German coalition talks deal puts Merkel step closer to political revival
Difficult path to fourth term as chancellor awaits after ‘hard, turbulent’ CDU-SPD talks
Germany’s acting chancellor, Angela Merkel, flanked by CSU leader Horst Seehofer (left) and SDP leader Martin Schulz in Berlin on Friday following overnight coalition negotiations. Photograph: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
With a Prussian blue blazer offsetting her hooded, cornflower blue eyes, an exhausted Angela Merkel emerged having done it again.
Her dozen years in office have seen a glut of all-night, crisis talks. But the negotiating marathon that ended on Friday morning in Berlin, after a grinding 24 hours, beat even Greek bailout talks into the ha’penny place.
After “hard, turbulent talks”, the centre-right Christian Democrat (CDU) leader, her Bavarian CSU sister party and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have agreed there is enough common ground for formal coalition talks.
But Merkel knows this is not the end of her tortuous road back to office, just the end of the beginning.
Following two punishing terms in bed with Merkel, however, the SPD leadership has given its members two chances to call off the latest engagement: at a party conference later this month and a grassroots vote at the end of formal talks.
Only after the SPD says “I do” – twice – will Angela Merkel’s political resurrection be complete, likely around Easter, six months after September’s federal election smackdown.
After scoring her party’s worst result since 1949, and the latest all-nighter, Germany’s acting chancellor was brisk and upbeat on Friday morning.
“People want that this country works,” she said, and a government that “works seriously to lay the groundwork that we will live well in Germany in 10 and 15 years’ time.”
The 28-page draft agreement, light on detail on crucial points of disagreement between parties, states the obvious – that “many people are dissatisfied” – and promises to “show courage for renewal and change”.
A bitter point of disagreement – reunions of refugees with their families – ended with the promise to allow reunions eventually, but capped at 1,000 a month.
In a concession to the conservative CSU, facing state elections in September, a new cap of 220,000 asylum seekers per year will apply.
“The situation of 2015 is not to be repeated,” the paper adds.
In an effort to quell fears over public order, 15,000 new police jobs are promised.
Crucially for the CDU/CSU, it has knocked back key SPD demands for a tax hike for top earners. Any large-scale investment will not come at the expense of Germany’s balanced budget. The new government promises to cap – though not abolish – the “solidarity surcharge” introduced to finance unification projects, but now a key source of income.
A new investment fund to improve Germany’s creaking digital infrastructure will be financed, the paper promises, through the sale proceeds from fifth-generation mobile frequencies.
Financial transaction tax
The long-running plan for a financial transaction tax, a fruitless demand for years by the SPD, makes a comeback in the paper but without a deadline and “in a European context”.
In a key failure, the SPD failed in its campaign to abolish Germany’s two-tier, private-public health system, though it scored boosts to pensions and better pay for old-age carers.
To ease Germany’s growing housing squeeze, the paper flags a “housing offensive” bankrolled by a €1.5 billion public-private fund. Meanwhile, climate goals for 2020 have been dropped, though Berlin vows to achieve a two-thirds renewable energy share by 2030.
In a final innovation: Merkel has yielded to SPD pressure and will answer parliamentary questions in the Bundestag.
That means in her fourth – and likely final – term the German leader will, for the first time, engage in direct verbal combat with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland.
And if the grand coalition comes about, the AfD, as largest opposition party with 92 MPs, will have the first right of reply to Merkel’s Bundestag speeches.
After 12 years as chancellor, floating over events with a serene, presidential air, Merkel’s fourth – and likely final – term could see her go out with a bang.