If you remember the 2003 war in Iraq, you may recall the phrase “coalition of the willing” being used to define active participants, or, if you are Napoleonic, you are likely familiar with the term Coalition Wars. Aside from historical reference, if you have been paying any attention to the ongoing political fallout caused by last September’s German federal elections, you have probably seen today’s word more than a few times. Still, the exact meaning and usage of today’s word, coalition, may be confusing, so let’s take a closer look at it, and examine where it comes from and what it means in relation to Germany (sorry, Napoleon).
Originally meaning, simply, ‘the combination of several parts or elements into one unit or mass’, the word coalition is a loanword from French and derived from the Latin coalescere, meaning ‘to unite or grow together’. Initially considered in a now-obsolete biological sense, the word was first used in English by Edward Philips in an account of his sermons, titled Certain Godly and Learned Sermons (1605), stating that: “We are flesh of his flesh,..which must not be understood of any incarnation & gross natural coalition and mixture of his flesh and ours.” Much in the same way that Philips viewed the mixing of flesh into a singular organism, the word soon began to be generalized in a sense of people or entities working together toward a specific goal, as can be seen in a letter from George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, to Sir Thomas Osborne in 1672, noting that: “Whether..the Proffer of a Coalition with England, would not prove more acceptable, and more advantageous to a Trading People [sc. the Dutch], than any Terms they can expect from the French.”
The idea of a coalition of diverse people and entities uniting and working together for specific goals is practically the definition of government, which brings us back to the topic of Germany. Though the election results gave the most votes (246) to the Christian Democrat Union/ Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), it’s still far short of a majority (355) in the Bundestag (709). Logically, this would result in the creation of a traditional coalition government, which is a majority government formed from parties that agree on how to govern, meaning they’re typically like-minded parties or have a power-sharing agreement. Unfortunately, the only party willing to work with the CDU/CSU alliance (for various reasons) that can offer enough seats to create a majority government is the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which would create a “grand coalition”- a coalition government combining the 2 largest political parties of different ideologies.
Not only is the idea of a grand coalition a solution, but, it has already proven to be workable – a CDU/CDU/SPD government has been in place since 2013. However, 4 years is a long time in politics, and fractures are beginning to show: factions that were content with CDU/CSU rule are beginning to crave change and many SPD members are more unwilling to support keeping the CDU/SDU alliance in power. Whether we see another several years of a grand coalition, an opposition government, or new elections – all currently hinges on whether or not the SPD party membership votes to join another coalition.