On the same day it was announced in December that Brexit talks were ready to move into the second phase, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed her party allies at a Brussels summit and spoke of Europe needing a strong German government, more than ever before. Seven months since the Merkel-led Christian Democratic Union (CDU) failed to gain the necessary 50% of seats in its autumn general election, the gruelling bid to form a coalition appears to have reached its conclusion as the European Union undergoes a series of historic events which will shape its future and see the first ever departure of a member.
Globally recognised as one of the crucial components of central Europe’s political makeup, Germany faced the intricate and slow process of forming the coalition it needed to create the government to lead the country until the next election. Whilst the conservative CDU have gradually moved closer to the centre of Germany’s political spectrum, its hope to form a coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) took several months to negotiate after the SPD stated it wanted to have the casting vote on the decision forming the partnership, known as a ‘grand coalition’, which at times may have looked unlikely to happen at all.
Germany’s firm government…viewed around the world as ‘a parliamentary system that worked just as reliably as its cars and industrial machinery’.
Whilst there have been relatively few consequences of the issue of not having a government set in stone so far, one obvious concern for Germany’s key figures is bound to be the prospect of its reputation as a solid political structure beginning to fade. Of course, the longer these negotiations took and continue to take, the longer the worries of the nation’s voters will take to be resolved, such as the rising dissatisfaction with the far-right (now Merkel’s greatest opposition), which was visible in the outcome of the polls as the Eurosceptic Alternativ für Deutschland closed the election with the third-largest amount of votes. Germany’s Spiegel Online likened Germany’s firm government previously viewed around the world as ‘a parliamentary system that worked just as reliably as its cars and industrial machinery’.
Perhaps this revering mind-set has been dented in the months since the election’s outcome. From Merkel’s point of view, the difficulties lay not only with convincing members of the SPD. Members of her own party have voiced their criticism, alongside the inhabitants of country itself, for whom the familiar comfort of ‘wir schaffen das!’ (we can do it!) may have begun to sound a little distant in the recent uncertainty. After the first round of coalition attempts with the CDU, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) – commonly referred to as the ‘Jamaica coalition’ – failed, this led to the latest attempts to form another grand-coalition to follow the previous government’s methods.
Now into February, following the search to form a coalition, which sprung up as a consequence of September‘s elections, an announcement was made this week stating that the CDU have successfully reached a deal to form a coalition with former governmental partners, the SPD, one likely to have evoked some relief in the German Chancellor. It does, at least, seem to be the move with the smoothest possible way out – a minority CDU government could be branded as weak, and more elections would only lead to more instability at a time when Germany’s government needs to be stronger more than ever, echoing the words of Merkel herself.
Whilst this may seem like a triumph after the months of talks over forming a coalition, a few fairly crucial points must be looked after first, with even a few examples of these recognised as seismic challenges for those involved. SPD leader Martin Schulz must now convince his party that this is a good decision, as many may view his agreement to join the CDU government as a step away from his left-wing views; many significant ministries of the government have also been handed into the care of the SPD. Arguably the greatest hurdle to overcome firstly is that approximately 500,000 SPD members must vote on the deal. Should the majority vote against it, then the deal will collapse and this could lead to new elections in the autumn, which would be twelve months following the vote which led to this situation in the first place, undoubtedly increasing the uncertainty of those who headed to the polls nearly half a year ago.