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What does the collapse of German coalition talks mean for Angela Merkel?

The big divisions are on policy surrounding the eurozone and refugees.

Germany has been thrown into political chaos after talks between the ruling centre-right Christian Democrats, left-wing Greens and centrist Free Democratic Party collapsed late last night. The FDP's Christian Lindner pulled the plug on negotiations, saying that there was no "basis for trust" between the parties.

Although so-called Jamaica coalitions – black for the Christian Democrats, yellow for the FDP, and green for the, this will shock you, Greens - have governed in the Saarland and are in power in Schleswig-Holstein, at a national level, they are bitterly divided on a number of issues. Compounding the problem, the Christian Democrats themselves are divided between the CDU, which competes in elections outside Bavaria and the CSU, which competes in elections inside Bavaria and is more socially conservative than the CDU.

The big divisions are eurozone policy (on which the FDP wants to take a still more hawkish stance) and refugee policy (the Greens want a more generous policy than Merkel's original, the CSU want less), but it is not clear which divisions sparked Lindner's decision to walk out on talks.

What happens next? Well, this uncharted territory for postwar Germany, but the legal position at least is clear: either a resumption of the grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats, a minority government or new elections. (Deutsche Welle has a good English language explainer of the constitutional ins and outs if you're so inclined.)

In practice, the SPD fear that another coalition with Angela Merkel would see her take credit for their ideas (see: the German elections of 2009 and 2017) and lead to another record-breakingly bad showing at a general election (see: the German elections of 2009 and 2017).

Although the German economy is doing well and its only pressing problem – the lack of investment in the public realm – shouldn't be too difficult for a minority government to pass, postwar Germany has never had one and Merkel is loath to be the first.

So the most likely outcome – though of course it all hinges on what the president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, decides to do – are fresh elections. What happens next? Although the poor election result and the break-up of the coalition talks pose tricky issues for Merkel's continuing leadership of the CDU/CSU, she is more popular than her party still and that all-but-guarantees that she can lead them into another contest if she wants to. There are also three possible sources of votes that could change the parliamentary arithmetic fairly decisively.

Firstly, the FDP. If I were advising the FDP I'd be pretty worried that Lindner has achieved what coalition talks failed to do: united the Greens and the CDU/CSU. Both parties are clear that agreement was possible and that Lindner's walk-out was unnecessary. The thing about snap elections is that voters don't like them and that there is a political cost if you are blamed for holding one. FDP voters also knew full well that a coalition with Merkel was on the cards. They might simply vote for Merkel directly this time.

Secondly, the SPD. It's true that they have suffered in coalition, but the troubling question is whether or not the 20.5 per cent they got in 2017 represents an irreducible core or a group that quite liked the grand coalition and may also defect. In the long term, their new leader in parliament Andrea Nahles might be able to attract more left-wing support and recover the party's distinctiveness, but probably not in time for an election in January.

The third factor is the Alternative for Germany or AfD, a party founded by Eurosceptic academics that has since been largely taken over by the far right. (Remind you of anybody?) Since their third-placed finish they've been riven by internal strife and their leader has quit the party. Now of course, the thing about these populist parties, in Europe at least, is that they don't need to be well-run to do well. (See: Ukip in Wales, but the story is consistent across the continent.) But it may be that the AfD does worse this time, whether through direct defection or through differential turnout.

Or of course, voters could return a result basically identical to the one they did in September. The one thing that isn't uncertain is its impact on the Brexit talks: because whoever ends up in power, the German political class is at least united on that.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.