First, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made a phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week and right after that, Chancellor Angela Merkel called Ankara. No matter what was discussed, it is a surprising message. To describe recent German-Turkish relations as icy would be putting it mildly. So now, any conversation is welcome.
It may come to a grand coalition after all
The only problem is that Erdogan also knows that Angela Merkel's governing powers are restricted at the moment. On Thursday, the German chancellor spent two hours at the German president's office in Bellevue Palace with the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Martin Schulz, and the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Horst Seehofer. The president wants to prevent new elections and has urged the SPD and the CSU, the conservative alliance partner of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to start afresh with the unpopular grand coalition, despite all past disappointments.
It will likely come to that, as the SPD is now ready for talks, even if it is still keeping its options open, including tolerating a
CDU/CSU minority government. But it may take a while until a government is formed — some observers suspect the country could have to wait until March for a government to emerge from September's election. After all, just a few weeks ago, the SPD was fiercely determined to reposition itself in the opposition.
Erdogan, Trump and Macron are waiting
Merkel undoubtedly spoke to Erdogan about refugee policy, again, and hopefully about the imprisoned Germans in Turkey. These are just two of the urgent matters of concern to both countries. Meanwhile, in France, President Emmanuel Macron is waiting for Germany to make a statement on its extensive reform plans for the eurozone and the EU as a whole. And the United States is putting immense pressure on its ally Germany — if the US still sees Germany as one — to cut diplomatic ties to North Korea. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has already cleared that obstacle in part by announcing that some German Embassy staff members in Pyongyang would be withdrawn. This is helpful as an initial step but it is not a clear stance.
Trust has been broken
All of these urgent matters are being postponed at a time when the two largest German parties must still find common ground. They are having a hard time rebuilding trust. Stony-faced on the outside but seething with anger on the inside, SPD leader Martin Schulz denied that he was ready for talks about a grand coalition. He also accused the CDU of planting "false reports" in the media. Personal relationships between party members are also not the best.
The contentious issue of foreign policy
It will also be extremely difficult in terms of policymaking, even if personal injuries heal at some point. Take France and Macron, for example: The SPD has made it clear that it has nothing against more state investment, perhaps even common financial policy in the eurozone — but Merkel is very skeptical about that. It may take some time to reach an agreement. And then there are domestic obstacles, like health care policy, that have not yet been addressed.
Steinmeier is right about preventing new elections
It is becoming increasingly clear that the German president was right to speak out openly against new elections and instead pressure the parties to form a government. The business of politics is still running in Berlin but only at half speed. In the ministries and in the Chancellery, many top officials do not know how things will move forward, which is cause for subdued enthusiasm.
The autocrats and egomaniacs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean will likely use a different tone of voice when they speak to an acting chancellor rather than one elected by the Bundestag. Germany cannot afford to wait until spring for a new government. Every day counts.Jens Thurau (gro)