LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Germany’s new chancellor will probably be its old one. Angela Merkel is on track to win a fourth term in the country’s Sept. 24 vote. Unlike France and the Netherlands, which voted earlier this year, Germany faces no credible threat from anti-European firebrands. But the next Merkel government could come in different flavours, depending on her choice of coalition partner.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has ruled with the Social Democratic Party since 2013, a marriage of centre-right with centre-left. This time, she may be able to form a coalition with a long-standing political ally, the further-right, pro-business Free Democratic Party. They ruled together before, from 1982 to 1998 and 2009 to 2013. After good results in two regional elections, the FDP is currently polling at around 9 percent on the federal level.
The FDP comes with some strong ideas, partly intended to sap support from far-right newcomer party Alternative for Germany. Leader Christian Lindner calls for lower taxes, tight budgetary discipline and no fiscal burden sharing across the euro zone. The 38 year old, who could expect to be vice chancellor in a coalition, also wants to kick Greece out of the euro.
Any such views the CDU might already harbour are checked in the current government by the SPD. Its boss Martin Schulz, the former president of the European parliament, supports a call by new French President Emmanuel Macron for a euro zone finance minister and a joint budget. Yet both Merkel and Schulz would probably choose other partners if they could. The SPD struggled last time round to convince grassroots members skeptical of a “grand coalition”. Some Merkel allies in Bavaria are already calling for a right-sided alliance ahead of the vote.
All this is more than internal politics. If Merkel wins but forms a coalition with the FDP, approving bailout packages for Greece or other crisis-hit countries would be hairy. German criticism of ultra-lose euro zone monetary policy would intensify. And Merkel’s domestic wiggle room for a Franco-German deal on integrating the euro zone’s finances more closely would be narrow. Forces that threatened the euro’s long term future lost out in elections in France and the Netherlands. In Germany, they may come from within.