the last 12 years, Merkel and the CDU developed politics and united with the FDP or SPD to form a government. It not only guaranteed economic development, but also ensured Germany had a renowned reputation around the world.

But hidden behind the stability is the fact that the political consensus and trust shared by the parties gradually broke down. Merkel's decision to help the eurozone debt crisis angered the FDP, and her refugee policy caused wrangling between political parties and societal divisions.

The FDP withdrew from the coalition because of a lack of trust - it believes the CDU just used it to form a coalition government and it wants to distance itself from the similar policies adopted by other parties. 

Similarly, even though national political stability is more important than parties' own interests, the SPD still did not agree to a grand coalition. What Schulz really wants this time is for the SPD to find its own path to win popularity again as an opposition party without living under the "shadow" of political consensus represented by Merkel.

The current political uncertainty in Germany has pushed Europe into confusion. Some people compare the failure of a coalition government to Brexit and the election victory of US President Donald Trump. Though exaggerated, it will baffle countries that want to draw experience from Germany, such as Italy, which is going to hold elections next spring. If the German coalition talks cannot reach a positive result as soon as possible, there will be a spillover effect on Italy's elections. 

Eurozone and EU policies are waiting for German reactions and decisions, and some processes have been halted. Although the German government can fulfill its duty now, it lacks legality and cannot withstand the legal and political consequences subsequent to decision-making. Hence it cannot make policies or big decisions.

French President Emmanuel Macron is advocating eurozone reforms, and he will be anxious because his plans need support from Germany. Of course, British Prime Minister Theresa May will also be on edge as Germany has the biggest say in the economic negotiations over Brexit. Smooth negotiations with the EU will be more difficult without German help.

Lately, the relationship between China and Germany has also experienced big challenges with Germany dealing with bilateral relations improperly. The political uncertainty is preventing the two from increasing trust and cooperation. Although there will be a German government eventually, its vulnerability can be foreseen and bilateral cooperation may not be at the forefront of the China-Europe relationship. 

But we also can find some reasons to be optimistic about bilateral relations in the future. This political change in Germany will extend to the economic and diplomatic fields, and the new government will reconsider its thoughts about the world and China through debates about its policies this time.



Source: Global Times, December 11, 2017.




The author is director of the Department of European Studies, China Institute of International Studies.