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Early harmony in German "Jamaica" coalition negotiations masks stark differences
Last Updated: 2017-10-21 08:23 | Xinhua
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Friday marks a milestone in Germany's path towards a new federal government as Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU conservative alliance, Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Greens (Gruene) all meet together for the first time in "Jamaica" coalition negotiations.

Jamaica coalition is a term in German politics describing a coalition government among the parties of the CDU/CSU bloc, Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Green.

The term refers to an association between the symbolic colors of the parties -- black for the CDU/CSU bloc, yellow for the business-friendly FDP, and green for Green Party -- and the colors of the national flag of Jamaica.


The larger round of talks between the parties follows two separate consultations held by the CDU/CSU bloc's parliamentary faction with the FDP and Greens on Wednesday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, for the very first stage of official coalition negotiations, the meetings were followed by a collective outburst of public optimism.

While there was some acknowledgement of the hurdles which remained to be overcome, party representatives were at pains to put on a show of early harmony before press.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) secretary general Peter Tauber said that he looked forward to Friday's larger round "with joyful anticipation", while his Christian Social Union (CSU) counterpart Andreas Scheuer called the initial talks "constructive" and "characterized by mutual respect".

The FDP praised the "business-like" and "solution-oriented" atmosphere of discussions and the Greens described their meeting with the Union as a "good conversation".


Under the surface of such hopeful commentary, however, significant ideological differences remain between the partners in what is widely believed to be Germany's next government.

The FDP and Greens, in particular, are miles apart on key issues and have dealt each other heavy blows in the run up to German elections. Two examples of policy areas where the junior partners in "Jamaica" coalition (alongside the joint CDU/CSU faction) are separated by a gulf are migration and economic policy.

On migration, the Free Democrats is advocating for a new and stricter policy regime which differentiates between labor migration, political asylum seekers and refugees displaced by war.

While labor migration would operate on a points system and political asylum seekers would continue to receive protection in Germany, the FDP wants to ensure that people fleeing war only remain in the country for the duration of the conflict and leave again thereafter.

This position is in accordance withUnited Nationsregulations which differentiate between "asylum seekers" and "displaced peoples" who are forced to temporarily escape violent conflict.

However, this policy is fundamentally opposed by the Greens, proposing to grant remaining rights to all asylum seekers who have been in Germany for more than a year, regardless of the outcome of their application.


A compromise on economic policies where the ambitions of the FDP and Greens differ considerably may prove even harder to achieve.

The FDP is unusual in the German political landscape in as far as it leans more towards the Anglo-Saxon model of laissez-faire capitalism than the regulated social market economies of continental Europe and Germany in particular.

The FDP's libertarian outlook in this area is likely to run up against resistance from the Green party which places an emphasis on reducing inequality through redistributive policies and is skeptical towards deregulation, privatization and liberalization.

Beyond economics, the FDP and Greens also have radically divergent visions for theEurozone. The FDP is strictly against any form of debt mutualization in the currency union and the creation of a separate Eurozone budget as suggested by French President Emmanuel Macron.

By contrast, the Greens have urged Germany to embrace Macron's European plans for reform and have generally argued in favor of greater solidarity between Eurozone members throughout the bloc's recent sovereigndebt crisis.

Although FDP Vice-President Wolfgang Kubicki described Friday's meeting as an opportunity to rebuild trust between the FDP and Greens, it remains far from clear whether the two parties' differences can be resolved in a way that satisfies both of their respective voter bases.


Instead, disagreement between the FDP and Greens is likely to strengthen the hand of Chancellor Merkel in negotiations. Merkel has already shown that she is the most experienced politician in "Jamaica" negotiations with the swift resolution of a long-standing spat between the CDU and CSU over an annual limit on refugees before coalition talks began.

The compromise agreed by the conservative sister parties is largely symbolic, but its effect on the formation of a new government is real. Merkel knows that as long as the CDU and CSU are unified they will remain the dominant force in negotiations.

Drawing on a political instinct honed during more than 11 years in power, the advantage enjoyed by Merkel here goes beyond the simple fact that the CDU/CSU bloc's voter share (32.9 percent) far exceeds that of the FDP (10.7 percent) and Greens (8.9 percent).

As a consequence, the weight of the responsibility for the FDP and Greens to lend their support to a stable government majority could well see them make compromises which alienate at least parts of their voters.

For example, a politician from the Green party would fit well into the role of minister for the environment for the "Jamaica" coalition. Yet given that Merkel has already launched an ambitious and costly transition to sustainable energy sources in Germany, globally known as "Energiewende", any more radical proposals are bound meet resistance for fear of their adverse economic impact by the all other coalition parties.

Although the FDP is understandably eager to fill the post of Finance Minister, despite recent claims to the contrary, it seems unlikely that a liberal finance minister would be able to veer far beyond the fiscally-orthodox course that has been staked out by Wolfgang Schaeuble who has shaped German and European economic policymaking for the last eight years as finance minister.

Despite being a minor regional party itself, the CSU's traditional parliamentary alliance with the CDU lends it a slightly better position to have its voice in government.

Nevertheless, once the dust settles over the upcoming state elections in Bavaria, the CSU's current rhetoric of "red lines", especially with regards to migration policy, will probably also become more subdued. As the current government has shown, the CSU will ultimately be best able to enforce its agenda when it aligns closely with Merkel.

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