BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is heading into months of uncertainty while Chancellor Angela Merkel embarks on a complex process trying to build a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens, an alliance untested at the national level.
Merkel won a fourth term on Sunday although support for her conservatives slumped to the lowest since 1949 and voters turned to the far right AfD in response to the migrant crisis. She says she will have a government by Christmas.
Little movement is expected from any party before an election on Oct. 15 in the state of Lower Saxony, now ruled by the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.
Until a deal is agreed, the current “grand coalition” of Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD will run the government but policy standstill looms in Europe’s biggest economy. The SPD has vowed to leave the coalition and go into opposition after its worst election result since 1933.
That means the likeliest path to a majority is a so-called “Jamaica” coalition, named for the three colours of the Jamaican flag: black representing Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU); green for the Greens; and yellow for the FDP.
Exploratory talks would be the first step. If those talks succeed, the parties will start official coalition talks which could be tough given their opposing views on issues from EU reform to climate change and migrants. Provided the leaders agree a deal they must also secure approval from party membership approval.
While the Jamaica option is widely seen as the likeliest outcome, other possibilities include a minority government or new elections.
Merkel will be the most important figure but below are some less well known individuals who could play important roles:
The 38-year old FDP leader will be crucial to the success of talks on Jamaica. Known for his designer look in black and white election campaign posters, Lindner has pulled the FDP back from the brink after it was voted out of parliament in 2013. He rejects deeper euro zone integration and has said the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 may have to be accepted. He said on Monday he was willing to take responsibility in government but could also envisage a role in opposition.
Lindner may prefer not to take up a cabinet post but criticise government as head of the parliamentary party. However, it is unclear if that is a realistic option and if the FDP pushes for the finance ministry, he could end up as finance minister.
The 65-year old lawyer led the FDP to a strong result in May elections in the northern state of Schleswig Holstein, giving the party a tailwind before the federal vote and pursuing a ‘Jamaica’ coalition there. After attacking previous party leaders Guido Westerwelle and Philipp Roesler when they were in government with Merkel, he has helped Lindner revive the party.
Named as a possible leader of the parliamentary party or minister, Kubicki said on Monday it was not the FDP’s job to form a Jamaica coalition at any price.
The party’s co-leaders are both from the pragmatic wing of the Greens, willing at least to consider a tie-up with the conservatives. Ozdemir, one of Germany’s first lawmakers with Turkish parents, is a popular figure in his party and has been outspoken in criticising Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
Both may be up for a ministerial job in a Jamaica coalition.
One of the heads of the parliamentary party, Hofreiter represents the left wing of the Greens with closer links to the traditional eco-warriers that founded the party. Long-haired, bearded Hofreiter and those with similar views may be obstructive negotiating partners for a Jamaica coalition especially on climate and energy policy.
The charismatic leader of the CSU has been a thorn in Merkel’s side over the migrant crisis and it is unlikely he will stop criticising her now as his party faces a state election next year. He has already said the CSU must talk about its relationship with the CDU: the two have formed a parliamentary bloc for generations. Full of bluster and not afraid of issuing threats to Merkel, he is likely to be a tricky partner in coalition talks especially on security and immigration.
Bavarian Interior Minister and a prominent member of the CSU, Herrmann was also a vocal critic of Merkel over her handling of the migrant crisis and he talks tough on security and crime. Herrmann, 61, is seen as a possible interior minister with a reputation as a competent, if tough, operator.
A deputy finance minister under Wolfgang Schaeuble, the CDU’s Spahn is talked of as a possible successor to Merkel and criticised her refugee policy. With a following within the CDU, the openly gay 37-year old from western Germany stands for socially liberal policies in the traditionally Christian party.
Other senior conservatives including Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and head of chancellery Peter Altmeier will also play big roles.
The SPD may not be directly involved in coalition talks, but with Andrea Nahles as the new leader of the parliamentary party, it could be a strong opposition party. The 47-year old proved herself as an effective labour minister in Merkel’s grand coalition, introducing a minimum wage in Germany. Traditionally from the left of the party, she is popular among rank and file.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Peter Graff