Monday, October 10, 2005

Democracy in Deutschland (addendum fuenf)

The long, drawn-out drama of Election 2005 has finally come to an end. For now.

As I wrote in my last post on the election (addendum vier), it was looking more and more likely that Gerhard Schroeder's SPD and Angela Merkel's CDU (along with the CSU, its Bavarian sister party) would form a so-called "grand coalition". With the SPD-friendly Greens and the CDU-friendly FDP unwilling to join together in support of one of the two major parties, and with little desire for minority government, a union of the SPD and CDU emerged as the only viable option short of another election (which may yet happen if the two sides can't work together peacefully).

And so a "grand coalition" it is, for the first time since the '60s. The BBC reports here. According to Deutsche Welle, Merkel will be chancellor. The CDU, which edged out the SPD in the popular vote in last month's election, will hold six cabinet posts, including defence and education. The SPD will hold eight cabinet posts, including foreign affairs, health, labour, and justice. CSU leader Edmund Stoiber is expected to be given the economy ministry. Schroeder likely will not have a post in the new government.

See also Der Spiegel:

Angela Merkel has arrived. Almost. There's only one hurdle remaining between the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the chancellery -- a parliamentary vote. Nevertheless, on Monday it became clear that, sometime next month, she will almost certainly become the first female chancellor in German history...

On Sunday night, as Merkel continued talks with Stoiber, Schröder and SPD party chief Franz Müntefering, the group reached a breakthrough. Then, on Monday morning, after meetings of the executive boards of both the CDU and SPD, the party leaders gathered for a final meeting. In the end, it served as a mere formality. The CDU leadership had already unanimously approved Merkel's actions -- and the national councils of both the CDU and CSU would approve the deal later in the day. A different story unfolded over at the SPD, where the executive leadership had greater problems pushing the grand coalition through -- there were abstentions as well as votes against doing business with the Christian Democrats.

But there is still much left to do. Coalition negotiations will continue well past this initial agreement, and, once in power, it's not at all clear that the two adversaries will work well together. Indeed, it would not surprise me if the "grand coalition" were to fall apart and another election were to be called sooner rather than later.

Which could lead to a more stable coalition government or throw Germany right back into another mess.

(See also Davids Medienkritik for more.)


Update (10/11/05): The Economist reports here, focusing on what kind of chancellor Merkel will be:

What kind of chancellor will Ms Merkel be? One thing is already certain: she will be no German Margaret Thatcher. The comparison was always a bit far-fetched, but her standing as chancellor in a grand coalition renders it obsolete. Already weakened by a disappointing election result, she is unlikely to ever be the chancellor-president Mr Schröder became, but rather a first among equals in a collective—and possibly fractious—leadership that will include the CSU’s Mr Stoiber and his SPD counterpart, Franz Müntefering.

This means that Ms Merkel will struggle to implement the main planks of her proposed reform programme: a flat-fee health-care premium to lower non-wage labour costs, further labour-market reforms, such as loosening Germany’s strict protection against dismissal, and radical tax reform. On top of this, Germany’s dismal fiscal situation needs tackling and its federal system needs overhauling.

In foreign policy, too, there won’t be much change, at least as long as the grand coalition holds. Ms Merkel opposes full European Union membership for Turkey but will be blocked from pushing "privileged partnership" as an alternative. It is also unlikely that there will be much of a rebalancing of Germany’s foreign relations to give more priority to transatlantic relations.

But, again, there's this: "Much can still go wrong before a new government is in place."

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