Angela Merkel’s rocky road to Jamaica ends with a bump

The chancellor looks jaded from coalition talks and still has no clear path to power

Merkel’s mistrust of Christian Lindner, above, as a gifted speaker with a populist streak only grew as the weeks passed. Photograph: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Merkel’s mistrust of Christian Lindner, above, as a gifted speaker with a populist streak only grew as the weeks passed. Photograph: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

 

Just before midnight, Angela Merkel’s golden carriage back to power turned into a giant pumpkin and rolled out of reach.

With no immediate mode of transport to a fourth political term, the German leader emerged looking more tired than at any time in her 12 years in office.

The 63-year-old chancellor has iron will and impeccable patience, and is able to sit through lengthy euro crisis summits after pulling all-nighters with Russia on the Ukraine crisis.

But it all caught up with her as Sunday turned to Monday in Berlin, her face hanging and her eyelids falling shut with exhaustion over glassy eyes.

Angela Merkel is down, but is she out?

After her electoral drubbing, Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had no obvious path back to power than to take a political maiden voyage to Jamaica. It was an arduous trip appeasing her outspoken Bavarian allies, the CSU, and refereeing squabbles between the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the centre-right Greens on climate and immigration policy.

In the end the journey to Jamaica proved longer and more treacherous than the rocky road to Dublin. Things came to a dramatic halt when the FDP pulled the emergency brake and disembarked.

Political stroke

FDP leader Christian Lindner’s printed statement on Sunday night, and his cheery auf Wiedersehen to the press, left little doubt that the ambitious 38-year-old was, at the very least, playing a double game.

That forced the liberal negotiators out of bed early on Monday, spinning furiously against a growing consensus that their departure was a well-planned political stroke.

FDP negotiator Volker Wissing blamed Merkel for postponing rather than tackling points of disagreement. “The talks were chaotic from the start, they weren’t structured or organised,” he said.

But negotiators from all other camps accuse the FDP of being ill-prepared and increasingly distant from their long-time political allies, the CDU.

Merkel’s mistrust of Lindner, as a gifted speaker with a populist streak, only grew as the weeks passed and soon she was seen more regularly sharing wine and discussing common ground with the Greens.

Climate and energy

On the first big point of dispute – climate and energy – the Greens swallowed several compromises, but on the second – immigration – blocked plans to refuse family reunions in Germany for recognised refugees.

As Sunday’s deadline loomed, and with it a possible migration compromise, the FDP had already withdrawn for closed-door talks and their eventual walk-out.

Speculation is growing in Berlin that, after returning his party to the Bundestag with a highly personalised campaign around him, the FDP leader is pushing a hard line on refugees to chase the political ground between the CDU/CSU and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland.

His possible model: Viennese conservative leader Sebastian Kurz, who won a general election a week after the German poll with a campaign that married slick presentation and hard-right politics.

As Green coleader Cem özdemir noted on Monday: “In the last while I have the feeling the FDP is looking a little too much in the direction of Austria.”

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