After coalition, challenges stare at Merkel

By Li Chao Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/11 21:03:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

After intensive talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic party (SPD) finally agreed to be governing coalition partners last Wednesday. Later, the SPD's delegates will vote on a final coalition deal which is much likely to be passed.

It is not rare that a coalition has faced hurdles while trying to form a government in Europe. In 2010, it took 18 months of negotiations to form a coalition government in Belgium because parties could not reach an agreement.

However, it is the first time that a coalition has hit a roadblock in Germany after World War II. Germany is the largest economy and the pillar of the EU. In recent years, the bloc has faced a slew of crisis and black swan events. If Germany falls into unrest, it can no longer lead the EU and will erode European citizens' confidence in the bloc's future. That the coalition government in Germany will be formed soon comes as a relief.

The breakthrough in coalition talks is only the start of a long road. The new German government will face multiple challenges.

The first challenge is to ease domestic conflicts and promote unity. The world always sees Germany as the stabilizing anchor of the EU, but the chaos during the formation of the coalition showed that the contradictions in German society are just as prominent as in other EU member states.

Because of the negative effects of globalization, Germany's traditional values of freedom and openness have been eroded and people are growing conservative and inward-looking. The CDU and SPD have framed similar polices in recent years, unifying all classes with the policy of the middle way. But the policy cannot sustain under the new circumstances as more people choose the extremist political option for their own interests.

Germans are eager for changes. But the decision makers of the two parties are still mainly former ones as new leaders have not acquired prominence. As Merkel is now going into the fourth term, we can expect continuous policies without real reforms.

Some think that the SPD is more pro-EU and its partnership in the coalition will promote European integration, which may be basically true. However, it is clear from the coalition agreement that the Europe policies of the two parties mostly restate their points of view. To suggestions like French President Emmanuel Macron's call for a common euro zone budget, Merkel worried that the common budget is just another way to share the euro bond and debt. This is unacceptable in Germany where populism is rife and people cannot compromise on the issue.

When it comes to European integration, Merkel advocates cautious and steady progress while Martin Schulz, leader of the SPD, wants to take a big stride forward by making a high-profile proposal of turning the EU into a "United States of Europe" by 2025. Such difference will without doubt affect the two sides' cooperation in their European policies.

The long stalemate in forming new government has dented Germany's international image and influence. In the future, Berlin will find it increasingly hard to play a leading role in the region.

Support for the CDU and SPD slumped to its lowest since the Cold War. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, in the mean time, became the third largest as well as the biggest opposition party. Peter Boehringer, a member of the AfD, was elected chairman of the German parliament's budget committee. It means the new government will likely face more hurdles in the coming years.

Meanwhile, since the refugee crisis in 2015, Germans have become more and more dissatisfied with Merkel and she has faced rising resentment within her party. In order to form the new government as soon as possible, Merkel made painful compromises this time by transferring the power of diplomacy, finance etc to the SPD, which will further weaken her authority.

Due to the political discord, Germany's voice has nearly disappeared from the EU's policymaking circles in recent months. This has stalled EU's reform process, which the region urgently needed. During the process of forming a new cabinet, people from all walks of lives in Germany showed differing perceptions over the future of European integration. It not only concerned the outside world, but also dampened other people's confidence in Berlin's leadership in the EU.

While Macron is now aspiring to lead the bloc, Germany has also repeatedly said it would enhance cooperation with France. The two countries will likely experience a balance of power and return to act as the Franco-German engine to steer forward the EU.

The author is an Assistant Research Professor with Institute of European Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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