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Friday, September 23, 2005

The indecisive election results of Sunday have largely left the political scene in Germany in a situation of mild confusion. Coalition talks have been ongoing, but son far there is little that can be regarded as established fact. After Schroeder announced his intention to remain in power, the whole business was made rather more complicated, because this rules out a grand coalition with the Christian-democrats (CDU/CSU). The only way this could have happened is if the gang of West-German men who run the party decided to oust the uppity Eastern gal Angela Merkel so as to circumvent her determination not to compromise with the ruling social-democrats (SPD). But as it goes they obviously support her because she was confirmed as party leader, increased her support from 92.6% to 98.6%. This is gives her a good base from which to take measures that may become necessary.
Now, Schroeder and his pals aren’t stupid of course, so they’ve been roaming around for some way to remain in power. As a background it is necessary to explain that the German Christian-democrats are actually made up of two parties, the CSU which only exists in Bavaria, and the CDU which exists everywhere else. But they count as one Fraktion in parliament. So this week some people in the SPD have decided that breaking up this Fraktion would make the SPD the strongest single force in parliament and would automatically confer the status of Chancellor-maker. In order to do so, they proposed to change the parliamentary rules of business to ban parties from forming common fractions. Although they have retracted from this since one help but agree with one conservative politician, who complained that this was the methodology of a “banana republic”. Certainly this sorry episode is another argument against the SPD.
Besides the grand coalition, another numerically realistic option would be the Jamaica-coalition, in which the Christian-democrats, right-liberals and greens go together (the party colours match the colours of the Jamaican flag). This may have worked on the local level occasionally, but I cannot for the life of me see this working on the federal level. The only way to achieve such a coalition would be if on or the other side start compromising seriously on their political positions, which is neither likely nor desirable for reforming Germany. In any case the Greens have said no. The only bonus such a coalition would have brought, would be the inevitable headline, now only roaming around as a joke: from deadlock to dreadlock!
That brings us to a rather more difficult proposition of having a conservative-liberal minority government. One constitutional expert has already argued in favour of it and pointed out that the president would ultimately have the decision. Given that he’s from the CDU himself and given his past penchant for controversy in speaking out politically and how he deals with the constitution, my guess would be he will be quite happy to appoint Merkel as leader of a minority coalition. So far the politicians have been rather shy about all of this, with only one right-liberal openly calling for this solution. In any case, the only alternative, the rather farcical exercise of renewed elections in a few weeks time, would currently not produce any change, as polling suggests that voters would vote exactly the same way as they did on Sunday. Strangely enough they also believe the useless grand coalition, with its inherent self-blocking, can solve Germany’s problems best. Another example of the far too widespread German love of consensualism.
The only encouraging news has been the latest polls on who the Germans want as Chancellor. For a long time Schroeder has had a clear lead here, but now the shift is there, Angela Merkel is now leading by 47 to 44 per centage points. Given all these factors the minority government looks likely. It is certainly the best option right now. Merkel is clearly gaining ground as future Chancellor in her party and the population at large, all other options are clearly not going to work out, so she should build on this, take the initiative and push for the Chancellorship.
This is her chance to change Germany. It is the chance to improve Germany’s economy and thus the foundation for Germany’s foreign policy. Given her less Europhile instincts, Merkel can thus take up the positions on European reform that Schroeder pushed in alliance with Blair, but abandoned due to a weakening home economy (see here or here). This will be a help for Britain’s reform course in the EU. Additionally, the intent to rebalance German foreign policy in an Atlantic direction, should at least ease the making of Western security policy. Given that this is a vital issue for the UK, Britain should be hoping that Merkel has the guts to do it.



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