Will a new grand coalition strengthen Germany’s extremes?

Angela Merkel could be set to lead another grand coalition, but at what cost?

According to the BBC, there has been a “breakthrough” in talks between Germany’s centre-right CDU/CSU alliance and the centre-left SPD led by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz.

After September’s election, the SPD ruled out working with the CDU, prompting the latter to enter discussions with the liberal FPD and the Greens. These talks soon collapsed, and the SPD agreed to discuss options with the CDU.

The country is still months away from having a fully-functioning government, but the chances of a renewed alliance between the country’s two main parties have just grown.

As of last year’s elections, the Bundestag is the most diverse in the post-war years. At the vote, the far-right AfD came third and the SPD and the CDU each lost votes and seats. A renewed alliance runs the risk of weakening the country’s centre-ground and strengthening its extremes.

One can only presume the SPD hoped to wade it out as a strong opposition while a fractured, three-way, ideologically diverse Merkel-led government fought amongst itself, so a likely return to government will not help them carve out their own image in opposition to the centre-right's.

Party membership has been in decline for decades, but the last three years have seen somewhat of a renaissance in Britain, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the SNP all reporting a surge in figures for various reasons.

The problem is finding out who these members are and why they join. There is a large body of political science literature on this topic, with various survey having been conducted on the different parties over the years. The latest study, the large Party Members Project, funded by the ESRC and led by political scientists Tim Bale, Paul Webb and Monica Poletti, aims to understand who joins modern political parties from large samples of modern party members.