Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
16 January 2018

Germany’s coalition talks mark the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s legacy

As negotiations hang in the balance, the Chancellor is facing internal pressure. 

By Florian Ranft

It’s been nearly four months since the federal election and three parties of the previous government have agreed to talk with each other about renewing their coalition. Nothing more. That’s German efficiency in 2018.

There’s a long way to go from here, but it’s a start. There are a number of major stumbling blocks in the way of Germany getting a new government. German social democrats may have their Corbyn moment when they put the coalitions treaty to a membership vote, a positive outcome being far from certain.

Following 24 hours of intensive talks, the party leaders emerged as a harmonic trio in front of journalists at the SPD headquarters on Friday morning. It is said that the breakthrough for the deal they presented came over Currywurst and Skat, a very popular German card game.

There is something in it for everyone. The CDU and Angela Merkel gained a commitment for the continuation of a balanced budget and no tax increases. The CSU returns to Bavaria, where a crucial state election is set to take place in October, with a cap on numbers for refugee family reunification and annual refugee inflow at 180,000-220,000.

And the SPD and Martin Schulz receive minor concessions in social policy, entitlement to all-day schooling for children up to 10 years and a more generous basic pension for those that have worked for more than 35 years. The icing on the cake for the former President of the European Parliament is the announcement of a “new dawn for Europe”, which can be understood as a response to Macron’s ambitious EU reform agenda. This is a signal of openness to taking the EU forward in the absence of any red lines. Although the policy document also promises to strengthen civil society, democratic and liberal values and embrace new technologies, it is hardly a departure into a new age for German politics.  

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

It remains to be seen whether a few tweaks in social policy and reforms in Europe are enough to please party members. Back in 2013, nearly 76 per cent of SPD members voted in favour of the coalition treaty with Angela Merkel’s conservatives, but two SDP branches have voted against this round of coalition talks in recent days.

After the crushing defeat in September social democrats would have wished for a fresh start in opposition. But the collapse of negotiation talks between conservatives, liberals and greens (the ‘Jamaica’ coalition) in November put the SPD on the spot. Members might fear the role in government will spell the end for much-needed party renewal and the swing to the left.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

It’s also the beginning of the end of Merkel’s legacy. There is a good chance that internal pressure over the weak election result and her refugee policy will rise and force her to step down half-way through the electoral period at the end of next year.

If the SPD were to rally itself and raise the stakes of the game, it could well score the the Skat-winning Grande Ouvert hand and bring down the coalition government, trigger elections and overtake the CDU/CSU. Without an obvious new leadership candidate, the conservatives will be catching their breath after Merkel is gone.

Florian Ranft is head of policy & international at Policy Network.

Topics in this article: ,