After his election victory on May 8, 2022, Schleswig-Holstein Prime Minister Daniel Günther surprised the public by saying that he would prefer to continue the Jamaica coalition with the Greens and the FDP. There is no mathematical need for this. The CDU would have its own majority with both the FDP and the Greens. From the point of view of the small partners, a “surplus coalition” would have the disadvantage that they could be played off against each other as the majority procurers.
In fact, both parties have rejected Günther’s mind games. And Günther decided on Monday to hold coalition talks with the Greens. According to the textbook of coalition theory, however, he should have opted for the FDP: On the one hand, this is the numerically significantly weaker partner compared to the Greens, against whom one could assert more. On the other hand, the political overlap between the CDU and the FDP is greater than that of the Greens.
But now coalition talks with the Greens. The underlying strategic considerations are understandable from the CDU point of view. If you keep the Greens in your own camp, you may be able to secure an eco-bourgeois majority against the competition of social democracy in the long term.
The start of black-green coalition talks in North Rhine-Westphalia also on Monday inspires such considerations. Nevertheless, black-green in Schleswig-Holstein would be just as bad an idea as an oversized Jamaican coalition. In the Federal Republic it has always been considered a kind of natural law that large coalitions are only formed in emergencies. Black-Green is exactly that: a grand coalition consisting of the two factions with the most votes and seats.
This is probably suppressed in people’s consciousness because, until recently, in the party system of the Federal Republic of Germany, grand coalition – capitalized in this case – always rhymed with “Schwarz-Rot” or “Rot-Schwarz”, i.e. an alliance of Union and SPD. However, these days are a thing of the past in today’s six-party system and the dwindling dominance of the mainstream parties.
From a democratic point of view, the main problem with grand coalitions lies in the accompanying weakness of the parliamentary opposition. The existence and functioning of these is the essential characteristic of democracy in general and of parliamentary democracy in particular.
Most state constitutions – unfortunately not the Basic Law – take this into account by specifically emphasizing the importance of the opposition. Article 18 of Schleswig-Holstein’s constitution expressly stipulates their right to equal political opportunities. The second paragraph of the same article also emphasizes the special role of the “opposition leader” provided by the strongest opposition party.
The right to equal political opportunities is embodied in the minority rights laid down in the constitution and the rules of procedure of the state parliament, which are of course linked to certain quorums. For example, one third of the deputies or two parliamentary groups must jointly apply for a norm control procedure before the state constitutional court in Schleswig-Holstein, the examination of the constitutionality of a referendum by a quarter of the deputies and the establishment of a committee of inquiry by a fifth of the deputies.
The same quorum is sufficient within the framework of the committee of inquiry for requesting access to files – a 25 percent quorum is required in the plenary session of the state parliament. And constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in the Kiel state parliament.
If they form a government, the CDU and Greens would have such a two-thirds majority in the new Kiel state parliament with 48 out of 69 seats. All of the opposition’s control rights just mentioned were practically meaningless. They could not be exercised by the opposition parties at all or – in the case of norm control, the inspection of files in the plenary session of the state parliament or the appointment of a committee of inquiry – only be exercised jointly.
The normative notion of a “government on hold” associated with the opposition in the parliamentary system of government would be waste. Schleswig-Holstein would thus follow the bad example set by the federal government, where the FDP, with its irresponsible exit from the Jamaica negotiations in 2017, ensured that a new grand coalition had to be formed and the role of the leading opposition party fell to the right-wing populist AfD.
If the formula that a parliamentary government needs a strong opposition as an opponent is not to become a mere phrase, the CDU and Greens in Schleswig-Holstein would be well advised to refrain from the idea of a joint government. The alternatives are obvious: the CDU could form a “small” coalition with the FDP – following the political science textbook. Or it governs alone as a minority government and arranges for its formation and support to be tolerated by one or perhaps even both “Jamaica partners” – the latter would amount to governing with changing majorities.
Either would be better than an (overly) large majority government. Although this can be positively “framed” as an attempt to depict the broadest possible consensus in society, the disadvantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages from the point of view of democracy.