Germany has a new government, and it’s arrived just in time for Christmas. CDU, CSU and SPD will govern under Angela Merkel (CDU) in a Grosse Koalition (Grand Coalition). That Koalitionsvertrag I wrote about in my last post has been approved. The SPD party members have voted it through with a reassuring 75%. After months of wrangling, ministers can now move into their offices, arrange their pot plants and assemble their staffs.
To an outsider, that so many important ministerial positions are filled with SPD politicians is a surprise. Given that Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party, CSU, nearly gained enough votes for an absolute majority, you would have thought those two parties would well and truly dominate. Not so. Positions such as Wirtschaft und Energie (Economy and Energy) Auswaertiges (Foreign Minister), Justiz und Verbraucher (Justice and Crime), and Arbeit und Soziales (Work and Social) are in SPD hands.
Some might argue that it feels a tad undemocratic to have such weighty jobs in the hands of the SPD, who performed very weakly in the election. One CDU-voting German I know went so far as to call is a “a big betrayal”. Others might wonder if Angela Merkel needed to compromise so much. Perhaps the SPD didn’t need to be placated with so many positions and policies to be convinced to join a grand coalition, if the Koalitionsvertrag was so convincingly voted through.
Wherever you stand on the distribution of positions, one thing is clear. In amongst all the chattering of the political classes, this government’s success will be measured on two major challenges. The first is bringing Germany safely and inexpensively through the Energiewende – that is providing Germany with a reliable and economically viable energy from non-nuclear sources.
The second is leading the rebuilding and restructuring of the European Union, especially the eurozone. The French are too caught up with domestic politics, us Brits too sceptical about Europe as a project per se, the others floundering in economic turmoil. Whether you like the idea of it or not, Germany will have to take up pole position.
With such seminal tasks as these on the to-do list, you can understand why Angela Merkel sought to be guaranteed a strong government with full SPD support. Perhaps her compromise was politically sage after all, and the Germans will get non-nuclear energy and a stable Europe for Christmas after all – but delivered over the next four years rather than under the Weihnachtsbaum tomorrow tonight.