Merkel promises stability ahead of today’s swearing-in for third term

Marathon coalition agreement with SPD signed in Berlin

Members of the new German coalition government, including (from left)  Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD;  foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier; defence minister Ursula von der Leyen; and CDU leader and chancellor Angela Merkel (far right). Photograph: Seán Gallup/Getty Images

Members of the new German coalition government, including (from left) Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD; foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier; defence minister Ursula von der Leyen; and CDU leader and chancellor Angela Merkel (far right). Photograph: Seán Gallup/Getty Images

Tue, Dec 17, 2013, 01:00

Asked in September how long she expected coalition negotiations to take, chancellor Angela Merkel joked that “Christmas comes sooner than you think”.

A week before Christmas Eve, after the longest round of political horse trading in postwar history, Merkel will be sworn in this morning for her third term as German chancellor in her second alliance with the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

After an 85-day marathon yesterday, relief written in her face, Merkel promised her new government would bring with it continuity, solid finances and greater social security.

“A grand coalition is an alliance for big tasks,” said Merkel at a signing ceremony for the 185-page programme for government. “I’m convinced this coalition agreement is a good basis to shape Germany’s future to make sure people in our country have a good future.”

The CDU and its Bavarian CSU allies get eight ministries in the new cabinet, with five ministries for the SPD. Most of Merkel’s appointments shuffle around familiar faces. Her old and new finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble went straight back to work on final details of the European banking union. Merkel’s confidante and outgoing environment minister, Peter Altmaier, becomes her chancellery chief-of-staff while the CDU secretary general Hermann Gröhe takes over at health.


Ambitions
All eyes today in the Bundestag will be on Ursula von der Leyen. A regular on the talk-show circuit, the former family and labour minister has made no secret of her political ambitions and is one of the few CDU politicians to risk disagreeing in public with Angela Merkel.

She now inherits the thankless task of reforming Germany’s armed forces, a considerable challenge for the 55 year-old mother of seven in a male-dominated world.

“It’s a huge challenge and a huge risk,” said Von der Leyen. “But there are also huge chances.”

That set alarm bells ringing among Merkel allies: they were quick to play down speculation that, among Von der Leyen’s chances, was the chance of one day taking over as CDU or German leader.

There are a few new faces in the SPD cabinet postings, with most attention on 43-year-old labour minister Andrea Nahles, an SPD left-winger although her time as party general secretary saw her drift to the centre. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, a veteran of the last grand coalition, takes on the mammoth responsibility as economics minister for ensuring clean and affordable power for German homes and industry during the decade-long post-nuclear “energy transition”.


Safe hands
Another safe pair of hands is Frank Walter Steinmeier, who returns for a second term as foreign minister to a house struggling to redefine itself as the euro crisis catalysed the the concentration of EU policy in the chancellery and finance ministry.

Even before their return to office, the SPD came under fire from the opposition Greens and Left Party for not demanding a return of the finance ministry they controlled in the last grand coalition. Simone Peter, co-head of the Green Party, predicted this grand coalition would not last its four year term.

“The grand coalition is standing still on the lowest common denominator,” she said, criticising the CDU and SPD for cancelling out each other’s far-reaching financial election promises.

But, together with the Left Party, the Greens face a struggle to be heard in the next four years. Together Merkel’s second grand coalition – and post-war Germany’s third such alliance – holds 504 of the 631 Bundestag seats – a massive four-fifths majority.

This morning the grand coalition will re-elect Merkel as chancellor who, after receiving her seal of office from President Joachim Gauck, returns to the Bundestag to be sworn in, followed by her ministers.

Merkel returns to the Bundestag tomorrow morning to deliver her first speech in the new term ahead of Thursday’s last EU summit of the year in Brussels.

Already the official guardians of the German language have chosen the new grand coalition (Große Koalition) in its abbreviated form – GroKo – as their word of the year.