Berlin coalition partners sign programme for government

Minority partner pledges to take tougher approach to criminality from asylum seekers

 German chancellor and Christian Democratic Union leader Angela Merkel with the secretary general of the Christian Social Union, Andreas Scheuer prior to the signing of the coalition agreement  in Berlin. Photograph: Alexander Becher/EPA

German chancellor and Christian Democratic Union leader Angela Merkel with the secretary general of the Christian Social Union, Andreas Scheuer prior to the signing of the coalition agreement in Berlin. Photograph: Alexander Becher/EPA

 

After almost six months of talks, Germany’s acting chancellor Angela Merkel has promised continuity and greater social fairness when her fourth-term administration gets to work on Wednesday.

The German leader has promised to prioritise tighter migration policy, multibillion investment in schools, infrastructure, pensions and old-age care. It was a tacit acknowledgement from the 63-year-old that failing to prioritise these issues contributed to last September’s worst election results since 1949 for the grand coalition parties.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us . . . we want to start quickly . . . and I’m optimistic this [government] will succeed,” said Dr Merkel, head of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Given challenges ahead – from Brexit to a growing trade war with the US – Dr Merkel said it was essential “the prosperity of our country reaches all”.

Asked at a Berlin press conference why she and her coalition partners looked grim-faced and exhausted even before their alliance began work, Dr Merkel described herself as “concentrated”. To laughter, she added: “We can wear a friendlier expression if you’d like.”

Before signing the 177-page coalition agreement for its third grand coalition since 2005, Olaf Scholz, interim leader of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and incoming finance minister, vowed to continue the balanced budget policies of his CDU predecessor, Wolfgang Schäuble.

“We will have no new borrowing, we agreed that in the programme for government,” he said. After an inconclusive election, and huge opposition in his party to rejoining a grand coalition, Mr Scholz acknowledged the alliance was “not a love match”. 

“Nevertheless we are able to work constructively together and rule well,” he added.

Almost six months after the federal election, the Bundestag meets on Wednesday at 9am to elect a new chancellor. After being proposed by the president, Dr Merkel needs 355 out of 709 votes to be elected – the absolute or “chancellor” majority. That is likely, given her grand coalition with her Christian Social Union Bavarian allies and the SPD has 399 seats.

First row

After Monday’s show of harmony, however, the first coalition row is already building on the hot-button immigration issue after dominating coalition talks. New interior minister Horst Seehofer and CSU leader is anxious to establish himself as a law-and-order figure and has promised expedited deportations.

Under pressure from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, and amid reports on Monday of young women being groped at the weekend by a gang of Arab-speaking young men in Essen, Mr Seehofer has promised to “intervene more forcefully, particularly with criminals . . . among asylum seekers”.

After almost six months in a political limbo of their own, Germany’s opposition parties cranked up their criticism of the new, old government. The Greens saw “huge gaps” in how the coalition aims to make good on broken climate promises.

The liberal Free Democrats (FDP), who walked away from a coalition with the CDU and Greens, accused Dr Merkel of “using tax money as lubricant” to grease a creaky grand coalition into another term.