Too soon for champagne toasts to GroKo
Ulrike Esther Franke
9 February, 2018
Ulrike Esther Franke
Germany has a government! Well, not really. But we have a coalition! Well, not quite. We have two (three) parties that have provisionally agreed to form a coalition, pending the approval of the SPD's membership. Cautious optimism, rather than celebration, appears to be the order of the day.
It has been a few difficult months in Berlin. I moved to Germany in September, and will leave in March. There is a good chance that the country will be government-less for the duration of my stay. This may be nothing compared to Belgium's record 589 days without elected government, but it is quite extraordinary for the normally stable, politically rather boring Germany.
But at least we now have a coalition treaty. For the CDU this was an expensive deal. Merkel may have gotten the chancellery, but the SPD has claimed the Foreign Office, the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Labour, as well as a few smaller ministries. There is little left for the CDU, which in terms of major ministries has just Defence and Economy to show for its efforts.
Most likely, the SPD got its way by pointing to the sword of Damocles hanging over the negotiations - the vote of its 460,000 members, in whose hands the agreement now lies. “Our members won’t like that…” must have been a common utterance over the course of the negotiations. The SPD only barely got the support from its delegates to begin negotiations in the first place. It now faces an uphill battle to convince its base to agree to the resulting deal.
The coalition agreement is distinctly pro-European. Its title is “A new beginning for Europe. A new dynamic for Germany. A new solidarity for our country”. Europe is the first of the document's 14 sections. Any German government was expected to be pro-European, but the tone of this text agreement nonetheless surprised many. “Germany owes Europe endlessly” is typical of the document. But rhetoric won't keep Europe warm at night. Which is why the sentence “we are ready to contribute more to the EU budget”, will be the most important one for Brussels. Given Brexit, that readiness is more than needed.
And yet. The devil is in the detail. There is no mention of a Eurozone finance minister. How much “more money for Brussels” there will really be remains unclear. The document is cautious on anything defence-related. As for me, I'll postpone my drink until Germany actually has a government. (abridged)
The author joined European Council on Foreign Relations in 2015 as Research Assistant. The article was originally published by the ECFR.