Angela Merkel has secured her fourth term after a 66% majority vote from Social Democratic Party (SPD) membership confirmed their commitment to another Grand Coalition government with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union.
The deal extends the Grand Coalition of centre-left and centre-right parties that has governed Germany for the past 5 years. The SPD have been granted six cabinet positions, including not only Foreign Minister, previously held by SPD’s Sigmar Gabriel, but also Finance Minister which will, in all likelihood, be taken by acting SPD leader Olaf Scholz (pictured below).
The vote comes after months of political uncertainty, following Merkel’s failure to form a coalition with the FDP and Greens (the so-called ‘Jamaica Coalition’ because of the respective parties’ colours), after September’s federal election left Merkel’s CDU and their sister party – the CSU – a mere 34.7% of the seats in the Bundestag.
Due to the SPD’s worst performance at a federal election since the start of the republic, the Grand Coalition is now in a precarious position with their majority in the Bundestag only stretching as far as 56.3% of the seats. Moreover, a clause in their agreement will mean the coalition will be up for review in 2 years, which could mean a short-lived government, with many challenges.
With the centrist leadership of both parties continuing the Grand Coalition, despite the crushing election results, there is a risk of further disillusionment with the political establishment and centrist politics in general.
This could mean greater internal pressure from the SPD’s left wing, with figures such as Andrea Nahles (pictured above) tipped as a forerunner to take over leadership of the party. The current leadership support the coalition. However, the fast-growing youth wing on the left of the party disagreed with the move to join forces with the centre-right parties, hoping to rebuild the party with a more left-wing platform.
Moreover, there will be mounting external pressure from far-right and far-left parties. The SPD, in particular, have been sliding in the polls since the election last September, even dipping below the right-wing nationalist party, Alternative for Deutschland, last month. The AfD entered the federal parliament for the first time in September with just over 12% of the vote and are now Germany’s largest opposition party.
Merkel’s weaker position shows that she has, in many respects, lost the image of the leader of Europe, which now falls at the feet of French President, Emmanuel Macron, who is highly supportive of the coalition. A statement from his office declared that ‘France and Germany will work together on new initiatives in the coming weeks to bring the European project forward’. This sentiment was echoed in the Coalition agreement, which promised closer co-operation with France, seeking greater economic and defence integration, as well as a greater contribution to the EU budget from Germany.
Pursuing this European agenda is risky as it could turn more eurosceptic Germans towards the AfD and further weaken CDU’s position. However, a strong partnership between France and Germany is the kind of message Merkel would wish to send to Britain’s Brexit negotiation team as the anniversary of the triggering of Article 50 draws near.