Will Angela Merkel’s younger cabinet really drive an agenda of the future?
FTI’s Martin Kothé takes a close look at the team in the Chancellor’s fourth term
„Habemus Bundesregierung“: It’s day 171 after September’s general elections, and Germany finally has a new government. At its helm, as usual since 2005: Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats. Her re-election by the Bundestag started with a bit of a hick-up, though: Whilst the governing parties, CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats) and SPD (Social Democrats) have a total of 399 seats in the 709-members strong parliament, she only gained 364 votes. This was just 9 votes north of what was needed, and it means that 35 MPs of her own government failed to support her. But mind you: It is after all yet another Grand Coalition – in fact, the third of its kind in her tenure, and Merkel never managed to get all of the votes before. As things stand, Grand Coalitions have such comfortable majorities to rely on that some discontent MPs always felt safe to send uncomfortable messages to the top.
What Merkel had to give up to secure her position
More worrisome from Merkel’s point of view is what she had to give up to secure her position: The powerful finance ministry, run for the past eight years by CDU heavyweight Wolfgang Schäuble, is now in the hands of the Social Democrats, as are the key ministries of labour and foreign affairs. And the interior ministry, in charge of dealing with immigration and home security, changed hands from the CDU to its Bavarian sister CSU. This is more than just an internal family affair, because the new interior minister, Horst Seehofer, was Merkel’s strongest opponent from within ever since the migrant crisis broke in September 2015. Also, Merkel had to accept that her most vocal opponent from her own party, up-and-coming Jens Spahn, needed to be rewarded with a cabinet post. He is to be Germany’s new minister of health, for which Merkel had to relieve one of her most loyal supporters from his cabinet duties.
The SPD have it in their hands: Pride or bickering?
The SPD, for their part, secured a big chunk of influence for themselves despite having brought in the worst results ever on election day: With barely 20 per cent of the vote share, they not only dictated the coalition agreement in large parts, but also succeeded in securing the most influential ministerial jobs for themselves. It’s interesting to note that both the new finance minister, Olaf Scholz, and the new labour minister, Hubertus Heil, do not belong to the traditionalists within the SPD, but have gained themselves a reputation of being pragmatic reformists. Plus, the SPD made Franziska Giffey, 39, the new family minister, and although she lacks experience on federal level, she was closer to real life than many in her party, working as mayor in one of Berlin’s problem-laden boroughs where she took a tough stance against organized crime and the rise of Islamic influence. Now, it’s up to the Social Democrats to prove they can communicate their successes. This, they have been unable to do so far, resorting to internal bickering and in-fighting instead.
A young cabinet with an agenda of the past
The new government is indeed younger and more female than its predecessor, with 44 per cent of cabinet posts filled by women. But many question if this is really a fresh start, or just to give Chancellor Merkel, at 63, a cover behind which she can shield herself in what many agree is her final term in office. The influential SPIEGEL magazine, for example, concludes that the new Grand Coalition “is not a project of the future. Instead, it points back to a past when the world seemed orderly – without the challenges of migration, digitization, terrorism, globalisation, or Trump.”
But it may well be that this is exactly what Germans long for. And as for the Chancellor: the 171 days during which she was not fully in control are over. Angela Merkel is back in the driver’s seat, and with 12 years of experience to back her, she stands a good chance to reassert herself.
(for a list of the full new German cabinet, see link)
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.