Adriaan Ph. V. Kühn, Universidad Francisco de Vitoria
After a week of several lengthy discussions, last Wednesday the negotiators of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the representatives of the Christian Democratic Union (CSU / CDU) reached an agreement in order to build up a Government in Germany. Both formations had lost electoral support in the elections held on September 22nd. However, parliamentary fragmentation and a previous unsuccessful attempt to form a tripartite system of Government forced the German political centre to renew its votes in the framework of a Great Coalition.
In the bosom of the conservative alliance, the critical voices of the agreement did not take long to make their appearance. It was already expected that the “young talent” – including the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Finance and the greatest domestic rivalry of the Chancellor, Jens Spahn (CDU) – expressed his dissension with the agreement. The news has come from the discontent of some big fish of the political party, such as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag, Norbert Röttgen (CDU). There are many among the centre-right who believe that the SPD has emerged victorious from the negotiations. The feeling is clearly of victory, despite the fact that they have obtained the worst election outcome since 1949. And the issue is that the Social Democrats will not only support the five divisions that occupy their ministers at the present time for another four years (Foreign Affairs, Labour and Social Affairs, Environment, Family, and Justice), but they have also taken control over also the powerful Ministry of Finance, which used to hold Mr Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), who now holds the presidency of the Bundestag.
The rise of the General State Budget of 46,000 million Euros (the most of it designated to social expenditure), detailed in no less than 177 pages of “coalition contract” (Koalitionsvertrag) has been taken as a second priority for conservative political militants and politicians. All eyes are on the Ministry of Finance. Due to the fact that for the Social Democrats this ministry is possibly the only piece of the puzzle that they lacked in order to be able to impose their vision of a “more solidary Europe” in the Council of Ministers. This concept is seen for many in the CDU / CSU as a mere euphemism for the malicious project of a Europe financed by Germany. In this line, the media declared in many ways “the end of the Angela Merkel era”.
It seems like the only success of the Chancellor and her team has been to offer the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the head of the CSU and regional President of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer. Instead of explaining why the CSU's decided to ignore the flagship proposal during the negotiations – an annual legal limit on the number of incoming immigrants – now Seehofer can presume to have added another department to the divisions of the Bavarian party in Berlin (the CSU maintains its “traditional” Department of Agriculture). Its relocation to the capital also facilitates a worthy transition in the leadership of the party. In Munich it is an open secret that a putsch is being planned against the President of the CSU by the hand of its number two, Markus Söder.
Nevertheless, the past days have been remarkable for the catastrophic interpretation of the agreement of coalition on the conservative part, which has been played down by the events in the SPD. In the social-democratic field they have had a little time to enjoy the political victory. Its militants are perplexed of the way that the development of the events are creating a both political and personal war between, who until now is the chief of the SPD and the candidate for the chancellery, Martin Schulz, and Sigmar Gabriel, ancient leader of the party and the Secretary of State. Some observers even foresee indications of an imminent apocalypse in the most ancient German party.
In spite of, being welcomed as a “Messiah” not more than twelve months ago, by a party that seem to be tired of Gabriel, someone who seems to be unable to come up with Merkel, Schultz disappointed the public with a confusing and uninspiring campaign. But is has been the breach of his word what will probably cost him his (short) career in national politics. Specially, when the Government agreement with the CDU / CSU, an option vehemently rejected by Schulz after the elections, could have been explained with the statesmanship of the party, that at the time was still present, his decision to replace Gabriel as foreign minister left perplexed the party-militancy that did not forget the promise of its president to never enter as a minister in a Government led by Angela Merkel. Gabriel, on his behalf, disallowed his party leader (and, this time, himself) in an interview with a newspaper full of low blows. As a result of the short but intense conflict none of its protagonists has realistic possibilities of being able to continue seeking to play a prominent role in German politics. It also leaves the party in a more than delicate situation, since Schulz finally resigned on Tuesday as President of the SPD. The former President of the European Parliament now has only the act of deputy of the Bundestag. A majority in the party leadership calls for Andrea Nahles, the current Labour Minister, as the successor and future strong woman of the party. But it is in an extraordinary congress at the end of April that the delegates will decide on the future president of the SPD. Meanwhile, Olaf Scholz, the appointed Minister of Finance, is in charge of maintaining cohesion in the Social Democratic ranks.
With the terms of the transition of power unclear and the top representatives apparently busier with their personal careers than with that of the party (or the country), the SPD is at a critical moment. The party, which has not been able to electorally take advantage of its last stay in government (clearly marked by the social democratic political agenda), shows off once again, its high self-destructive potential. The last word in the drama will be delivered by the social democratic militancy, almost half a million people: at the beginning of March voting whether the SPD will be part of the fourth Merkel Government composition or not.
That is why we could say metaphorically speaking, that Providence smiles again at the chancellor. In the current scenario, new elections would pose a very serious threat to the SPD, whilst CDU has not presented itself as a clear alternative to the Merkelian leadership. And with the pacified fellow party, it does not seem that the removal of any representative of the old guard (like Thomas de Maizière in the Ministry of the Interior) will cause any dramatic fuss.
The main question is how these recent events will affect the long-term German party system. If the two Volksparteien (“popular parties”) continue to lose votes in line with the historical trend, there will be the small formations the one’s that will have the key to the governance of Europe's largest economy.
Everything suggests that the classical liberals of the FDP will be well positioned, especially because after another four years of increased spending by the grand coalition, an important part of the German middle class will eventually demand a tax reduction. The greens will have to decide if they want to transform a catch-all party or continue depending on their bourgeois electorate with a green lifestyle. The AFD will have to deal with difficulties. The alternative populists for Germany never stop suffering from internal divisions and, in addition, they are not any more the only party that has the reduction of immigration in their agenda.
Translated by David Alonso Galera