Merkel heirs apparent look to three-way coalition
Chancellor warned against third coalition with Social Democrats in federal elections
German chancellor Angela Merkel attends a CDU campaign event in Cuxhaven, western Germany, on Tuesday. Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images
Six weeks before Germany’s federal election, chancellor Angela Merkel’s would-be political heirs have warned her against entering a third grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Instead, thirty- and fortysomethings in the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are calling for Dr Merkel to embrace, if necessary, a three-way coalition with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens.
Leading the charge is Daniel Günther, the CDU’s 44-year-old new wunderkind since he took back control of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein in May. He now heads a “Jamaica” coalition – a nod to the island’s black-yellow-green flag and the traditional colours of CDU, FDP and Green.
“Jamaica is an option to be taken seriously if it’s not enough with the FDP alone,” he told the Rheinische Post newspaper, saying the three-way option with the two smaller parties “unites ecology and economy and is an interesting project for the future”.
Although what works at state level doesn’t always transfer to federal level in Berlin, the current Bundestag has just four parties and the next could have six. That creates new challenges for majority-building and may make three-way coalitions the new normal.
Despite that, and a 15-point lead in polls, Dr Merkel is determined not to get ahead of herself ahead of the September 24th poll.
“There is no natural coalition,” she said. “Everyone fights their election battle for themselves.”
While CDU strategists see the charm of two smaller parties keeping each other in check, they fear that the federal FDP and Green leaders are too different to collaborate productively in coalition.
The campaign has sparked flashes of impatient ambition in the CDU’s next generation. Dr Merkel has no obvious heirs, having eliminated most of her generation personally, but Mr Günther brought himself into position as part of a “leadership reserve”.
“There will eventually be a time after Merkel, we don’t know when,” he said. “But we see a situation, unusual during a CDU chancellorship, a new team of state premiers who . . . offer wealth of potential for the post-Merkel era.”
Another ambitious CDU figure, 37-year-old deputy finance minister Jens Spahn, has earned a name for himself with hardline positions on prickly issues like migration, integration and, now, the Merkel succession.
“At the moment we see ever more clearly: the CDU is more than a person, we are a team,” he said, a swipe at a CDU campaign focus on the chancellor’s personality and character.
“I take it all in my stride,” he said of succession speculation. “You know, no one in 1998 expected that Angela Merkel would be chancellor in 2005.”
After letting their ambition show, both insisted they saw no alternative at present to what Mr Günther called a “successful chancellor who should rule for another four years”.
The two men are old enough to know that, on post-election coalition options or succeeding Angela Merkel, the old German adage holds: don’t divide up the bearskin before you’ve taken care of the bear.