Thu Jul 15th, 2010 at 07:33:24 AM EST
Germany's most populous state, Northrhine-Westphalia (NRW) held regional elections in May. Given that federal Germany's upper house consists of representatives of the state governments, and state governments consisting of right-of-centre parties only (that is, the parties of the federal government coalition) had a slim majority, the election had national significance. And given that the election happened at the time of the Greek crisis, and Chancellor Merkel was recklessly electioneering, the election also had EU-wide significance (also see Merkel Above All and the update The wild hog and the cucumber troops).
The election result was a big defeat for NRW's incumbent CDU-FDP coalition, but finding a government majority proved difficult in the new five-party arithmetic. At the end of a two-month-long coalition poker, something with scant history in Germany but more history elsewhere (f.e. New Zealand, Canada) emerged yesterday: a minority government. A centre-left coalition will govern one seat short of majority, and thereby enable the left to block the federal government's 'reforms' in the federal upper house of parliament.
Until yesterday, all politically possible combinations were in discussion. First I list the five parties for reference, with color codes and seats won in the May election in NRW:
- Christian Democrats (CDU), black: 67
- Social Democrats (SPD), red: 67
- Greens, green: 23
- Free Democrats (FDP, neoliberals), yellow: 13
- Left Party (hard left), also red: 11
So, let's combine them:
- The outgoing government was, like the federal government, a "black-yellow" coalition (CDU+FDP).
- With Greens rising and FDP dropping in the polls prior to the election, the media expected an across-the-divides "black-green" coalition (CDU+Greens).
- The declared wish of the main opposition party was for a "red-green" coalition (SPD+Greens). Alas, it fell short of majority by one seat.
- With significant pressure from part of the base, NRW SPD leader Hannelore Kraft first tried talks towards the left-of-centre version, "red-red-green" (SPD+Left Party+Greens). But that seems to have been an alibi operation, because the end with a declaration that the NRW Left Party is unfit for government came after just a few hours of talks.
- Next came talks between the two main parties about a "Grand Coalition" (CDU+SPD). However, while the CDU ended up level on seats with the SPD (an even stronger fall than in pre-election polls), it got a bit more votes (beating exit polls), and used that as basis to insist on giving (keeping) the prime minister.
- By the time the above talks failed, the FDP backed off from previous ultimatums towards the left-wing parties, and the next attempt was for a tripartite centrist option: the "traffic lights coalition" (SPD+FDP+Greens). However, differences were just too great.
- In the meantime, occasionally the CDU also tried to court the Greens for the other centrist version, a "Jamaica coalition" (CDU+FDP+Greens), but the Greens showed no willingness for such a suicide.
After playing all the bad cards, the SPD decided for an option even more unconventional that what emerged in the end: "government from opposition". That is, they would have left the elected-off government in office as caretaker government, but forced their hand with parliamentary votes.
This, however, would not have changed majorities in the federal upper house, and that ahead of crucial votes on energy and the austerity package. For this reason, the federal SPD leaders were angered -- and the Greens even moreso. The Greens felt taken for granted, and their leaders launched unprecedented open attacks in the media. With effect: days later, SPD leader Kraft announced the minority government option: a government that seeks allies of occasion for each law it presents. The excuse was a similar scuffle that emerged between the NRW FDP and CDU: the NRW FDP was miffed by the CDU's continuing courting of the SPD in the hopes of a Grand Coalition, and declared that they don't feel bound to them -- which Kraft interpreted as the end of the CDU-FDP coalition and thus a change of the situation.
After four weeks of coalition talks, the two parties approved the coalition agreement, the Left Party approved an abstaining in the vote on the wannabe minority government, while the CDU declared fundamental opposition. The vote was held yesterday (Wednesday). The rules are that simple majority is enough in the second round. In both rounds, there was full party discipline, that is: 90 votes for the minority government, 80 against, 11 abstaining.
The right-wing parties of course speak about a dark hour, and won't stop scaremongering about Kraft being at the mercy of the Left Party.
I am looking forward to the future battles in the German federal upper house...