The campaign and growing support of Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) and possibilities of their cooperation with other parties like the Greens and CDU (“Jamaica”) or Greens and SPD (“Traffic Light”) after the 2021 Bundestag elections
Germany’s liberals, the FDP came public with their party platform for the 2021 elections back in mid-May - to those who pay some attention to German politics, this contained no very large surprises. The document bears the title that literally translates to “Never has there been more to do”, and foreshadows the FDP’s newfound enthusiasm to be part of the next government.
The FDP’s approach to the climate issue can be summed up as “less prohibition, more innovation”, seeking to boost technological improvements and deploy market strategies such as carbon emission dealing. They too, want to cap legal CO2 emissions by law. However, the FDP rejects the idea of regulating exactly how the CO2 emission goals should be achieved. This means no speed limits on German roads, traffic bans in inner cities or a ban on combustion engine vehicles. Instead, solutions should be delivered by the ingenuity of engineers and scientists of the land. Interestingly, the FDP also seems to have realized that climate politics is not possible without addressing social implications. The party is proposing a “climate dividend”, whereby a portion of the government’s income through CO2 price would be directly paid out to citizens - similar to the “Energy Money” (Energiegeld) suggested by the Greens, which I haven’t yet covered here.
Unsurprisingly, the FDP is alone among the parties going public with their election program without any plans to increase taxes on the wealthy (SPD, Greens, Left - who is missing here? You are right, the CDU…). Instead, they would increase the margin for the highest earning tax bracket to a yearly income of EUR 90 000 (from the current EUR 57 052, compare this to the programs of the Greens and Linke). Germany’s famous “Soli” (solidarity-compensation, an instrument whereby incomes in federal states of the original West-Germany get taxed extra and this money is invested in previous DDR states) would be canceled. Tax for businesses would be capped at 25 %. However, in exchange for the lower tax burden, companies should commit themselves to investments totaling EUR 600 billion over 5 years. With this, the FDP aims to increase the total capital investments from the current 22 % to 25 % of the GDP, of which the state currently owns 3 %, a proportion considered already too high by the FDP. Party chairman Christian Lindner argued that the “state is not the best best investor, rather it should aim at relieving (the tax burden of) citizens and businesses”. The FDP are once again profiling themselves as a party for individual rights - for example, as outspoken critics of the curfews introduced by the government to fight the spread of Coronavirus, which they regard as disproportional. An interesting item on the FDP’s agenda is a suggested reform of election cycles from 4 to 5 years as well a two-term limit for chancellors.
In their foreign policy, the FDP is demanding that all negotiations about the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union should cease. They are committed to NATO and propose that Germany invest 3 % of its GDP in the “3D - defence, development and diplomacy”. In their Program, there are repeated references to the “challenge” posed by the authoritarian state of Xi Jinping’s China and a commitment to an “Alliance of Democracies” as proposed by the US-administration. The tone regarding Putin’s Russia is much more moderate, and even though freedom of the press and imprisonment of political opponents by the Putin regime is criticized, there is emphasis on Russia’s close ties to Europe “humanly, culturally and economically” and repeated requests for constructive dialogue.
As a final point, the FDP is criticized in German media for not having enough women in top positions. Even though the party defines the increasing this proportion, a quota for women (as in other parties) was not introduced.
Possible coalitions - Jamaica or Taffic Light?
In conservative polling FDP is projected to get about 12.8 % of the vote in the September elections, and in a latest poll commissioned by the Bild Zeitung they were estimated at a record 14 % in fourth place, just behind the SPD. There are at least two scenarios, both of them highly realistic, where the FDP would be part of a government coalition (small reminder: no single party has been able to achieve absolute majority in the German federal parliament since 1961, so the political reality is shaped more by compromises the parties hammer out in coalition deals than the programs of single parties alone).
I will not discuss the scenario of a “Germany” coalition of CDU/CSU-SPD-FDP, since it is unlikely that the SPD or CDU would be open to such a construct - this would be seen as a mere “patching” of the current Grand Coalition (“GroKo”), which nobody seems interested in upholding.
“Traffic Light” (SPD-FDP-Greens): this scenario is attractive to the Greens, because Annalena Baerbock could be made chancellor even if the Greens finish behind the CDU/CSU at the September elections. This construct (as well as a red-red-green coalition favored by me) could in fact become the only chance for a government led by the greens, because they have been losing support against the CDU/CSU ever since their peak in the polls as Annalena Baerbock has been chosen to lead the ticket. Advantages of a Traffic Light for FDP and Greens could be that both of these parties stand on the side of modernization of the infrastructure and digitalization. The two parties also have shared values when it comes to individual rights and in drug policy (legalization of Cannabis). However there is still beef between the two parties from the 2017 elections, where the FDP unilaterally canceled ongoing coalition negotiations on a “Jamaica” construct and thereby destroyed Green hope for governing. Also, the programs of both the SPD and the Greens include increased taxes on the wealthy, which is a “red line” for FDP boss Christian Lindner - the same goes for the Federal Debt-Brake (Schuldenbremse), the abolition of which is key to financing the social program of the Greens. Agriculture is another field where FDP and Greens would clash (paywalled), because the Greens want to strongly regulate key aspects such as the use of pesticides and fertilizers and initiate a deep reform which is systematically rejected by the FDP - who by the way are transforming into the new peasant party of Germany, now enjoying more support in this demographic than the CDU.
“Jamaica” (Greens-FDP-CDU/CSU): Currently, election math makes a government majority possible even without the FDP (black-green), however if current trends continue the “Jamaica” construct may become reality. This is the set-up that failed after the 2017 elections, after the FDP unilaterally canceled talks with the CDU/CSU and the Greens. Many believe, that it was never the intention of the FDP to enter into such a government, and that their entering into the talks in the first place was to evade criticism for “lack of trying”. In this scenario, according to current polls Armin Laschet would be chancellor and the government would be led by Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU/CSU. The CDU/CSU and FDP’s economic policies are much closer than either of them is with the Green agenda (the CDU/CSU agenda was published the same day as this post, I plan to analyze this in the next post). In such a construct it is probable that the Greens would have to make very large concessions to the coalition partners. Still, a big advantage of such a coalition (with or without FDP) would be its relatively broad support, which is a prerequisite for the large-scale climate reforms that are necessary. The Union and Greens want to increase CO2 prices, and Union, Greens and FDP all plan to redistribute some of this income - Laschet in the form of tax refunds for commuters, the Greens in the form of bonus checks called “Energy Money” (Energiegeld) and the FDP as “climate dividend” (see above). However, in many social and economic aspects the Greens are much too much to the left for both CDU and FDP - these include the reform of Hartz IV, the softening of the Schuldenbremse, rent reform most of which I have covered on this blog. Similarly, the CDU is barely acceptable as a partner for many in the Green party and base because of its far-right wing representatives such as ex-Verfassungsschutz (quasi German “Secret Service”) president Hans-Georg Maaßen.