Finally, an end to the political suspense in Germany!
The Social Democratic Party’s members have approved the party’s involvement in a grand coalition with the Christian Democratic Union, bringing to a close five months of political uncertainty following last September’s general election. The ‘yes’ camp won 66% of the vote, with 239,604 members voting for the coalition and 123,329 against, out of a total of 378,437 votes cast. With a voter turnout of 78.4%, the result of this consultation is beyond dispute and confirms that the vast majority of Social Democratic Party (SPD) members support the party’s involvement in this government, in spite of opposition from the young socialists. Without the agreement of the SPD’s members, Angela Merkel might perhaps have been elected chancellor to form a minority government in the Bundestag; however, such a situation would inevitably have led to early elections at some point during her term of office. Following this vote of approval, the chancellor can finally get on with her fourth term at the helm of a stable government underpinned by a broadly balanced coalition agreement.
The key points of the coalition agreement
The Conservative Union has obtained agreement for tax relief measures worth €10 billion and a cap of 180,000-220,000 a year on the number of migrants accepted into the country, as well as restricting family reunification for people with limited protection status to 1,000 people a month. Meanwhile, the SPD has secured agreement for significant investment spending in a variety of areas (education, welfare, housing, etc.) and for maintaining the pension replacement rate at 48%. Lastly, the coalition’s members have agreed to step up economic cooperation with France and set up a budget fund for economic stabilisation, social convergence and structural reform of the Eurozone, thus opening the way to greater European integration.
Next steps in forming a government
By 12 March, the social democrats will have to agree on their candidates to head up the six ministries they will control. Olaf Scholz, interim leader of the SPD and current mayor of Hamburg, is expected to get the finance ministry and become vice-chancellor, but the foreign affairs, labour and social affairs ministries remain to be allocated. Meanwhile, the Union will also have to choose its candidates to head up the economy, defence, education, health and agriculture ministries. Lastly, Angela Merkel is due to be re-elected as chancellor on 14 March in the Bundestag. The new government will then enter into force.
What does the future hold for this new "GroKo" ?
Although Angela Merkel has managed to forge a new governing coalition, her party has nevertheless emerged weakened from these parliamentary elections, scoring only 32% of votes, compared with a peak of over 41% at the last election in 2013. The failure to form a coalition with the liberal FDP and the Greens, and difficulties securing a rapid agreement with the social democrats, highlight the waning influence of Germany’s leading political party. As such, the chancellor’s final term looks set to be one of challenge and political transition for the CDU/CSU, which has already begun to replace its senior leaders by appointing Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as general secretary and announcing a discussion process to prepare its 2021 manifesto, with the aim of mustering as many centre-right-leaning voters as possible in the 2021 elections. Meanwhile, the SPD has also set about winning back its disappointed electorate by giving Martin Schulz the boot as party leader and preparing to elect a new leader on 22 April. The three partners in the future coalition are aware that their parties’ leadership is disintegrating, and are going to have to reposition themselves as quickly as possible to face the political challenges of this new term at the same time as taking up their roles within the new government – a necessary exercise to counter the rise of extremism in the country.