Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Well, despite my objections and doubts, the idea of a grand coalition has been gaining traction in Berlin. It is laready being talked up by the media as the only possible solution to the current troubles. While I remain opposed and think a minority coalition would be preferable, there have been signs that a grand coalition might be achieveable after all. In the SPD some people are obviously becoming a little fed-up with Schroeder's insitence that he remain in charge. As compromise some have even suggested that there could be a shared Chancellorship, with Schroder handing over to Merkel in two years time. But this has been dismissed by the Christian-democrats and it's not going to happen. As a grand coalion is not going to be possible with Schroeder, the question now is: will he go?
Actually it might happen. Schroeder has already said he will do everything to make the grand coalition work. Given the unrest in his own ranks and the strong backing of Merkel in the CDU/CSU, that can only mean he is willing to consider stepping down.
But why is he waiting so long? There is a danger here. I am not exactly sure about the time-frame, but if memory serves the politicians have two weeks to form a new government. Given the pending election in Dresden this Sunday, might count towards granting extra time, which would mean there are another three weeks to go. But that is unclear. Otherwise it will be the president's decision to either determine the chancellor, or, more likely, order renewed elections. Although I endorsed the idea of another round of voting a while ago, I am not sure this is a good idea after all. As I reported on Friday, people would vote exactly the same way again. Either way, this is all constitutional mine-field territory, and constitutions are not for playing around with.
So what explains Schroder's behaviour? It is true that he doesn't have a very cautious and restrictive approach towards the German constitution. Leaving that aside, it may be his desire to ensure a further personal victory, by taking Merkel down with him. His current manouvering could well mean that the two big parties get tired of their leaders' ego and drop both of them. Given the CDU/CSU's strong backing for Merkel however, Schroeder might thus have been moved to soften his position. The other alternative is that he is playing hard to get for his party. Though not known as particularly attached to the SPD, he could still be trying to ensure they get as good a deal as possible in coalition talks.
The bottom line of this is that if Merkel gets through this, which it currently seems she will, then she will clearly emerge as a strong leader. Given her professed desire to alter Germany's foreign policy, it seems unlikely she will give too much power to a possible SPD foreign minister. That scenario may not be as attractive as a coalition with the right-liberals, but it certainly improves the options for Britain in working together with Germany. And for that a strong Merkel would seem indispensable.