We hear a lot these days about a so-called Jamaica coalition between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the free market Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens being the only practical solution for the next German government. That may be true, yet it is anything but a last resort. A partnership of the CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens represents a promising new constellation, something never before tried at the national level, that could take Germany forward in terms of both political culture and policy.
During this year’s national election, many people complained about the lack political contrasts and debate in German politics. Given that both the conservatives and the Social Democrats lost votes on September 24, voters clearly did not want another grand coalition of Germany’s two biggest parties. A partnership between Merkel’s conservatives, who got the most votes, and the two smaller mainstream parties is a good reflection of the popular will.
It also reflects the fact the categories right and left have lost some of their meaning in German politics. A Jamaica coalition is neither right nor left, nor is it resolutely centrist in the same way that the grand coalitions of the past have been. Ideally, Jamaica will be a forum for coming up with new ideas that break down former political front lines.
It has long been a truism in German politics that the FDP and the Greens, traditionally political rivals, are too far apart to work together. It’s time to put that idea to rest. Economic vitality and environmental protection need not — and indeed cannot — be mutually exclusive. In the long term, environmental initiatives that hurt economic growth are doomed to failure, as are economic initiatives that damage the environment. And these are only two of the issues on which Germany would be well served by a novel convergence of perspectives.
The challenge for the FDP and the Greens is not just to promote their agendas so as not to alienate their core clienteles, but to work together to adapt their ideas in the interests of all. Populist critics often accuse established parties of catering only to narrow interests. Jamaica is an opportunity to show that such criticism is untrue.
And what of Merkel and the conservatives? On election night, the defeated SPD candidate Martin Schulz accused the chancellor of sucking up others’ ideas like a vacuum cleaner. He meant it as an insult, but actually the conservative incumbent’s greatest strength is her ability to put aside ideology and seek pragmatic solutions. Merkel is the perfect leader to preside over a laboratory of ideas involving these diverse parties.
Another advantage of Jamaica is that the role of the largest opposition party falls to the SPD. German democracy would benefit from a rejuvenation of the Social Democrats, who have lost some of their popular resonance after two grand coalitions under Merkel blurred the party’s identity. In any case, the far-right populist Alternative for Germany gets put in its proper place as a protest party for people consumed by resentment, many of whom have little understanding of and commitment to the give and take that is part of democratic government and a modern, heterogeneous society.
Things will be less smooth in a Jamaica-coalition government than they have been for the past four years, but in my view that’s an advantage. If the friction can be harnessed creatively to generate new ideas, the only realistic option for a German government after the 2017 national election will also turn out to be a pretty good one.