The German Chancellor is back in the driver’s seat of German politics – for now
You have to give her that: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, under heavy fire from her own party for having brought in the worst ever result for her Christian Democrats at the September elections, and having failed to negotiate an acceptable deal in the coalition talks with junior partner SPD, needed only one week to turn things around in her favour again.
How did she manage that? Simple: First, and amid much applause, she announced the appointment of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (foreigners, relax: it’s aka AKK) for the position of CDU general secretary. Mind you: AKK had to give up her rather prestigious state office as Prime Minister of the state of Saarland (tiny as it is, Saarland still is one of the 16 states of Germany) for the rather menial position of key party strategist and campaign manager, but AKK did it voluntarily, suggesting the switch herself.
Turning foes into friends
Then Merkel announced that she intended to elevate her most vocal internal critic, Jens Spahn, who previously acted only on the sidelines of government as state secretary in the finance ministry, to cabinet rank: Spahn will be Germany’s next minister of health if all goes well. With both moves, Merkel not only succeeded in quietening down discontent in her own CDU. She also forces Spahn, a political youngster at 38 in German terms, who shrewdly combines his homosexuality with conservative thinking, into the discipline of her cabinet, and now he will have to prove that he is up to expectations.
The last act was this week’s CDU party convention in which she obtained a massive vote of approval for the coalition agreement with the SPD. It didn’t take much to convince delegates they’d better come to reason. In fact, her key statement of self-reflection on things gone wrong before, during and after the campaign was typically muted, Merkel-style: “There was some distress in the population about the capabilities of the state administration to function properly, and this was heightened by the arrival of refugees.” Hard to say it in an even more detached manner but, alas, it fully sufficed for the delegates.
Prepare your heritage – and your heir
What Merkel accomplished with these few tactical moves is rather impressive: Order is restored in the CDU, her political heritage which consists in modernizing the party and making it attractive to women and the younger generation is secured, and there’s even a chance that by appointing AKK she will succeed in having a say on her successor once the time has come. No doubt, a new star is born in the CDU.
SPD situation: less agreeable
Compare all this to the situation in which the SPD leadership finds itself in by their own manoeuvring: They still have to struggle to secure a majority of their membership in favour of the new coalition, and designated party leader Andrea Nahles has to explain publicly why pet dogs will not be able to participate in the vote (that’s because mass-circulation daily Bild managed to smuggle in a family dog as an officially welcomed new SPD member).
It’s quite a contrast, indeed. But still, we have to wait for the weekend to find out about the final vote of the SPD members. Only once it’s in will we know if, finally and a full six months after the general elections, Germany will have a new, stable government under the leadership of Angela Merkel.
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.