When darkness fell over the party pavilions after the March state elections and the bars on the television shifted only slightly, it was already foreseeable that the SPD, the Greens and the FDP would rule together in Mainz. The old and new traffic lights. Social Democrat Prime Minister Malu Dreyer called it a “successful model” on election night. For the first time, such a state-level alliance was confirmed in an election, FDP leader Christian Lindner said in Berlin. Would Rhineland-Palatinate be a role model for the federal government?
In the weeks after the state elections, there were no more traffic lights at the federal level. The party polls pointed in a different direction. But now? While the Greens and the FDP want to present in Berlin’s government district and SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz sees the election results as a “visible mandate” for a traffic light, it’s worth taking another look at Mainz: how the alliance works there ?
First, it has been working for a long time. The SPD, the Greens and the FDP have ruled together in Rhineland-Palatinate since 2016. At the time, there were two people sitting at the negotiating table in Mainz who were now also allowed to speak in Berlin: Volker Wissing, who was the State Minister for Economic Affairs, previously Secretary General of the Federal Government and now scouted for the Liberals – and Prime Minister Malu Dreyer, who helped negotiate for the SPD.
When the old traffic lights were renewed during the coalition negotiations in Mainz in March, all partners knew each other well, they knew of their differences. Especially when it comes to climate protection, the Greens and the FDP were far apart. But compromises are easier to find if the debate is not about phasing out coal before 2038, but rather the number of wind turbines in the Palatinate Forest. And if it’s clear to everyone: we actually want to continue to rule together.
The Mainzer Ampel benefits from the management style of Malu Dreyer
How long it takes to form such a government alliance is not only due to the degree of substantive differences. Power distribution also plays a role. How strong a negotiating partner did in the election determines how confidently he defends his position.
While in Berlin the Greens and especially the FDP see themselves as chancellor makers, the situation in Mainz was different. The SPD was very far ahead at 35.7 percent, with a loss of only half a percent. The Greens, at 9.3 percent, were well below expectations, but had gained four percentage points and demanded more influence. Even before the flooding in the west of the country claimed the lives of 134 people, it was clear that climate change must be combated. That the forests are dying in the Eifel and Hunsrück, six million cubic meters of damaged wood in 2020 alone, the FDP, on the other hand, vibrated at 5.5 percent in the new state parliament. Self-consciousness? Difficult.
When you ask members of the government why it works so well, they give two main reasons. The first is called Malu Dreyer and is also led by Greens and Liberals. Dreyer leaves all partners their responsibilities, balances them well. For example, after the state elections, the SPD was given a Ministry of Labor that is also responsible for digitization – popularly known as the “super ministry”. To convince its grassroots members, the FDP was allowed to keep the two ministries of economy and justice – albeit in a smaller format. The Greens got their family and environment ministries back – the latter expanded to include climate protection and mobility.
The second reason for the functioning traffic lights in Mainz is solidarity. The three sides cannot be divided, even if their alliance is put to the test. For example, at the end of 2020, when the Minister of the Green Environment had to resign because employees of her ministry had been illegally promoted. No talk, no rumours.
“Silent” is the word often used to describe the traffic lights in Rhineland-Palatinate. But that is not the case, say members of the government. Of course they discussed, that was part of it. But in such a way that disturbing noises do not penetrate to the outside. That makes her stop light. This is not a simple model for a traffic light in the federal government.