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Merkel, Schroeder and the Grand Coalition

by whataboutbob Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:57:22 AM EST

Right now there are three different issues being discussed about the current German political process. We would appreciate hearing from our German EuroTrib political experts on this situation, plus of course any comments from other interested readers.

Merkel's authority limited

Social Democrats have secured control of most of the ministries in return for Merkel replacing Schroeder as chancellor, and insist they will have an equal say in any new government's direction. Senior conservatives acknowledged her room for maneuver would be limited, but said there would be cases where she would have to adjudicate.

Schroeder's long game

In return for giving up the chancellorship, Schroeder has managed to win all the other cabinet positions that the SPD most cares about. The SPD will hold the foreign ministry, which means that Germany will not drop its opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, nor will Merkel be able to wreck the negotiations for Turkey's entry into the European Union. It will hold the finance ministry, which means the CDU's plans for radical tax changes must wait. It will hold the labour ministry, which means that Merkel's plans for radical reforms in the labour market will not happen.

Germany's SPD gets the knives out after deal with Merkel

Now the left and right are fighting to get their favoured candidates into government. Most of their fire has been aimed at the chairman. (...)Andrea Nahles, the main leftwing representative, refused to give Mr Müntefering carte blanche over cabinet appointments. (...)Many SPD MPs think the chairman has proved too soft a negotiator and are uncomfortable about entrusting him with the next round of negotiations, due to start on Monday, over the government's policy agenda.

So where is this process leading to? Can the SPD make internal compromises and get the best candidates in? Or will it collapse, leading to a whole other scenario:

Joschka Fischer is also happy, because the negotiations for the "grand coalition", which must conclude by 12 November, may not produce agreement on a joint program, in which case the president, Horst Koehler, would have two choices. He could nominate one of the major party leaders as chancellor and put it to a secret vote in the Bundestag. But Merkel would lose such a vote, given the overall "left" majority in the legislature, whereas Schroeder would almost certainly win it and go on to form a minority government with the Greens.

Or Koehler could just call a new election -- which the SPD would probably win, since the CDU would have no time to choose a more charismatic leader than the wooden Merkel. Either way, the signs point to a new SPD-Green minority government that depends on Left Party votes to get key legislation through the Bundestag. And even if the "grand coalition" happens, it would probably break down and lead to a new election and a similar outcome before very long. The master tactician wins again.

So a lot is cooking on the stove, and decisions made in the next weeks could lead the German government in many different directions. What do you think will happen, and what would be the best for Germany?

Who wrote the last scenario?

It's compelling, but (a) I think Köhler calling for new elections is much more likely, it is his right to do so if he thinks a minority government would be unstable (which I think it would be), (b) I'm not sure the SPD could go into elections with Schröder again, and they have the problem of choosing a charismatic leader, (c) the CDU does have a more charismatic leader, it has Koch; their only problem is to let him gain far-right voters without losing too many centrist voters.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:23:34 AM EST
Gwynne Dyer, independent British journalist, here writing for Tehran Times. It's in this morning's European Breakfast, take a look at a longer excerpt.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 08:13:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wonder if the SPD has outsmarted itself. The Labor, Health and Finance Ministries are those areas in which the most contentious issues will lie - and their ministers will personally bear the brunt of discontent.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 08:06:20 AM EST
Right now, I'm not a happy camper. I think the SPD is getting a raw deal. Yes, they're going to have more ministers than the CDU/CSU - but who cares? You have to think at least two steps ahead - the critical question is, how are you going to be positioned once the grand coalition falls apart? And fall apart it must, whether it's in a year or two or not until it has lived out a full four year term (unlikely in this case, but certainly not impossible).  

The critical thing to do is to build up a strong SPD figure who is perceived as Merkel's equal and will become her challenger once the deal collapses. There is only one seat at the cabinet table suited to building up the challenger - the office of the foreign secretary. Traditionally, whoever heads the foreign office is also the vice-chancellor. But it's the foreign secretary that people are paying attention to - not the vice-chancellor. If you ask a random sample of Germans on the street who is foreign secretary right now, nine out of ten will tell it's Joschka Fischer. Ask about the vice-chancellor and five out of ten will take a pass. It's a fascinating question why Germans pay so much attention to the foreign office - but fact of the matter is, they do.

So. I had hoped (and have expressed that here) that Schroeder would stay on as foreign secretary under Merkel. He would have been in an awesome position of power - constantly upstaging and outshining Merkel. Merkel would have been blamed for every little thing that's unpopular about the cabinet's policy. Schroeder would have gotten the lion share of the credit for anything popular. And when the coalition collapses, the conservatives would be weakened and the Social Democrats strengthened.

This isn't going to happen now, b/c Schroeder isn't willing to serve under Merkel. Fine, I can understand that. So, looking down the line, who else could take on the role of defacto SPD leader in the government? At this stage of the game, the only one who has the popularity and charisma for this position is Franz Muentefering. And Muentefering wants to (and will) become vice-chancellor - but not foreign secretary. And that's a disaster, in my view. I have to assume Muentefering doesn't feel up to the job. Instead, the most likely candidates for the foreign office are Peter Struck (currently secretary of defense; popular but not charismatic, and questions about his health have been mounting since he suffered a stroke last year); Frank Steinmeier (Schroeder's cabinet secretary and long-term top adviser - publically tho he's completely unknown); and Otto Schily (secretary of the interior; popular but at age 73 on the final leg of his political career). None of these are likely future contenders for the chancellorship. That role will still fall to Muentefering - but he isn't going to be nearly as strong as he would have become in the role of foreign secretary. Worse than that - he's likely going to take the job of labor secretary. And seeing how the reform of the labor market - which Merkel is going to continue mostly unchanged - holds nothing but a world of pain for millions of traditional SPD voters, it's hard to see how Muentefering and the SPD at large could use this position to strengthen their hand.

So, I'm not happy. At this point in time, it looks to me like the SPD is about to squander its chances of forming a new government past Merkel - right now it looks to me as though they're headed for the oppositions benches.

Now, quickly about some of the things mentioned in the article Whataboutbob is quoting from. Oh my, the SPD is going to hold on to the office of the treasury. Well whoop-dee-doo! Actually, no surprise there - that office is toxic as heck at the moment. It's the secretary of the treasury (finance secretary, as we put it) who's publically blamed for the government's austerity policy. That means a lot of pain and frustration is going to be laid at your doorstep. And you can't win. Because the government has to continue paying off the debt for the reunification costs, you can scrimp and save all you want, you still face budget shortfalls year after year and you'll still be violating the Maastricht currency stability benchmarks of the EU year after year. So, absolutely no wonder that the CDU/CSU didn't want that office.

As for the prospect of new elections. First off, it ain't gonna happen. Merkel will be elected unless the great majority of SPD MPs vote against her. But resistance against the deal has been fading fast among the SPD caucus over the last few days. And the reason the critics are now falling back in line is that they realize they're in a no position to win a new election. People aren't exactly enchanted with Merkel, but at this point they view her as the legitimate chancellor, and they're ready to move on. If the deal falls apart because the SPD MPs rebell against Merkel, the SPD will get punished at the polls. As for the prospect of a minority government, get it out of your system already -  can't work under present circumstances. There's no way in heck Schroeder or Muentefering would accept the support of the Linke at this point. Such a deal would cause a massive lapse of public trust in the new government.

So, the SPD has only one way to go - with Merkel and, unfortunately, via Merkel probably into the opposition.

If you can't convince them, confuse them. (Harry S. Truman)

by brainwave on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:28:35 PM EST
So, the SPD has only one way to go - with Merkel and, unfortunately, via Merkel probably into the opposition.

If any further SPD vote losses go towards the left, I say good riddance.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:54:46 PM EST
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