February 7, 2018 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria
After months of uncertainty, a failed attempt to form a broad coalition that included the Green Party, and a controversial push towards a renewal of the Grand Coalition, Germany has moved a decisive step closer to forming a new government. On Wednesday, after weeks of tough negotiations, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed on a coalition contract and the distribution of ministerial responsibility among the parties of the Grand Coalition.
Some of the central elements of the agreement have become known to the public over the past weeks but indeed another 24-hour marathon of negotiation to complete putting together the program for the next four years of CDU/CSU and SPD government under the chancellorship of Angela Merkel. The completion of the coalition agreement gives a first indication of how this iteration of the Grand Coalition might be different from its predecessor: As it currently stands, the Social Democrats (SPD) will take control of six ministries, among them critical ones like Labour and Social Affairs, Finance, and Foreign Affairs, The fact that the SPD is slated to take over the Minister of Finance is likely a signal that the future German government will loosen its austere spending policy and invest some of the record surplus in the public coffers on public initiatives and social programs. Another news that surprised the German public in the wake of announcing the agreement is that the current leader of the SPD, Martin Schulz, will step down in March (probably staying in the new government as foreign minister) and be replaced by former Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Andrea Naples. She would be the first woman to lead the Social Democrats in the 155-year history of the party.
The announcement of the successful completion of the coalition negotiations will likely end months of uncertainty in German politics. There has been growing impatience domestically regarding the failure to form a government after last September's elections. Similarly there is a great sigh of relief palpable in Europe where French President Macron is waiting for his German partners in order to push his ambitious agenda for the European Union.
Yet, there still is one decisive hurdle for the Grand Coalition before it can embark on a renewed four-year term. The 460,000 members of the SPD still have to agree to the coalition agreement (the results of this consultation are expected to be on March 1st). There is a massive opposition within the SPD to join the Christian Democrats under Chancellor Merkel again. At a recent party congress, only 56% of the delegates agreed to the coalition negotiations. The main concern is that another four years in the Grand Coalition would be politically disastrous for the SPD. Already in 2017 the Social Democrats only received a bit more than 20% of the popular vote, the worst showing of this party since 1949. Given the great reservation in particular of the leftist wing of the SPD, the new iteration of the Grand Coalition is not a done deal yet.