Journey to Jamaica?

Four parties want to govern together. How can this work? This is what a political scientist has to say on the matter.

Black, yellow, green: the future government coalition?
Black, yellow, green: the future government coalition? Stockfotos-MG/

Germany. The political parties CDU, CSU, FDP and the Greens are currently engaged in exploratory talks to find compromises that could serve as the basis for forming Germany’s next federal government. Never before has a coalition in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, required parties to reconcile such extreme differences in political stance as this one, dubbed a black-yellow-green or "Jamaica" coalition. Professor Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Freie Universität Berlin, explains why Germany has a tradition of coalition governments.

Coalition governments are the rule in Germany – is that because of the electoral system?

The proportional representation system means that absolute majorities are very much the exception in Germany. And because there is no political culture for minorities, all that remains is coalition governments.

Compromise is a defining feature of democracy.

Political scientist Thorsten Faas

The CDU, CSU, FDP and Greens are currently in talks in a bid to form the next government. This is a constellation that has never previously existed on a federal level. Who will have to show the greatest flexibility in the negotiations?

An alliance between the CDU/CSU and the FDP would be a classic government coalition in Germany and something that we have already seen over many years and decades. It is therefore the Greens who would help this tried-and-tested coalition to attain a new majority. To some extent they would need to switch sides. However, it is important not to forget that the last coalition between the CDU/CSU and the FDP – which governed from 2009 to 2013 – was very difficult, especially for the FDP, and this makes any alliance between these partners significantly more difficult this time around.

The political scientist Thorsten Faas
The political scientist Thorsten Faas dpa

Can a government based on so many compromises be successful? What are the advantages and disadvantages of coalition governments?

In democracies, millions of people make politics, yet ultimately it is individuals who decide. Agreement can only be reached through compromise – which is a defining feature of democracy. Coalitions show this very clearly, which is why we should not only view them critically but should also acknowledge and value what they achieve.

Surveys suggest that the majority of people in Germany would be in favour of a black-green-yellow “Jamaica” coalition. Yet the parties themselves have in some cases very different views – how can these be reconciled?

Public endorsement of the Jamaica coalition is very volatile. Before the election the figures were very negative, but afterwards they soared due to a lack of alternatives. We must learn how to deal with these new constellations. This is virgin territory for us. We also have to learn that parties and their supporters must be willing to make far-reaching compromises, as otherwise it won’t work.

Until the 1980s, the Federal Republic of Germany had a three-party system. Seven parties are represented in the new Bundestag – something that was last the case in the 1950s. What does this say about our society?

Larger groups are less cohesive, the party system is becoming more nuanced and representation of society is becoming more multifaceted. Ever new parties are in with a chance: the Greens, the Left, the Pirates – and now the AfD.

Interview: Janet Schayan