Angela Merkel Reaches Coalition Agreement With S.P.D.
After six months, Angela Merkel has apparently succeeded in forming a coalition government.
It was nearly six months ago that German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to win a fourth term, but she’s had some difficulty trying to put together a governing coalition and has been in sometimes contentious negotiations with Germany’s Social Democrats, who have been a coalition partner with Merkel’s Christian Democrats for the past four years. After several months of often contentious negotiations, though, it appears that Merkel has achieved her goal, guaranteeing that she’ll remain in power for the foreseeable future:
BERLIN — Germany’s Social Democrats voted in favor of forming another government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, ending nearly six months of political limbo and setting Europe’s economic powerhouse on a path to the political stability it craves — at least for now.
The results announced on Sunday clear the way for Ms. Merkel, who was long considered a de facto leader of Europe, to remain in the chancellery in Berlin for another four years. It will also allow her to work with French President Emmanuel Macron on overhauling the European Union in what many consider a crucial year.
Ms. Merkel congratulated the center-left Social Democratic Party for what she called “a clear result.” Others in her center-right party welcomed the news.
“I am pleased about the wide support for the coalition agreement by the S.P.D. members,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, general secretary of the Christian Democrats, wrote on Twitter, referring to the Social Democratic Party by its German initials. “It is a good decision for Germany.”
But Ms. Merkel will lead a diminished coalition, and many predicted that the country, shaken by the prolonged uncertainty that followed inconclusive elections in September, would not be the same again. Both main parties received their worst postwar results in those elections.
By now, the “grand coalition,” as the tie-up is known, looks anything but grand: In polls, it no longer commands a majority. And the far-right Alternative for Germany party, AfD, now the official main opposition in Parliament, has been gaining momentum.
“This episode will mark German politics for a long time,” said Henrik Enderlein, a professor of political economy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. “The two large parties will have to fight hard to win back control.”
So unpopular was the prospect of another stint in government with Ms. Merkel that the Social Democrats had promised their 463,000 members a vote on the coalition treaty, effectively making them the arbiters of whether their nation of 82 million people would finally have a government. Some 78 percent of party members voted, of which more than 66 percent supported the new government.
“The members of the Social Democrats did not take this vote lightly,” said Olaf Scholz, the party’s acting leader, after Dietmar Nietan, treasurer of the Social Democrats, announced the decision.
The vote came four months after Ms. Merkel failed in her first attempt to build a coalition. It also came after Martin Schulz was forced to hand over the reins as leader of the Social Democratic Party.
The result means a new German government could be sworn in as early as March 14. The new administration, however, will lack the strength of its predecessor, formed after a similar nail-biting vote by the Social Democrats in 2013.
Ms. Merkel has noted that she needs to focus more on domestic issues as the country grapples with the challenges of integrating the roughly one million migrants who arrived in Germany in recent years.
Both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union have lost ground to the political extremes in recent years. The arrival of the anti-immigration AfD party in the national Parliament after the September vote has made forming a government much harder.
Parliament now includes lawmakers from seven political parties, spanning the full political spectrum, and traditional postwar coalitions on the left or right no longer have a majority. With the S.P.D.’s decision to enter the government, the AfD will now become the strongest opposition force in Parliament, a largely symbolic but important position that is viewed as providing a check on those in power.
The past weeks have seen the S.P.D.’s popularity plunge even further, with the party losing as much as another five percentage points in some surveys and dropping behind the AfD in popularity in the eastern states. In addition, infighting over leadership and ministerial posts further frustrated supporters.
Merkel’s efforts to form a government in the wake of last September’s elections have been difficult, and the agreement with the SPD seems likely to have a big impact both within Germany and more broadly in Europe as a whole:
After the election, Ms. Merkel first tried to form a coalition government with the free-market Free Democrats and the Greens, but efforts failed after four weeks of discussions.
The Christian Democrats took up new negotiations with the Social Democrats, and a coalition agreement emerged in early February. The 179-page document details the main issues to be addressed, such as spending and which party will name ministers to take cabinet posts in the government.
The Social Democrats walked away with three key portfolios — the foreign, labor and finance ministries — which will play a crucial role in coming negotiations over the issue of overhauling the euro currency union.
Those ministries could also offer the Social Democrats a chance to regroup and define their positions in the coming years, after which they would face an election without Ms. Merkel, who has said this term in office will be her last.
The most significant development from last September’s election was likely the rise of the anti-immigrant AfD. As I noted in my post last fall, the conclusion that one has to draw from that party’s success is the fact that many Germans are frustrated by the fact that Merkel’s policy of openness toward immigrants and refugees, especially those from Syria and other majority Muslim nations. These immigrants have caused something of a strain on Germany both financially and culturally and have been a source of violence and disruption for some time now. Even where that hasn’t been the case, the fact that other nations in Europe have been more resistant to such immigrants means that more of them have ended up in Germany than might otherwise be the case. Combine this with the manner in which Germany’s elections are conducted, in which voters vote for both a “direct candidate” and then a second time for a political party meant that many voters who might otherwise reject some of the more extreme elements of the AfD’s ideology but nonetheless voted for them to send a message to the larger parties about immigration that the likely would be smart to listen to unless they want to see their vote totals in the next election
Because of Merkel’s coalition agreement, will not have a voice in the new government, but it will have an increased presence in the Bundestag, and as a result it would be foolish of Merkel and the rest of her coalition to ignore either the fact that their margin of victory was smaller than in the past or the fact that they have been put on notice regarding the nation’s immigration and refugee policies. German voters are clearly worried about the impact such policies are having on their economy and their culture, and they sent a pretty loud message regarding how they feel about it.