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Chancellor Of Germany Finally Confirmed 171 Days Later, Surprise It’s Angela Merkel

The Chancellor of Germany was finally confirmed on March 14th and to no one’s surprise it was Angela Merkel.  

Germans awoke on September 25, 2017 to the final results of the federal elections, but the path forward was not immediately clear as no majority government was readily evident. It ultimately took a record-setting 171 days to form a majority government and reconfirm the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel.

The two biggest parties, the Christian democrats (CDU/CSU) and the social democrats (SPD), had lost significant ground compared to the last election in 2013.

Combined, the CDU/CSU and the SPD secured 53.4 percent of the vote, a significant reduction from the 67 percent the parties held in 2013. The parties have jointly governed since 2013 in a so-called grand coalition.

Once Parliamentary members are elected, the representatives select the Chancellor of Germany, who acts as head of Parliament. Germany’s multi-party system means coalitions are necessary to have a majority government.

Since the first elections after WWII in 1949, at least a two-party coalition has been necessary to form a majority government. Negotiating a functioning coalition proved harder in 2017 than ever before. This was, in no small part, due to who the winners (and losers) of this election were.

The winners and losers of the 2017 election in Germany

2000px Bundestag 2017

Composition of German Bundestag after 2017 election: The Left (Purple): 69 seats | SPD (red): 153 seats | The Greens (green): 67 seats | FDP (yellow): 80 seats | CDU (black): 200 seats | CSU (dark blue): 46 seats | AfD (light blue): 94 seats

One of the big winners was a relatively new, right-wing, anti-immigration party called AfD (Alternative for Germany/Alternative für Deutschland) which secured 12.6 percent of the vote.

Another winner, liberal party FDP (Free Democratic Party), obtained 10.7 percent.

Neither the AfD nor the FDP made it into parliament in 2013 because they failed to get the 5 percent of votes required to qualify. This “5 percent hurdle” exists to prevent too many small parties from obtaining seats in parliament and fracturing it, as what happened during the Weimar Republic.

The Left and the Greens (die Grünen) each came in at around 9 percent and therefore cleared the 5 percent hurdle as they had in 2013.

The situation was complicated by the declared desire of both the CDU/CSU and the SPD to not continue the grand coalition, with the commitment of all parties to not form a coalition with the AfD.

That left only two options for a path forward:

  • The so-called Jamaica Coalition consisting of CDU/CSU, FDP and the Green Party (die Grünen). The name derives from the colors the parties associate with: black for the Christian Democrats, yellow for the Libertarians and, naturally, green for the Greens. In short: a Jamaican flag.
  • A minority government of the CDU/CSU under Angela Merkel with changing partners to pass laws with the required majority. Germany has never had a minority government, except for three periods in the 1960s and 1970s, each lasting only weeks.

No path forward for the “Jamaica Coalition”

Discussions between the prospective “Jamaica partners” failed in November 2017 when the FDP withdrew from negotiations. It fell upon Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Federal President, to get the two big parties, CDU/CSU and SPD, to negotiate in order to start discussions about a new edition of the grand coalition.

The only real option left: grand coalition, once again

German Parliament

Plenary chamber of the German parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) in the Reichstag building in Berlin. CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

At the party convention on February 26, 2018, the CDU/CSU members gave the green light to form a grand coalition, and on March 4, 2018, a majority of the SPD also approved. Two days after formally signing the coalition agreement on March 12, 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was elected and sworn into her fourth term. She received 364 votes, 35 less than the CDU/CSU and SPD hold combined but nine more than necessary to secure the position.

The good news is that, after an unprecedented 171 days after the election, Germany finally has a government. The bad news is that the government can be called reluctant at best and enjoys only lukewarm support, especially from the SPD and their base.

The grand coalition is also not as grand as it used to be; the current 53 percent looks paltry compared to the 90 percent the grand coalition had under Chancellor Kiesinger in the 1960s, and even compared to the Merkel-lead grand coalitions of late in 2005 through 2009 at 72 percent and 2013 through 2017 at 79 percent.

Challenges loom for the Chancellor of Germany and her less than grand coalition

The challenges that the new government under Merkel faces are formidable: immigration, globalization, the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor, a newly emboldened right in parliament in Germany and nationalist parties gaining ground in many other EU nations (a EU that still needs to deal with Brexit and a testy relationship with Donald Trump to name but a few.)

Protectionist tariffs by the U.S. on some of Germany’s major exports aren’t making governing any easier either.

Naysayer prophesiers predict that Merkel and her “lukewarm grand coalition” will fail. More optimistic voices see a nation that is ready to face big, but not insurmountable, challenges.



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