Germany’s proportional election system (Mixed-member system), six parties represented in the Bundestag (CDU/CSU, SPD, AfD, FDP, Die Linke, Grüne) of which five could possibly participate in a government (only AfD would not), and no party likely to receive more than a third of the votes at the 26th September Bundestag election mean that a coalition government after the election is almost certain. This post examines each of the possible coalitions after the election (based on current opinion polls) and assesses any coalition options that are mathematically feasible. Within each section of the post, coalitions are organised in declining likelihood. The post will be periodically updated throughout the period up until the election – data used, and changes each time this post is updated, will be indicated in notes at the end of the post.

2 party coalitions

CDU/CSU ⚫️  – Grüne 🟢

Colloquial name: Black-Green (from the party colours)
Current polling: CDU/CSU 27% + Grüne 22% = 49% (very narrow for a majority – see note 1)
Likely top jobs: Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) Chancellor, Annalena Baerbock (Grüne) Foreign Minister, Robert Habeck (Grüne) Finance Minister
Chances this happens: High. Very narrow for a majority in the opinion polls at the moment, this nevertheless is the most likely two-party coalition. This coalition currently works in the German state Hessen. It also works in Austria.
Would it work? Almost certainly. The main points of contention would be on environment and climate change (where the Grüne would want to be more radical than CDU/CSU) and home affairs and migration, and on taxation and spending. The Grüne want a more assertive stance towards Russia, and want to stop the Nordstream 2 pipeline, both of which would cause headaches for CDU/CSU. None of these points would be impossible to overcome though.

Grüne 🟢  – CDU/CSU ⚫️

Colloquial name: Green-Black (from the party colours)
Current polling: Does not work currently, as CDU/CSU is polling ahead of Grüne (although a handful of polls have in the past shown the opposite)
Likely top jobs: Annalena Baerbock (Grüne) Chancellor, Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) Finance Minister, Norbert Röttgen(?) (CDU/CSU) Foreign Minister
Chances this happens: Low. The Grüne are full of optimism, CDU/CSU nervous about their candidate Laschet, but Grüne overhauling the CDU/CSU is still a long shot. This coalition has worked in the German state Baden-Württemberg.
Would it work? Almost certainly. How the CDU/CSU would behave as the junior partner in a coalition, nationally, is not really known – it would be a bitter pill to swallow. But the experience from Stuttgart shows they might be willing to go for it. Were Laschet and his earlier rival to become CDU leader Röttgen able to bury the hatchet, this coalition would offer a route to make Röttgen Foreign Minister – and he would have no problem working with the Grüne. Policy disagreements would be similar to those for Black-Green above – nothing insurmountable.

CDU/CSU ⚫️  – SPD 🔴

Colloquial name: Grand Coalition / GroKo (the SPD used to be the second big party in Germany)
Current polling: CDU/CSU 27% + SPD 16% = 43% (some way short)
Likely top jobs: Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) Chancellor, Olaf Scholz (SPD) Finance Minister, A.N. Other (SPD) Foreign Minister
Chances this happens: Very low. This the current coalition, and the SPD has suffered within it, and would be loathe to repeat the experience. And for this one to command a majority would require SPD support to rebound sharply.
Would it work? In policy terms there would be no headaches as this is the current governing coalition. But there would be a strong incentive to try other coalitions first before resorting to this one, and mathematically it is only borderline plausible anyway.

Other 2 party coalitions

Other two party coalitions – such as CDU/CSU – FDP (polling at 38%) and Grüne – SPD (polling at 38%) look mathematically impossible at the moment.

 

3 party coalitions

Grüne 🟢  – SPD 🔴  – FDP 🟡

Colloquial name: Traffic light (from the party colours)
Current polling: Grüne 22% + SPD 16% + FDP 11% = 49% (very narrow for a majority – see note 1)
Likely top jobs: Annalena Baerbock (Grüne) Chancellor, Olaf Scholz (SPD) Foreign Minister, Christian Lindner (FDP) Finance Minister or Economy Minister
Chances this happens: Medium. Probably the most likely three party coalition. Plus Greens gaining in the opinion polls, and FDP gaining somewhat at the expense of the CDU, might push it towards being a more solid bet. It works in Rheinland-Pfalz.
Would it work? There are a series of headaches here. Grüne do not necessarily trust FDP as the latter jumped out of coalition negotiations in 2017. On tax and financial issues the FDP is a long way from the other two parties. Would the SPD be any more at ease as junior partner to the Grüne than to the CDU/CSU? Giving FDP an economic brief, and knowing that joining a coalition would be the only way for Lindner to save his political career might be what pushes this one to a successful conclusion. It could be a really radical government, but it would likely be a bumpy ride.

Grüne 🟢  – SPD 🔴  – Die Linke 🔴

Colloquial name: R2G (from the party colours, although probably ought to be called GR2 now)
Current polling: Grüne 22% + SPD 16% + Linke 7% = 45% (a little short)
Likely top jobs: Annalena Baerbock (Grüne) Chancellor, Olaf Scholz (SPD) Foreign Minister, A.N. Other (Die Linke) Finance Minister
Chances this happens: Low. Mostly because the chances it works mathematically are not good. It works in Berlin, albeit with the SPD as largest party rather than the Grüne.
Would it work? Across a wide range of economic, social and environmental policies this one would be no problem. But foreign policy would be a different matter, where Die Linke would have to make major concessions. Other parties – notably the CDU/CSU – will try to scare the electorate of the prospect of this one as Die Linke has not renounced its past in the DDR. When it comes to possible Ministers, who Die Linke would put forward is unknown as the party is in a state of flux.

CDU/CSU ⚫️  – Grüne 🟢  – FDP 🟡

Colloquial name: Jamaica (from the colours of the Jamaica flag 🇯🇲)
Current polling: CDU/CSU 27% + Grüne 22% + FDP 11% = 60% (clear majority)
Likely top jobs: Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) Chancellor, Annalena Baerbock (Grüne) Foreign Minister, Christian Lindner (FDP) Finance Minister or Economy Minister
Chances this happens: Low. Mathematically this works, but no one is especially keen on it. Agreeing this was attempted in 2017, until Lindner pulled the FDP out of talks, so Germany got a Grand Coalition instead. It works in Schleswig-Holstein.
Would it work? The Grüne would have more of a problem with this option than with Black-Green, having to face two centre-right parties in the coalition rather than just one. Stronger comparative FDP and Grüne positions, and a weaker CDU/CSU, might make talks more productive than they were in 2017. Headaches would be most severe on climate and taxation issues, but should be possible to overcome.

CDU/CSU ⚫️  – Grüne 🟢  – SPD 🔴

Colloquial name: Kenya (from the colours of the Kenya flag 🇰🇪)
Current polling: CDU/CSU 27% + Grüne 22% + SPD 16% = 65% (clear majority)
Likely top jobs: Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) Chancellor, Annalena Baerbock (Grüne) Foreign Minister, Olaf Scholz (SPD) Finance Minister
Chances this happens: Very low. The SPD would likely be even more ill at ease in a three party coalition as the smallest partner than they are in a two party coalition at the moment. This would only be attempted if nothing else works, and Jamaica is more likely than this one. It works (albeit it with SPD 2nd, Grüne 3rd) in Brandenburg.
Would it work? Party political concerns are central here, rather than ideological differences. The SPD would be even more reticent about joining this than it is about a Grand Coalition (see above).

Other 3 party coalitions

Other three party coalitions are possible, but are not seriously considered at the moment. The SPD has not been ahead of the Grüne in opinion polls since 2018 but could theoretically squeeze past the Grüne still – making SPD – Grüne – FDP (rather than Grüne – SPD – FDP) or SPD – Grüne – Die Linke (rather than Grüne – SPD – Die Linke) possible. In each case Scholz would become Chancellor, with Baerbock in a major Minister job instead. Political tensions in each case would be similar. A Germany coalition (CDU/CSU – SPD – FDP) might mathematically work, but given that the Grüne are keen to enter a government and the SPD are not, I cannot see how that – rather than some other 3 party coalition – would come to pass.

 

Notes

  1. This is Version 1.1 of this post 23.4.2021, using data from the 20.4.2021 INSA poll – CDU/CSU 27, SPD 16, AfD 12, FDP 11, Die Linke 7, Grüne 22, Others 5 – so 48% of vote for coalition parties would be enough
  2. Version 1.1 adds adjustments for “Others” that had not been covered in Version 1
  3. Throughout the blog post I put CDU and CSU together, as they form one political group in the Bundestag. They are two separate parties, but as they choose a joint candidate for Chancellor, and would only join a coalition together, I have written this blog post as if they are one.

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