Germany. Greens in driver’s seat: What are chances for a ‘traffic light’ coalition?

A smiling Green leader Annalena Baerbock knows she is in a good place. Her party finished third in the recent German elections, won 118 seats in the Bundestag and will be part of the governing coalition in Berlin. 

This is new territory for the Greens who started out as a fringe environmental party nearly 40 years ago. They’ve come a long way and now are reaping the reward for their political hard work.

Excerpted from Deutsche Welle 10.7.2021

In Germany, the political pendulum has swung toward a “traffic light coalition” — named for the colors of the parties involved: red for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), yellow for the FDP, and green for the environmentalist Greens.

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Lindner (left), the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock (center) and Olaf Scholz  consider ways to forge a three-way coalition

But there are fundamental differences in the parties’ platforms. The FDP is against the SPD and Greens’ plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest to deal with the pandemic and the resulting national debt. At first glance, the liberals appear also at odds with their climate policy, which envisions a stronger government hand. The FDP wants market-driven solutions to the climate crisis.

It’s on EU, foreign and security policy that the three parties seem to be most aligned.

The potential coalition members agree on maintaining a strong partnership with the United States and NATO, including when it comes to confronting China, Russia and Iran. Differences remain over certain points, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

Just how viable the three-way coalition could be is what the parties want to clarify from the start of their exploratory talks together.

FDP leader Christian Lindner has expressed the most skepticism and made it no secret that his party is more naturally aligned with the conservatives. However, he has said he is open to the possibility of a traffic light coalition. In pre-exploratory talks with the Greens, he seems to have made peace with his opponents, which he has long considered a “prohibition party.”

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Greens on German election night – 9.26.2021

Talks have moved from bilateral to trilateral, bringing the SPD — and chancellor hopeful Olaf Scholz — on board. All eyes, including abroad, are on the struggle to put together Germany’s first government without Merkel for the first time in nearly 16 years.

“From the perspective of European partners, Scholz presents a certain amount of continuity for the post-Merkel era and, with it, stability and reliability,” Antonios Souris, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, told DW.

Given the parties’ pro-EU bent, Souris said, any modernization program for Germany could have a ripple effect across Europe.

Exploratory talks are just the first step toward negotiations. But there is precedent for a traffic light coalition at the state level, something Lindner’s party colleague, Volker Wissing, knows well. Until May, he was the economy minister for the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

The traffic light arrangement there has worked so well under the leadership of the SPD’s Malu Dreyer, that it was continued following state elections earlier this year. Wissing’s experience in a traffic light, and his involvement now in negotiations at the federal level, could give talks a boost of confidence, Souris said.

Dreyer sees herself as a moderator within a governing team, Souris said, which possibly sets a good example for the federal level. “Olaf Scholz will follow her style quite closely,” he said.

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Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and Green leader Annalena Baerbock

The history of the traffic light is not positive everywhere. The city-state of Bremen, in northern Germany, had the first-ever such coalition — in 1991. The alliance broke down over a disagreement between the FDP and Greens regarding conservation efforts vs industrial development.

So far, the conditions seem right for the three to find a way to work together. However, differences remain, which could lead to a “very thick coalition agreement with many details spelled out,” he added.