The coalition agreement consists mostly of bland aspirations to virtueby Paul Lever / March 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
Nearly six months after the federal election last September it looks as though Germany will finally get a government. A ballot of the membership of the Social Democrat Party (SPD) resulted in a decisive, albeit unenthusiastic, majority in favour of another Grand Coalition.
It is a second choice government. The Social Democrats originally refused to go into a coalition again as a junior partner. But when talks between Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), the Free Democrats and the Greens broke down they changed their minds.
And it is a government of losers. In the election both of the two big parties, Christian and Social Democrats, recorded their worst ever performances. The Christian Democrats were down to 33 per cent of the vote compared with 41 per cent four years earlier. The Social Democrats fell from 26 per cent to 20 per cent. Since then both parties have lost even more support. The Christian Democrats, having at one point dipped below 30 per cent in the polls, are now hovering around 32 per cent. The Social Democrats are down to under 18 per cent: one poll even showed them behind the right wing Alternative für Deutschland.
“For the Social Democrats the real challenge now is survival”
It is also a government without much ambition. The coalition agreement runs to 13 chapters and 177 pages and covers a vast range of issues. But it consists mostly of bland aspirations to virtue. There are few new initiatives—a commission to review the arrangements for health insurance, some tinkering with labour laws, some increases in the budgets for both defence and development aid—but overall it is more of a steady as you go agenda than a reforming one.
For the Social Democrats the real challenge now is survival. Will they follow the socialist parties in France and the Netherlands into political oblivion? Or can they find a profile, and a leadership, that chimes better with the German public mood?
The signs are not encouraging. Their candidate for the Chancellorship, Martin Schulz, formerly President of the European Parliament, turned out to be a disaster. Lacking in charisma and out of touch with the electorate he floundered in the job; and when he reneged on a promise not to serve in government himself and tried to become the next Foreign Minister the Party ran out of patience and he stepped down. His likely successor as Party Chairman, Andrea Nahles, is a former Minister of Labour who comes from the left wing of the party. There is nothing in her record so far that suggests that she will appeal to voters beyond the diminishing party faithful.