After an election in Germany, the process of forming a government typically goes as follows:

  • Parties enter an initial round of talks, termed Sondierungsgespräche (exploratory talk) in German

    After the 2021 election, these three-way talks began around 6th October

  • Parties then enter a second round of negotiations, termed Koalitionsverhandlungen (coalition negotiations) in German

    This is basically today's news with the parties expected to formally agree to enter these negotiations over the weekend

As far as I understood it, both rounds of negotiations required formal decisions by the parties in one way or another before they began. So what is actually the difference between these two phases of negotiations, what are the benefits of doing it this way rather than just entering into one long round of negotiations that begins right after the election and ends with a signed coalition agreement?

  • The Financial Times article you've kinked is behind a pay wall.
    – nick012000
    Oct 16, 2021 at 5:20
  • @nick012000 Wow, it was non-paywalled when I wrote the question (at least for me) :o
    – Jan
    Oct 18, 2021 at 7:19
  • Did you post the question from a university or other organization that might be subscribed to it? It's possible that you're subscribed to them without being aware of it.
    – nick012000
    Oct 18, 2021 at 8:09
  • 1
    @nick012000 If that were the case, the organisation lost the subscription over the weekend ;) I wonder whether it had to do with me accessing the link via Google News or something. (Just for clarity: when I responded to your first comment I too couldn't access the article anymore.)
    – Jan
    Oct 19, 2021 at 10:36

1 Answer 1


It would be perfectly acceptable to have exploratory talks in different configurations, interspersed or sequential. And exploratory talks indeed happened between all four potential participants. There are three somewhat possible configurations:

  • SPD/Greens/FDP aka Ampel (traffic light, red-green-yellow).
  • CDU+CSU/Greens/FDP aka Jamaica (black-green-yellow as in the Jamaican flag).
  • SPD/CDU+CSU aka Grand Coalition (no longer quite as grand as 20 years ago, but the name sticks).

More formal coalition negotiations, ending in a written agreement if they succeed, would be negotiated for one possible coalition at a time. It would be considered inappropriate to negotiate different coalitions at the same time in earnest. So more formal coalition talks will likely happen for the Traffic Light coalition at first. Talks about a different coalition will only come if the Traffic Light negotiations break down. Several parties require the go-ahead from leadership conferences for coalition negotiations while sounding talks are more free-form.

That being said, it is a bit strange when it is seen from the outside. The last time around Jamaica might have been possible, but their exploratory talks bogged down in details which might have been better in coalition talks.

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