Hollow-eyed German leaders struggle to sell promise of new beginning

Derek Scally: Three big parties eventually sign off on deal amid talk of post-Merkel era

Horst Seehofer, leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Martin Schulz, leader of the social democratic SPD party. Photograph: Tobias Schwartz/AFP/Getty Images

Horst Seehofer, leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Martin Schulz, leader of the social democratic SPD party. Photograph: Tobias Schwartz/AFP/Getty Images

 

 According to tradition, it was German immigrants who brought the Groundhog Day tradition to the US, switching from hedgehogs to Pennsylvania groundhogs to predict whether winter would end early.

The last 135 days in Berlin have been a real-life remake of 1993’s film of the same name. Instead of weatherman Bill Murray, a small army of journalists has been trapped in an endless loop of comings, goings, banalities, tautologies, tantrums and all-nighters.

And even after all that, it is still to early to say whether the groundhog thinks spring has finally sprung. Because, while Germany has a coalition agreement, it still has no coalition.

Since September 24th, as 500 million Europeans waited for Germany to release the EU pause button, Berlin’s coalition talks got lost in the most arcane details – such as whether or not to cull wolves.

All-nighter

After a final all-nighter ended on Wednesday morning, a month after their last, Germany’s three big parties signed off on a final deal 10 times as long as last month’s preliminary paper.

That draft secured only narrow SPD backing; the final deal now goes to the wire with a postal vote of the SPD’s 463,723 members.

Understandably, others outside the party are furious that the final word goes not to the electorate but SPD members – not all German citizens, some as young as 14.

In the two weeks of voting ahead, SPD leader Martin Schulz will talk up multi-billion spending plans, backed by an SPD finance minister. The Bavarian CSU is happy to head into an autumn state election now it controls immigration via the interior ministry, boosted with an extra homeland security pillar.

Meanwhile acting chancellor Angela Merkel, having lost finance and interior, looks like a drenched cat and will have to work fast to prevent this outcome catalysing further her unmistakable loss of authority.

Open conversation

After 12 untouchable years orbiting German domestic politics, the CDU leader has passed Elon Musk’s “Falcon Heavy” rocket – but heading in the opposite direction. She has re-entered the atmosphere fast since September, losing her Teflon shield as she goes. The once treasonous subject of the post-Merkel era is now a subject of open conversation.

On Wednesday afternoon, awake by then for more than 30 hours, Germany’s three hollow-eyed leaders – with a combined age of 193 – delivered wooden promises of a new beginning for Germany, then stumbled out the door.

A weary journalist summarised the mood with a line from Germany’s Hermann Hesse, his voice dripping with sarcasm: “Every beginning holds its own magic.”

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