German progressives dare to dream of a “red-green-red” left coalition | German Federal Election 2021
As Germany goes to the polls this weekend, this is the scenario that haunts the nightmares of the conservatives and makes the progressives dream: that after 16 years of conservative rule, the most powerful economy in Europe could for the next four years have a leftist government.
The possibility of a power-sharing agreement between the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the left Die Linke – nicknamed “red-green-red” or R2G – has been highlighted in a way aggressive in recent weeks by the conservative Christian. Democratic Union (CDU) to try to present a vote for the current favorite to the Chancellor, the pragmatic Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, as tantamount to a radical shift to the left.
The SPD and the Greens are quieter on the subject, refusing to rule out such a pact in public but expressing great skepticism in private.
Pressed on the subject, several delegates from the two major center-left parties did not want to answer but clearly expressed their point of view: talking about a red-green-red Germany was for them above all a strategic weapon, potentially for the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP) to join their ruling alliance.
Yet while the odds of the SPD and the Greens doing their utmost to woo Die Linke are slim, Germany is entering uncharted territory with this election: for the first time, a coalition between at least three parties seems inevitable. The old certainties will crumble anyway.
“Red-green-red is not a particularly likely election result, but it’s not a result you can rule out either,” said Stefan Liebich, a Die Linke delegate who was one of the most ardent defenders of the German left. block overcoming its historical rivalries. “It is more than a bogeyman mentioned by the Conservatives.”
The SPD has in principle been open to talks with its far-left rivals since 2013, when it adopted a motion to no longer exclude coalitions with a party “except right-wing populists and right-wing extremists”.
Since then, R2G coalitions have formed and worked together more or less harmoniously in the eastern state of Thuringia, where Die Linke is the prime minister of the Land, and in the city-states of Berlin and Bremen.
Ahead of Sunday’s national vote, polls predicted a slim but stable government majority for an R2G alliance. Party platforms suggest more possibilities for joint initiatives than in previous election years, with a study by the WZB Social Science Center in Berlin revealing more political overlap than between any other party, especially on social issues.
Paradoxically, some Social Democrats see these commonalities as an obstacle rather than a boon to an effective power-sharing agreement: since the three parties are already calling for a wealth tax, for example, it is not clear which policy to Die Linke could sell his supporters as a victory even if he got his hands on the coveted Labor Department.
“To set the stage for a strong and functional coalition, you need to make sure that no one leaves the talks looking like a loser,” said an SPD delegate. “It’s hard enough for two, but it becomes even more difficult for three partners. “
For Die Linke to join a German national government would still represent the breaking of a taboo – not only for the party’s history as the democratic successor to the Socialist Unity Party, the ubiquitous power of East Germany, but for its strongly pacifist stance on foreign intervention and military spending.
In his electoral manifesto, Die Linke calls for the dissolution of NATO and its replacement by a “collective security system with the participation of Russia”. Even the party’s own leaders say such demands pay homage to the faith’s historical beliefs rather than express contemporary ambitions. Discussions on the future of NATO, they say, are already taking place anyway, initiated by “centrists” like the French Emmanuel Macron.
But Die Linke’s decision to abstain in last month’s vote to send German troops on a rescue mission to Afghanistan illustrated just how aloof he is from other left-wing parties on the issue. His control of messages is provisional: MPs have used their seats in the Bundestag to express their support for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and strongmen from South America.
Especially among the Greens, where the champions of human rights around the candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock are on the rise, skepticism borders on disgust at the positions of the left party. Clashes with Die Linke over a pan-European military initiative, they say, would be as serious as disagreements with the FDP over financial burden-sharing issues.
Referring to the ideological baggage of Die Linke, Scholz of the SPD said he would only form a government with parties that were clearly committed to NATO and a “strong EU”. And while the current leadership of Die Linke is more pro-European than, say, the nationalist left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, outright commitment on these two key points can be hard to come by.
Volunteer delegates from the SPD and Die Linke have spent the past few years discussing how their differing views on foreign policy could be reconciled in a coalition. One solution that has been mentioned is an internal vote preceding the deployment votes abroad, on a case-by-case basis. Most Social Democrats say such a mechanism would be impractical, especially for long-term UN mandates.
Even then, in the coming weeks there will likely be some sort of preliminary talks on a left alliance. supposedly Sondierungsgespräche, interim talks to test everyone’s willingness to cooperate usually precede the actual coalition talks, and there are more coalition options to explore this year than ever before.
If the FDP does not advance an inch on key social democratic commitments such as a minimum wage hike and the new wealth tax, talks with Die Linke could accelerate.
An argument for a pact with Die Linke could be the current weakness of the far left. With its advances in its former eastern strongholds dwindling, polls predict the party will only win the Bundestag this year.
The party’s leadership duo Janine Wissler and Susanne Hennig-Wellsow are newcomers to the national scene and may see entry into government as a last chance to reverse the party’s decline, even if it means displacing some of the its old red lines.
“We are entering a new world of three-way coalitions,” said an SPD delegate. “And we all still have to figure out what the rules of the game will be.”