Germany on way to forming government

By George N. Tzogopoulos Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/16 20:18:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

In the last 13 years, Chancellor Angela Merkel has put her personal stamp on German politics. Her efficient administration is consolidating her political dynasty as the majority of her compatriots are associating her stay in the Chancellery with stability and progress.

Of all eurozone countries, Germany is the one facing the least difficult internal problems. An economic superpower with a huge current account surplus, Germany is able to create good living conditions for its citizens.

According to the latest available data from November, for instance, unemployment fell to 5.3 percent. This was the lowest since the reunification of the country in 1990. Unemployment rates in October and September were both 5.4 percent.

Unsurprisingly, Merkel won in the federal election in September, which saw her Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and its sister Christian Social Union (CSU) gain 33 percent of the vote. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) followed with 20.5 percent.

The formation of a new coalition government has proven a difficult task.

When talks of a "Jamaica" coalition between the CDU/CSU, the Liberals (FDP) and Greens collapsed two months ago, a renewed alliance between the CDU/CSU and SPD was the only viable scenario.

The three parties have already found common ground to form a grand coalition like they had 2005-09 and 2013-17. A few days ago in Berlin, they signed a provisional agreement of 28 pages setting out the basis for a final deal.

This was grounded on compromises according to different policy areas. The CDU and CSU are largely imposing their agenda on migration, taxation and budgetary issues. The SPD is having a stronger say on future investments in education and digital infrastructure.

A final agreement should not be taken for granted. SPD members will have to give their approval in a party congress in Bonn on January 21. There is certainly skepticism among many of them about whether they should back the decision of SPD leader Martin Schulz to cooperate with Merkel despite his initial refusal on the very same night of the federal election, on September 24. Delegates attending the Saxony-Anhalt's SPD party conference, for example, expressed their disagreement, although this is not binding in view of the coming Sunday's vote.

German public opinion is divided. An Emnid survey published by Bild newspaper after the blueprint for a coalition government showed that 56 percent of respondents applauded the CDU/CSU agreement and 36 percent found it bad.

However, an Infratest dimap poll published by Welt newspaper just days before the breakthrough found only 40 percent considered it good and 52 percent regarded it as less good or bad. This negative trend is deepest among SPD supporters: 60 percent.

It is hard to imagine the SPD congress will challenge Schulz and lead Germany into political instability, a minority government or a snap election. A more likely scenario is that the SPD leadership will be asked to push for a better agreement with the CDU/CSU in its final version. The existing 28-page document could undergo some alterations during formal negotiations of the coming months.

The next three to five years will be important for Germany's political future. On the one hand, the CDU finds itself in an awkward period during which it will encounter natural political damage along with a need to refresh its political personnel. Wolfgang Schauble has already departed from the finance ministry while Merkel will surely not seek a fifth consecutive term.

And on the other, the SPD has to reform from within - while being part of the coalition government - in order to formulate a reliable pure center-left political program for the 2021 federal election.

In spite of some difficulties, disagreements and delays, it will be positive for Germany to establish its new government soon. That's also good news for the EU which is expecting closer German-French cooperation to pave the way for some necessary reforms.

Merkel has steered both Germany and the EU during particularly turbulent circumstances. What should be her last term in office will define her legacy: Final impressions certainly matter. She has already worked well with several politicians at the national and international level and she is determined to do so with Schulz.

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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