Angela Merkel in troubled waters as her Christian Democrats feel the Chancellor sold them out in Germany’s new Grand Coalition
The dust has settled on the coalition agreement paving the way to a repeat of the old Grand Coalition of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats of the SPD as junior partners. But now the mud-slinging has started, as many in the CDU are disappointed with what the Chancellor had to give in order to preserve power. So far, discontentment is largely only voiced privately. But it is everywhere in the CDU, and the headlines to go with it are blaring: “Merkel hands over Government to SPD,” screams mass-circulation daily BILD; business daily Handelsblatt blasts the new (and old) “Alliance of Standstill”; and Frankfurter Allgemeine identifies the SPD as the clear winner of the negotiations: “Merkel’s Clearance Sale.”
The Merkel Myth: now coming with Scratches
The agreement is indeed a tough one to swallow for the CDU – not only for the faction in Bundestag, but also for your average member out there. The loss of the Finance Ministry, chaired for 8 years by CDU veteran and heavy-weight Wolfgang Schäuble, is one significant blow. Add to that the spirit of the deal, with its focus on spending and redistribution, the lack of courage to go for structural reform, and the fact that the parties seem to think that the challenge of digitization can be dealt adequately with by digging up holes in the countryside to improve broadband connections, and you can see why disappointment in Angela Merkel from within is widespread and will be rising. She is aware, and will have to take into account that from now on, the myth around her as a leader of exceptional and solitary qualities will diminish. But this is today´s assessment only, and she has enough experience to know that she stands a decent chance to re-assert herself over time. However, it is her last term, and growing discontent from within is going to be a fact of life for her.
SPD: Loser turned Winner
The SPD clearly has made the most of its weak position, in fact turning weakness into strength by asking for a maximum, and getting it, under the threat of the upcoming party members’ vote. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Economic Affairs which went to CSU and CDU respectively are nice to have, but in no way comparable to the Ministry of Finance and the Foreign Office, both SPD-run in the future. And don’t forget: Merkel also had to hand over the Ministry of the Interior to the CDU´s Bavarian sister CSU. It´s the ministry responsible for immigration, and it will be run by Horst Seehofer whose anti-Merkel campaign during the refugee crisis was a key factor for the bad results both Christian Democratic parties suffered in the September elections. But Merkel will console herself with the idea that having Seehofer inside the cabinet is better than having him outside of it, and in terms of power management, she´s right about that.
Was there More to Get?
Could the Chancellor have gotten more? Well, she certainly went as far as she felt she had to go to keep the power. But had she known in advance that Martin Schulz was ready and willing to hand the SPD party leadership to faction whip Andrea Nahles, Merkel just might have put up a bigger fight. That´s because this surprise move in fact turned around the upcoming SPD membership vote on the coalition deal whose results will be in in early March: It´s no longer going to be a vote of the SPD members on the grand coalition, but will turn into a vote of confidence – or no-confidence – in the new leader (by the way: the first woman in the job for more than 150 years) , and it’s hard to imagine that the more than 450.000 SPD members will burden their new heroine with a no-vote, particularly as Nahles is such a strong proponent of the grand coalition.
One final observation: The new cabinet-to-be, and in particular the CDU/CSU part of it, looks a bit like the last platoon of the old guard, and a generational conflict is certainly looming over the horizon.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
With over 25 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, and consulting, Mr. Kothé advises companies seeking relevant impact with politics and politicians. He founded FTI Consulting’s public affairs practice in Berlin in 2010. Previously, he served as spokesperson for German Federal President Horst Köhler. He also headed the communications and media team of the German liberal party, FDP. Starting his career in journalism at the BBC’s World Service in London, Mr. Kothé has also worked as a senior parliamentary correspondent for Germany’s news channel n-tv.