Scholz optimistic ahead of Germany’s ‘traffic light’ coalition talks

SPD leader confident a deal with the Greens and FDP will see him become the next chancellor

Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Olaf Scholz has insisted he will be the country’s next chancellor, opening exploratory talks on Sunday for a so-called “traffic light coalition” with two strong-willed partners: the Green Party and liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Mr Scholz said the ballot box boost for these three parties a week ago meant the public wanted “these three to make things happen and form a government with each other” – with strong leadership from him and the SPD.

“The SPD and I ran together and many who gave the SPD their vote expressed a wish that I will be the next chancellor,” said Mr Scholz ahead of talks with the FDP.

His ideal “progressive government” will marry the SPD’s renewed focus on socially justice with ambitious Green climate protection measures and a business-friendly FDP pushing industrial renewal through innovation.


“I am optimistic that a traffic-light coalition can succeed,” said Mr Scholz.

His insistent optimism carries a light shadow of doubt.

Though the SPD won last Sunday’s federal election with 25.7 per cent, its ambitions to lead Germany hinge on a series of unknowns. His new untested, more left-leaning SPD parliamentary party will decide on any final deal with two ambitious coalition partners who have more political options than Mr Scholz.

Senior SPD figures insist their inner-party harmony will linger into coalition talks and government.

“We will go strong and as one in the direction of the traffic light and we will succeed,” said Mr Carsten Schneider, a senior SPD figure.

While most signs point to the SPD’s preferred three-way “traffic light” option, some influential Greens and many in the FDP want serious talks with the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The party of departing Chancellor Angela Merkel had a disastrous election, finishing in second place on 24.1 per cent with some 775,000 fewer votes than the SPD.

Against the odds and internal fury, however, CDU leader Armin Laschet has stood his ground and, on Sunday evening, met with the FDP after Mr Scholz.

Some Greens and FDP officials calculate that this CDU, desperate for a fifth term, will be ready to make more key concessions that the SPD. At the very least, the Greens and FDP plan to use the prospect of a CDU-led “Jamaica” coalition as a pressure point in talks with the Scholz side.

More concessions

The SPD is pushing for swift talks, to avoid months of political limbo and kill off other options, but some analysts say this overlooks a key lesson of last Sunday’s vote.

For political scientist Michael Bechtel, the election ended post-war Germany’s “bipolar” political system where talks, coalitions and even power itself were oriented around Germany’s two larger parties, the CDU and SPD.

“That era is over, the shift has changed the negotiating strength of the parties and the dynamics of coalitions negotiations,” said Prof Bechtel, associate professor of political science at Washington University, St Louis.

“The SPD (but also the CDU) have a more difficult situation in one way: the smaller parties can now demand more concessions and political posts.”

In a telling change, the first post-election talks took place between FDP and Green leaders last week.

Their election results added together make them the largest bloc in the new parliament if, that is, they can bridge ideological gulfs on finance policy and green measures.

Looking for what unites rather than divides them, the two parties are drafting a plan that pools their ideas to reduce the bureaucratic burden, boost digitalisation efforts and hand tax breaks to innovative and green-thinking firms.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin