• Stephan Raab

Green Light for the Traffic Light Coalition in Germany

Now it is official, an old period will come to an end, meanwhile a new period is about to start. After having served Germany for more than 15-year, chancellor Angela Merkel will resign, leaving a tremendous heritage behind, as many more challenges to be dealt with.

Every crisis is the start of something new

Starting with the basic results of the federal elections on the 26th of September 2021, German voters send a clear message to the political system, voting for change. This message becomes most obvious by looking at the CDU/CSU and their strong defeat. Since 2005 the Union, as this coalition of the German Christian Democrats and their associated branch CSU, have provided the chancellor, or to be more precise, have relied heavily on the pragmatism of Angela Merkel.

However, looking back at the tremendous challenges and crisis Germany has and is facing due to the pandemic, the main effect was seen on many young voters voting for the Greens and the Liberals. According to the German political observers, those parties stand for something new, for some kind of wind of change, taking the needs, hopes and fears of the younger generation into mind. Especially young people and first-time voters have experienced first-hand what crippling digital infrastructure, certain lack of opportunities such as job perspectives, social life during the pandemic or an ever more outdated education system. Besides that, young people are aware of the brunt of climate change imposed upon them. Furthermore, this generation has the feeling of not being heard with their worries and ideas.

Nevertheless, soon this unprecedented coalition will face the harsh realities of a Germany that for too long has relied on the past. In the meanwhile, the whole world around has started to change. As such there are four central points the traffic coalition will have to focus on during the next 4 years.

Climate Change and Green Deal

Obviously, the pandemic still holds a strong grip on Germany, however, there is another crisis, which seems to have stepped back a little bit into the background. Reminding the German president of the European Commission, the Green Deal as a transformation towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly society will be a core topic, a point to be constantly promoted by the Greens. Although all parties agree on the importance of climate protection, according to their tenets, putting those ideals into practice might be a long-lasting stress test for this coalition.

The Greens, having the ecological aspect in their blood and name, might have to compromise their eager goals for sustainable transition, as the Liberals might put more emphasis on innovation than on regulation. Eventually, the Social Democrats might consider the social impacts of this transition, contributing to this triangle of conflict and consensus-searching.

Once the former Secretary for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier stated that he never gives phone calls from his car, as he feels embarrassed travelling through many dead zones. Ding the pandemic, the digital retard status of Germany becomes painfully visible. Starting from the schools, where often there were not enough devices available, up to a very unstable Internet connection, the lack of digital infrastructure is a neck-breaking point for Germany. In addition, there was a disparity in the methods to collect infection rates amongst local administrations, an aspect that left administrative chaos in times of urgency. For many years, a debate about high-speed Internet access for everybody has kept on talking, yet the actions are progressing rather slowly. Therefore, relying still very much on the old industrial basis, the new coalition will have to advance digital policy to catch up with its competitors in Europe and worldwide.

Germany's Role in the World

Conversely to what the world may think about Germany's role, the dramatic pictures of Afghanistan pointing out US soldiers ensuring the safe evacuation of German troops will require considerable time to be forgotten. Considering the failure of the German mission, having spent more than 20 years in the country, reveals the need for Germany to become conscious about finding its own global strategy. Compared to its economic status, often boasting themselves as an export world champion, this does not seem to correspond to the political responsibility of Germany, still searching to find its own role in the new global order. Bearing in mind for instance the most imminent international sphere, the European Union, Chancellor Merkel managed to settle many conflicts, keeping Germany out of many crises. Nevertheless, considering the proposals made by Macron from France, there was also some kind of lack of own impulses. Therefore, the new coalition, taking a German president of Commission into mind, a new incentive, and new impulses for the future direction of the European Integration process will be needed, bringing the diverging directions back together.

Furthermore, on the global scale, transatlantic relations have to be re-established, meanwhile not relying any longer solely on the power of the United States of America. Reminding the tense times of the Trump era, it became clear that the European Union has to become more self-reliant. Nevertheless, awarding Merkel with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is a strong sign for the commitment on both sides of the Atlantic. Towards the East, there will be new challenges taking into account the gas pipeline North Stream 2. Besides that, new actors such as China will claim a new kind of diplomacy, including Asia more. Eventually, new solutions will be needed to deal with the migration coming from Africa. Looking back, chancellor Angela Merkel leaves a tremendous heritage behind. Thinking about the crisis in Ukraine or the strained relations with Russia, Merkel managed to serve as a reliable spokesperson even on very shaky ground. Especially the particular relation between the Russian president Wladimir Putin, speaking German from his time in Dresden, and Angela Merkel, speaking Russian due to her past from the GDR, is well known. Representing a modest leader, serving its country on the international platform, will surely be missed, when dealing with the changing patterns and crisis of a post-Covid world.

Unity besides Controversy

Currently, Germany is going through a phase of change in a political but even more societal sense. The Covid pandemic has revealed the German lack of competences in many areas, showing that the country has to overcome its inclination for the status quo. More than anything else, this though times have proven that Germany is highly integrated into the global world. On the one side, new questions arise from that, on the other side, new answers are required. Over quite a long period, shaping a whole generation of young people, only knowing Merkel as leader of Germany, had managed to integrate many parts of the society. However, this integrative power has been fading during the last years, as most strongly during the last months of her term. For a long time, the rather derogatory term “Mutti”, as a nickname for Merkel, expressed the strong commitment of Merkel to caring about Germany. The message was rather simple with Merkel guaranteeing the status quo. In other words, during turbulent times, German people could rely on her, but at some point the lacking of a clear vision for the future of the country, facing several crises in a row, such as the financial crisis of 2008-09, the migration crisis, or currently, the pandemic, seemed that Merkel with her rather sober, calculating, scientific approach could no longer transmit the feeling of having answers to what was actually happening. Having started with lots of trust, it seems many Germans are thankful for Merkel's service, yet, they have become aware that a more proactive role will be needed in the future.

Foremost the People's Party will be interesting to observe. Having relied mostly on the bonus of Merkel, now, after a very long time, this party has to find its role in the opposition. Recent trends reveal that the integrative power of the Union, integrating people from different political backgrounds has probably gone. The Union as “Volkspartei” was known for integrating a conservative, a liberal and a social wing under one common roof. Nowadays, looking at a strengthened right-wing within the party opens the question whether and how this party will renew, either going more social, more liberal, more conservative or something absolutely new, reinventing itself despite representing the status quo. Consequently, the perspective will be to see whether the Union, still standing as the biggest faction in the parliament, will recover from its defeat, getting aware that the times of Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel in the early 2000 have come to an end. The quandary of this faction will be how to shape change, while sticking to its conservative roots, the party was founded upon.

Coalition after Covid

Concluding the challenges for the traffic light coalition are tremendous, requiring braveness and visionary thinking. There might be many ways, yet, probably the most essential task for the new government will lie in healing the wounds that the pandemic has torn into society. Essentially whatever the future might look like, a central aspect of the policy has to be put on reconciliation, bringing the various voices, opposing ideas back to the democratic discourse.

At the German Reichstag there is a slogan stating: “ To the German People”. Looking back through 16 years will also mean looking forward for the German People for a new future.

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