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Political Crisis in Berlin

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Failed! For the time being, at least, there will be no “Jamaica Coalition” of the Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union (Black) the Free Democrats (Yellow) and the Greens in Germany. Shortly before midnight on Sunday, the FDP walked out of the exploratory talks, according to the CDU/CSU and the Greens, just as an agreement seemed close.

That may be true. The FDP line is that it was not until Sunday night that it became clear that the "overall agenda", which was already available on Friday, contradicted its convictions and "principles". People can believe that if they wish. We will leave the "reconstruction" and justification of the failure of the negotiations to others. Nor is it necessary to repeat the differences in individual policy areas that have repeatedly emerged over the weeks, especially on migration and climate change, but also on the EU's finances and future.

What is noteworthy is that the CDU/CSU and the Greens were apparently on the verge of reaching an agreement when the FDP unexpectedly broke up the negotiations for everyone. The Greens accused it of not really wanting a common government anyway. In a rare example of shared trust, Seehofer and the Greens both praised Angela Merkel.

Whether the FDP really bears the main responsibility for the collapse of talks is ultimately of secondary importance. What matters is that the attempt to form a coalition failed, even though the Greens apparently made further concessions to the CSU. Of course, factors such as personality and party interest will have played some role in shaping how the talks broke down but, ultimately, these are entirely secondary matters. What the collapse reveals is a deep political crisis in the whole bourgeois camp.

Inconsistencies

Under Merkel's governments, German imperialism has been able to impose its austerity policy on countries such as Greece, to cushion its crisis at the expense of the other EU countries and to keep German capital's competitiveness on the world market, if not to strengthen it. What it could not do, however, was unite the whole of the EU under its leadership, or under a Franco-German axis. On the contrary, in international competition and in the fight for a new division of the world, the EU and Germany have fallen behind the USA and China, and even Russia. The main rivalry between the imperialist superpowers is now that between the US and China, while the EU in its current state is falling further behind.

Issues such as Brexit, the so-called "refugee problem", the growing nationalist oppositions, the unresolved conflicts over financial policy, the military and political weaknesses vis-à-vis global competitors, the internal contradictions of the EU institutions, all these mean that German imperialism is in a contradictory situation. In recent years it has certainly become clear that a new strategy is needed to unify the EU under German leadership, for example in the form of a two-speed Europe, in order to prevent the EU from lagging further behind or the euro and the confederation of states even falling apart altogether.

But the "executive committee" of the ruling class and the German think tanks do not have a uniform answer to the question, indeed, it is not usually even discussed openly. The "Merkel system", in which German supremacy would be established as a "moderator" in Europe, relying above all on Germany's economic weight and its dominance of EU institutions, has, in practice, failed. This is the real cause of Germany's "loss of authority”. At the same time, this has strengthened reactionary responses in Germany itself, most visibly in the shape of the Alternative Für Deutschland, AfD, but also in the entire bourgeoisie.

This fundamental problem, which overshadows all other "big issues" and "questions of the future" such as climate change, refugee policy and digitalisation, seems to be more or less above the parties in "official" German politics. Only the Left Party and AfD openly and at least partially take counter-positions from a reformist or right-wing perspective. Otherwise, the EU issue appeared in the coalition negotiations at best as a "payment question" - the strategic objective was not mentioned publicly. Merkel's governments, precisely because they oversaw the successes of German capital and fired up the export industry, have increasingly just postponed consideration of the strategic problems of the EU.

Fragmentation of the party system

Although it was rarely mentioned externally, the EU question nevertheless figured in the negotiations. All "partners" feared that continuing under Merkel with the same political goals and methods would not only not solve any problems, but would also weaken them politically. In addition, the AfD is breathing down the neck of the CSU and the FDP fears that it will be overshadowed in a new government. The Greens proved to be the "most agile", not only because of their opportunism and shift to the right, but also because they are actually closer to Merkel and her faction of the CDU than are the CSU and FDP.

The negotiations also took place against the backdrop of an increasing social polarisation within the country, which weakened the bond between CDU/CSU and SPD and their "traditional" bases. Since the SPD administered the politics of the ruling class anyway, and the Left Party was not capable of a combative, visible opposition policy, the political spectrum shifted to the right. It was not only the SPD that lost the support of millions of wage earners. The crisis of the CDU/CSU has meant that it can no longer fulfil its function as a unifying bourgeois "People's Party". Today, the openly bourgeois spectrum of parties in parliament is de facto fragmented into five parties; AfD, CDU, CSU, Greens and FDP, which objectively hampers the formation of governments.

The failure of the exploratory talks does not only mean a deep political crisis in Germany. The Federal Republic will also not be able to play much of a role as the leading power in the EU. Of course, "reforms" and laws will continue to be introduced and Germany will continue to dominate, but the fundamental issues have been put on hold and so the Union will continue to lose ground in comparison with the USA and China.

The failure of the exploratory talks has brought all these problems to the fore in the form of a governmental crisis. Depression and helplessness prevail. All possible combinations have been aired, from a minority government with the tacit support of the SPD to new elections.

One unintentional consequence of this situation could be the strengthening of the role of the Federal President, who for a long time appeared as a mere "moral" authority, a kind of genial host of German imperialism. Even if no political adventures are to be expected from Steinmeier, his presidency will presumably see a change in the role of the office and its significance for the formation of the government. Even though he may initially confine himself to moral appeals to remind the parties of their "responsibility to the country", he will play a more active role. This will legitimise authoritarian tendencies and institutions that can be used if the problem of forming a government cannot be solved by parliamentary means or by negotiation between the parties.

In the coming months, we must prepare ourselves for a continuation of the government crisis. The Grand Coalition will probably remain in office "temporarily" until well into 2018. This could be true even if there are new elections because they would probably lead to a similar outcome - and thus to renewed difficulties in forming a coalition. Even though the forces are clearly shifting, this will not necessarily make it any easier to form a government.

In addition, in several political parties there may be major personnel changes and power struggles. Thus, a worsening of the CSU's internal crisis seems inevitable. The Greens will also question their leadership duo. Equally, the possibility of replacing Angela Merkel could become an issue in new elections. At the moment, this is not raised because her immediate resignation would further weaken Germany and the CDU does not have an agreed successor. It is clear, however, that Merkel is no longer the eternal Chancellor but has turned into last year's model.

A new edition of the Grand Coalition, between CDU/CSU and the SPD, which certainly cannot be completely ruled out, would not only be tantamount to political suicide for the SPD. It is doubtful if it would be possible at all without a deep crisis of social democracy, which would also mean an unstable government.

Finally, there is always the option of a minority government that could only survive if it were not only supported by CDU/CSU and, perhaps, the Greens, but also had indirect support of the SPD, negotiated via the President, Bundestag and Bundesrat on, for example, European issues.

However they twist and turn, the crisis will be difficult for the ruling class to resolve. For the working class, the trade unions and the oppressed, however, this opens up an opportunity. In order to take advantage of this, so that it does not lead to a strengthening of the AfD, however, a political reorientation of the workers' movement itself, a break with the politics of class cooperation and social partnership as well as the building of united action against the attacks of capital, the measures of the government and the shift to the right, is necessary.