Immigration policy will be key to Merkel forming new coalition
IT COULD take until next year for Angela Merkel to form a new government following the German elections, one of her closest advisers said this week.
In Germany, election winners rarely get time to celebrate. That is when the hard work of putting together a coalition begins – and it is more difficult than usual for Mrs Merkel this year, after a bruising result saw her party lose 65 seats and its old coalition partner.
“Last time, we just made it by Christmas. I’d like to manage that again this time, but it’s the detail that matters, not the date,” said Peter Altmaier, Mrs Merkel’s chancellery minister and one of her most trusted fixers.
Immigration and Mrs Merkel’s controversial refugee policy are key issues in the negotiations, with her own Bavarian sister party demanding changes.
In a sign Mrs Merkel expects protracted negotiations, she is expected to name Mr Altmaier as temporary finance minister to replace Wolfgang Schäuble, who will become speaker.
But Mr Altmaier will not stay for the long term. Mr Schäuble is only stepping down so Mrs Merkel can offer the finance ministry to a coalition partner.
That her Christian Democrat party (CDU) has to give up the second most powerful post in government is indication enough of how the arithmetic has changed for Mrs Merkel. But despite the tough negotiations, there are signs it may not be so difficult for Mrs Merkel to put together a government.
A three-way coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens is her only realistic option, after her ex-partners the Social Democrats (SPD) announced they will go into opposition.
But she may not be as boxed in as she seems. A two-way alliance with one of the FDP or the Greens was believed to be Mrs Merkel’s preferred option before the election.
In a three-way coalition, she will be able to play the pro-business FDP and the centre-left Greens off against each other, and occupy her favoured centre ground. Her problem is getting the two
parties, which are poles apart, to work together. There were hopeful signs on that front this week when the Rheinische Post newspaper published what it said were leaked details of secret talks between the FDP and the Greens on dividing up the ministries between them.
The report said the FDP wants the finance, justice and education minis-
tries, while the Greens want the eign and environment ministries.
That could leave Mrs Merkel with too few big ministries for her own party, but would be a sign the two smaller parties can work together. Before Mrs Merkel can start talks, however, she needs to get her own house in order. The Christian Social Union
(CSU), her Bavarian sister party, is upset after suffering a disastrous election.
Horst Seehofer, its leader, has made it clear he believes Mrs Merkel’s refugee policy is the problem.
He is demanding an upper limit on the number of asylum seekers allowed in each year as the price of his party’s support – something Mrs Merkel has resisted. But even here she has some room to manoeuvre – thanks to her potential new partners the Greens who fiercely oppose any upper limit and the FDP are putting forward an alternative proposal that could be help a compromise.
The FDP wants a new immigration policy to distinguish between political refugees fleeing persecution, those fleeing wars who would be allowed to stay only on a temporary basis, and economic migrants, for whom it wants a Canadian-style points system.
If Mr Seehofer digs his heels in, Mrs Merkel still has the “nuclear option” of threatening to run CDU candidates against the CSU in Bavarian regional elections next year, which could split the vote and rob the CSU of its absolute majority in the Bavarian parliament.
The biggest danger to Mrs Merkel appears to be from within her own party. Jens Spahn, junior minister in the finance ministry, touted as a possible successor, was close to rebellion in a party committee meeting this week, when he challenged Mrs Merkel’s nomination for Volker Kauder to remain the CDU’s parliamentary leader.
“For how long?” Mr Spahn, 37, asked but he was publicly slapped down by Mr Schäuble.
Carsten Linnemann, the leader of the CDU’s pro-business wing, is another potential successor.
Angela Merkel has to get pro-business FDP and centre-left Greens to work together