Notes From Berlin — Another Fast Roundup of Current Polit­i­cal Devel­op­ments in Germany

Foto: By Sebas­t­ian Bergmann [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wiki­me­dia Commons

What the deci­sion for another „Grand Coali­tion” led by Chan­cel­lor Merkel implies for Germany, EU and the Transat­lantic Alliance.

This weekend, the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity was looking at the head­quar­ters of Germany’s Social Demo­c­ra­tic Party (SPD) in Berlin, where almost 380.000 ballot cards were counted. When Sunday morning the results were pub­lished, you could hear sighs of relief all over the place: A two-third major­ity of party members voted in favour of another grand coali­tion with Angela Merkel’s Chris­t­ian Democ­rats. But what seems to be a sound major­ity is looking less impres­sive having in mind that the entire polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment of the SPD was beating the drums for a YES vote.

Nev­er­the­less, Germany is heading towards another center left /​ center wright gov­ern­ment sup­ported by a broad major­ity in the Federal Par­lia­ment. And once more Angela Merkel will lead the gov­ern­ment. Finally, after all polit­i­cal tur­bu­lences over the last months, Germany is sending signals of sta­bil­ity and con­ti­nu­ity to friends and foes.

Any other deci­sion by the Social Democ­rats would have been self-defeat­ing, giving their his­tor­i­cal low in recent polls. It also would have been highly irra­tional before the back­drop of the outcome of the coali­tion talks in favor of the Social Democ­rats, both in terms of polit­i­cal agenda and min­is­te­r­ial posi­tions. In spite of their dis­ap­point­ing elec­tion results, the SPD managed to conquer major offices in the upcom­ing gov­ern­ment, espe­cially the Foreign Office, the Trea­sury and the Min­istry of Labour and Social Policy with it’s huge amount of finan­cial resources.

If Sigmar Gabriel, the acting Foreign Min­is­ter, will remain in office, is the most inter­est­ing ques­tion for the next days. The bets are against him, because he’s an approved adver­sary of the Social Democ­rats new dual lead­er­ship: Andrea Nahles, the former Min­is­ter of Labour and Social Policy, and Olaf Scholz, first min­is­ter of Hamburg and des­ig­nated Min­is­ter of Finance. Fur­ther­more, Gabriel has pub­licly chal­lenged the Russia- /​ Ukraine-Policy of the Chan­cel­lor, demand­ing a much more soft posi­tion towards the Kremlin. But still it’s not clear who may become his suc­ces­sor.

Angela Merkel, who pre­ma­turely has been por­trayed as chan­cel­lor in decline by parts of the media, has once again showed her polical skills. In a sur­pris­ing move, she pro­moted Annegret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, the Prime Min­is­ter of a not too large federal state in the very South­west of Germany, to become the General Sec­re­tary of the Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­tic Party – the same posi­tion she held before pushing away the former Chan­cel­lor Helmut Kohl. Fur­ther­more, she will bring some next-gen­er­a­tion Chris­t­ian Democ­rats into the cabinet, includ­ing a poten­tial adver­sary from the more con­ser­v­a­tive wing of the party.

Once more, Merkel is calling the shots. She will decide when to hand over the baton – either during or after the current elec­to­r­ial periode — and she will propose her suc­ces­sor.

The coali­tion agree­ment between the two parties puts Europe into the fore­ground. The gov­ern­ment will look for closer coop­er­a­tion espe­cially with the French pres­i­dent. But given the inter­nal turmoil in the EU and the unre­solved polit­i­cal dis­putes over fiscal and eco­nomic poli­cies, refugees and the Euro­pean policy towards Russia, it seems not very likely that we’ll see big leaps towards a more united and pow­er­ful Euro­pean Union. The outcome of the Italian General Elec­tions may turn out as another stress test for the EU.

At the same time, fric­tions within the Transat­lantic Alliance are becom­ing deeper. Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­tec­tion­ist move towards puni­tive tariffs is trig­ger­ing a transat­lantic trade war, which will further more weaken the mil­i­tary alliance between Europe and the US.

Unfor­tu­nately, that’s not a very rosy picture con­cern­ing the state of the West. The Kremlin may see this as an oppor­tu­nity to inten­sify its attempt to split NATO and the EU and to promote anti-liberal forces in the West. This is the battle the Center for Liberal Moder­nity is engaged in.


Ralf Fücks is man­ag­ing partner of the Center for Liberal Democ­racy, a new think tank and policy network in Berlin

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