The German election was over a month ago, and you might have noticed that we still have the old German government. There are supposed to be coalition negotiations going on between the conservative CDU, the Catholic conservative CSU, the neo-liberal FDP, and the nice but helpless Green Party.
In fact, one month and a bit on, we’re not even up to coalition negotiations yet. Monday is the beginning of the third week of Sondierungsgespräche – a word that means “exploratory talks”. As in what you do before you do actual coalition negotiations. Have you been following the Sondierungsgespräche? That’s okay, because no one has. No one except for German reporters, obviously, who have been dutifully teasing out every squabble with an endearing faith that we care.
At the moment, the Greens are being bullied into eating more shit sandwiches than everyone, because they disagree with the others about basically everything: uniting refugees with their children, the upper limit on refugees, inheritance tax, the energy transition, phasing out petrol and diesel cars, video surveillance, and increasing the defence budget – that’s just a few of the big things.
But even the German voters, fools though they are, know that if there is ever a coalition “contract”, as it’s called, the parties won’t feel obliged to stick to it – they’ll just spend the next four years doing more Sondierungsgespräche. They’ll muddle through, making up new laws as they go along, which I suppose is what we all do with our lives anyway. We don’t have any choice, because life has this terrifying way of just keeping on happening, ruthlessly killing all your hopes, and your love, and the people you love, and eventually you, like a relentless, unreasoning killer robot in a film. Meanwhile, like in the Kafka parable – life is always too short to get to the next village – much as four years is too short to form the next government.
And yet, there is a government still functioning, in a catatonic fashion. Even though the SPD – having just unexpectedly freed itself from its abusive marriage to Merkel – is now sitting in a corner brooding over what to do with the rest of its life, it is still there quietly running the country. The defeated ministers Sigmar Gabriel, Heiko Maas, Brigitte Zypries, they’re all still in their offices, wondering what to do, waiting around, keeping the seats warm. As the old saying goes: a Merkel government is what happens while politicians make other plans.