A divided Germany greets Merkel’s last grand coalition

The toll, however, is very high for the weakened mainstream parties and it would slow down the plans to consolidate Berlin and Paris as the new western axis of moderation and support for the neo-liberal globalist cause
A divided Germany greets Merkel’s last grand coalition
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany - Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/REUTERS
08/03/2018
15:36
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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After six months of endless negotiations and political bickering, Germany has, at last, a new government headed by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. The toll, however, is very high for the weakened mainstream parties and it would slow down the plans to consolidate Berlin and Paris as the new western axis of moderation and support for the neo-liberal globalist cause.

Merkel is due to be re-elected by the Bundestag (lower chamber of  Parliament) on March 14 as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, according to procedure, nominated her for the position, and thus, she will govern in the same fashion she did 12 years ago as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with a dubious grand coalition after a hesitant Social Democratic Party (SPD) voted in favour of joining the partnership despite the opposition of its radical youth wing.

“We see that [...] Europe faces challenges and that a strong voice from Germany, along with that of France and other member states, is necessary,” she stressed in a short statement on Monday, adding that in her fourth term in office she would work to secure jobs and prosperity in the so-called “economic engine” of the European Union (EU).

In her long period in power, succeeding Federal Chancellor Helmut Köhl, the architect of German reunification in 1990, Mutti Merkel presided over a historic stage of economic expansion and confidence in the proactive new international role Germany was called to accomplish as the influential liberal matriarch of an ever-growing and rich EU.

That feeling was briefly reinforced with the surprising victory of Donald Trump in the United States, yet it was eroded in its very beginning by the centrifugal trends triggered by the refugee crisis (more than one million asylum seekers in Germany since 2015), Brexit, and the rise of the xenophobic nationalist, far-right parties as these days the Italian general election results are showing.

Indeed, both Merkel’s conservative CDU and centre-left SPD took a hammering in September’s inconclusive election while the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag for the first time with 12.6% of the vote becoming the largest opposition group surpassing Merkel’s old junior partners from the Free Democrats (FDP), the Left (Die Linke), and the Greens.

No ideological boundaries

In a world where ideological boundaries between conservatives and socialists have been blurred away—say, the former French or Spanish mainstream parties—the CDU and its Bavarian “sister party,” the Christian Social Union (CSU) lost 65 seats while the SPD, Germany’s oldest party, suffered its worst election result ever capturing scarcely a fifth of voters.

In the longest period of coalition-building in post-war Germany, Merkel tried hard, yet failed to form an alliance with the FDP and the Greens. She was forced to make concessions for the sake of the existing coalition, such as the first strike aimed to the once powerful Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who will be replaced by a social democrat along with other five cabinet positions.

In order to tamp down internal criticism, Merkel had to name Jens Spahn, one of her most outspoken critics—particularly on immigration,—as Health Minister. It should be noted that Spahn is a young and ambitious former pharmaceutical lobbyist seen as the flag-bearer for the right-wing of the CDU who could become a party leader in the future.

In the same vein, Horst Seehofer, leader of the more conservative CSU, which only fields candidates in its home state, will be the new Interior Minister. Worried about losing its traditional absolute majority in the October Bavarian election, it is expected that the CSU will run a campaign opposed to Merkel on immigration and other issues in order to bring back voters from the AfD.

However, the twilight of the Merkel era is not a good omen for the SPD, split between the party’s leadership, headed by the outgoing Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and failed Federal Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, which backed joining the grand coalition, and the youth wing. The SPD’s new General Secretary, Lars Klingbeil, said that even with the mandate to govern again and avoid new elections, the party has to restructure itself starting today.

Lacking public enthusiasm for her new tenure, Merkel’s immediate regional tasks will include coping with the emergence of an extreme political landscape in Italy both the far-right Lega and the populist Five Star Movement, winners of Sunday´s election in the fourth European economy are well known by its opposition to Brussels bureaucracy, the “austerity dogma,” and the monetary union. In the domestic front, Merkel will face the AfD, which predicted that “the bill will come at the latest in 2021,” when Germans are again due to go to the polls.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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