Notes From Berlin – Another Fast Roundup of Current Poli­ti­cal Deve­lo­p­ments in Germany

Foto: By Sebas­tian Berg­mann [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wiki­me­dia Commons

What the decision for another „Grand Coali­tion“ led by Chan­cellor Merkel implies for Germany, EU and the Trans­at­lan­tic Alliance.

This weekend, the inter­na­tio­nal com­mu­nity was looking at the head­quar­ters of Germany’s Social Demo­cra­tic Party (SPD) in Berlin, where almost 380.000 ballot cards were counted. When Sunday morning the results were publis­hed, you could hear sighs of relief all over the place: A two-third majo­rity of party members voted in favour of another grand coali­tion with Angela Merkel’s Chris­tian Demo­crats. But what seems to be a sound majo­rity is looking less impres­sive having in mind that the entire poli­ti­cal estab­lish­ment of the SPD was beating the drums for a YES vote.

Nevertheless, Germany is heading towards another center left /​ center wright government sup­por­ted by a broad majo­rity in the Federal Par­lia­ment. And once more Angela Merkel will lead the government. Finally, after all poli­ti­cal tur­bu­len­ces over the last months, Germany is sending signals of sta­bi­lity and con­ti­nuity to friends and foes.

Any other decision by the Social Demo­crats would have been self-defea­ting, giving their his­to­ri­cal low in recent polls. It also would have been highly irra­tio­nal before the back­drop of the outcome of the coali­tion talks in favor of the Social Demo­crats, both in terms of poli­ti­cal agenda and minis­te­rial posi­ti­ons. In spite of their disap­poin­ting elec­tion results, the SPD managed to conquer major offices in the upco­m­ing government, espe­cially the Foreign Office, the Tre­a­sury and the Minis­try of Labour and Social Policy with it’s huge amount of finan­cial resources.

If Sigmar Gabriel, the acting Foreign Minis­ter, will remain in office, is the most inte­res­ting ques­tion for the next days. The bets are against him, because he’s an appro­ved advers­ary of the Social Demo­crats new dual lea­ders­hip: Andrea Nahles, the former Minis­ter of Labour and Social Policy, and Olaf Scholz, first minis­ter of Hamburg and desi­gna­ted Minis­ter of Finance. Fur­ther­more, Gabriel has publicly chal­len­ged the Russia- /​ Ukraine-Policy of the Chan­cellor, deman­ding a much more soft posi­tion towards the Kremlin. But still it’s not clear who may become his successor.

Angela Merkel, who pre­ma­tu­rely has been por­trayed as chan­cellor in decline by parts of the media, has once again showed her polical skills. In a sur­pri­sing move, she pro­mo­ted Anne­gret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, the Prime Minis­ter of a not too large federal state in the very Sou­thwest of Germany, to become the General Secretary of the Chris­tian Demo­cra­tic Party – the same posi­tion she held before pushing away the former Chan­cellor Helmut Kohl. Fur­ther­more, she will bring some next-genera­tion Chris­tian Demo­crats into the cabinet, inclu­ding a poten­tial advers­ary from the more con­ser­va­tive wing of the party.

Once more, Merkel is calling the shots. She will decide when to hand over the baton – either during or after the current elec­to­rial periode – and she will propose her successor.

The coali­tion agree­ment between the two parties puts Europe into the fore­ground. The government will look for closer coope­ra­tion espe­cially with the French pre­si­dent. But given the inter­nal turmoil in the EU and the unre­sol­ved poli­ti­cal dis­pu­tes over fiscal and eco­no­mic poli­cies, refu­gees and the Euro­pean policy towards Russia, it seems not very likely that we’ll see big leaps towards a more united and power­ful Euro­pean Union. The outcome of the Italian General Elec­tions may turn out as another stress test for the EU.

At the same time, fric­tions within the Trans­at­lan­tic Alli­ance are beco­m­ing deeper. Pre­si­dent Trump’s pro­tec­tio­n­ist move towards puni­tive tariffs is trig­ge­ring a trans­at­lan­tic trade war, which will further more weaken the mili­tary alli­ance between Europe and the US.

Unfor­tu­n­a­tely, that’s not a very rosy picture con­cer­ning the state of the West. The Kremlin may see this as an oppor­tu­nity to inten­sify its attempt to split NATO and the EU and to promote anti-liberal forces in the West. This is the battle the Center for Liberal Moder­nity is engaged in.


Ralf Fücks is mana­ging partner of the Center for Liberal Demo­cracy, a new think tank and policy network in Berlin

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