Bickering among Berlin coalition partners leaves public unimpressed

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD party has slumped in polls and is now neck-and-neck with Germany’s far-right AfD

As Berlin’s bickering traffic-light coalition nears the midpoint of its term, just one in five Germans is impressed with its work.

Two years after election victory saw Olaf Scholz take the chancellery, his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has slumped to 18 per cent support – neck-and-neck in polls with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

The ARD public television poll set alarm bells ringing across Berlin on Friday – not just on the future prospects of the three-way coalition, but on the prospect of political extremism going mainstream.

As politicians of all hues scrambled to find blame elsewhere in advance of the summer holidays, the coalition’s report card left nowhere to hide.


Some 84 per cent say Mr Scholz is failing to steer his coalition properly while 83 per cent say the three-way coalition takes too long to make decisions. Just one-third of voters think that, with this coalition, their country is in good hands.

When the SPD and Greens – coalition partners from 1998 to 2005 – agreed to an untested coalition with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in 2021, they promised voters socially just and progressive green politics.

No one would be left behind as Germany embraced a climate transformation and a second industrial revolution which – so it was hoped – could become a model to sell to other countries.

The war in Ukraine thwarted those ambitions, dragging the coalition well beyond its comfort zone on military support and fiscal spending.

As the war becomes part of a new normality in Europe, however, mutual mistrust prevails on a personal and political level in Berlin.

Typical for the new government, what should have been a short political row, over subsidies for CO2-neutral heating systems, has turned into a month-long battle royal. This has laid plain ideological differences over how big or small a role the state should play in nudging – or pushing – people towards climate protection measures.

The Green-backed proposal – obliging homeowners to replace gas and oil heating systems with greener alternatives – has been blocked by the market-oriented FDP as unaffordable parentalism. Citizens don’t understand the details but fear the plan’s cost. After weeks of bickering, analysts suggest the largely silent chancellor allowed his coalition look like government and opposition in one.

“The three-way coalition is a real problem because all the decisions fall two against one,” said Prof Klaus Schubert of the University of Münster. “The problems are compounded by the chancellor’s communication problem – for me he is completely unintelligible.”

The Friday poll confirmed the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), down one point to 29 per cent, as still the country’s largest party.

Senior CDU politician Norbert Röttgen called the poll parity between the SPD and AfD a “disaster” for democracy.

“But the CDU should also ask itself self-critically why we are not profiting from such a dissatisfaction with the government,” he said.

While AfD leaders said their two-point support rise to a record high in the Friday poll was part of a “political shift” in their favour, just a third of AfD supporters polled are convinced by its political programme. Some 67 per cent of those polled say they are motivated by disappointment with other parties.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin