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A Left-of-Center Coalition? (October 29, 2009)

Based on coalition arithmetic, a broad range of alliances is now possible, but so far there has never been a coalition between the SPD, the Left Party, and the Greens (i.e., a Red-Red-Green coalition). This author explains why a three-way left-of-center coalition has never been formed and why the CDU and the SPD are the closest among the parties.

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Mutual Distrust between the Greens and the Left Party: The Myth of a United Left

The election year has brought a number of new coalitions, but not a Red-Red-Green one.* This can be explained by the deep cleft between the Greens and the Left Party: the relationship between the hedonists and the works councils [Betriebsräte] is characterized by a deep mutual distrust.

Angela Merkel was reelected, as were the minister presidents of Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. Coalition talks were concluded in Thuringia and Saarland, and negotiations on a “Jamaica coalition”** started in Saarland. The “super election year,” as 2009 is so readily called, has changed the political landscape in Germany, but in different ways than originally expected.

Three Black-Yellow*** alliances were forged: one on the federal level, one in Saxony, and one in Schleswig-Holstein. Additionally, there is a Grand Coalition in Thuringia and a Red-Red alliance in Brandenburg. We will even see the first Jamaica coalition, in Saarland, if it does not founder on its partners’ private business relations.

Only two combinations did not come about. This was foreseeable in the case of the “traffic light” coalition.**** But a Red-Red-Green alliance also failed to materialize, although this was the most talked-about constellation before the election. Both friend and foe had urged the SPD to finally support this option, for its own benefit, but also for the benefit of democracy, since it would have meant the reestablishment of two clear political camps in Germany and the possibility of political change.

In four of the regional elections held over the past two years, the Greens could have had a majority together with the SPD and the Left Party: in Hamburg, Hesse, Thuringia, and Saarland. Yet this majority never came about. In two cases, the Greens preferred to enter into a coalition with the CDU. There were specific reasons for the failure [of a Red-Red-Green coalition] in each federal state. On the whole, however, a string of such coincidences can no longer be called coincidental. At the very least, talk of a Red-Red-Green camp seems premature.

Despite all the talk about the agonies of the Grand Coalition, the CDU and the SPD are the closest among all the parties in Germany today. A strong economy is necessary to ensure the redistribution of wealth – that is the credo that both mainstream parties espouse, though of course with different focuses. Their dwindling size is an indication that fewer and fewer people believe in this connection. The followers of the Left Party have given up hope that they will benefit from a flourishing economy. FDP voters consider a redistribution of wealth superfluous at best and misguided at worst.

The Greens are the most interesting case. Having sprung from a post-materialist impulse, they believe there is something small-minded about the obsession with the social welfare state and questions of redistributing wealth – as though nothing were more important than money. “We’re focused on the big picture” – this campaign slogan perfectly expresses all the contempt the Greens feel for people who base their voting decisions solely on their own wallets.

Their position can be understood as civic-minded in the best sense of the word, but of course a person has to be able to afford it. Contempt for the educationally disadvantaged sections of society is most pronounced in the milieu of university graduates who vote for the Greens. They have long considered “prollig” (proletarian) to be an insult; and for aesthetic reasons alone, they would never shop at Aldi discount supermarkets. This sets the hedonists in the Südstadt district of Cologne and in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg in opposition to the trade unionists and the works councils in the Left Party, whom the hedonists secretly abhor as old-fashioned squares. The lack of cosmopolitanism and the latent xenophobia in many leftwing circles is a horror to these Green Party voters.

* The political parties in Germany are commonly identified by their traditional colors: black for the CDU and CSU, red for the SPD and the Left Party, yellow for the FDP, and, of course, green for the Greens. Thus, a Red-Red-Green coalition is one between the SPD, the Left Party, and the Greens – trans.
** A coalition between the CDU (or CSU), the FDP, and the Greens is called a Jamaica coalition because it combines the colors of the Jamaican flag (see above) – trans.
*** The CDU/CSU and the FDP – trans.
**** The SPD, the Greens, and the CDU (or CSU) – trans.

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