Magazine article Soundings

Effects of Gravity: German Coalition Politics and the 2013 Elections: Is the German Orientation towards Consensus and Coalition a Form of Anti-Politics?

Magazine article Soundings

Effects of Gravity: German Coalition Politics and the 2013 Elections: Is the German Orientation towards Consensus and Coalition a Form of Anti-Politics?

Article excerpt

The German enthusiasm for acronyms, combined with a grimmer passion for coalition politics, has now produced the 'GroKoII'--the second grosse Koalition within a decade between the Christian Democratic Union and the German Social Democratic Party. In 2009 the SPD emerged from the first coalition with its worst election result since 1945; in 2013 it was the turn of the FDP to be eaten up and spat out after governing alongside the CDU.

Oriented as it is towards producing the combination least objectionable to the broadest possible segment of voters, Germany's coalition system has once more produced a result with which no one is entirely happy. Yet GroKoII was looking more or less inevitable during the entire 2013 election campaign: the SPD and Greens had pinned their campaign on a coalition, despite trailing the CDU/CSU at the polls throughout--especially after the Greens started nose-diving in the early summer. The results duly delivered the expected conservative landslide, the CDU/ CSU between them increasing their vote by 7.7 per cent to reach 41.5 per cent. For their part the SPD gained 2.7 points to scrape 25.7 per cent; and the Greens and Die Linke lost 2.3 and 3.3 respectively to reach 8.4 and 8.6. The Liberals failed to make the cut altogether, and the new anti-euro party Alternativ fur Deutschland also just missed the 5 per cent hurdle.

The Greens, demoralised, disoriented and facing internal upheaval, after entering preliminary coalition talks subsequently broke them off early, citing unbridgeable differences. Once inevitability had thus finally been admitted, the system locked into gear, and, after two months of negotiations sealed from the public, the CDU/CSU and SPD emerged with their agreement.

Something like genuine tension was then introduced by the SPD's decision to put the coalition agreement to the vote of its 400,000 members, despite significant internal opposition. Though it was consistent with an initiative launched by SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel in 2011 to democratise decision-making processes within the party, the vote looked like a thinly disguised attempt by the leadership to insure itself against future recrimination, given the disaster of 2009. In the end, however, over 75 per cent of the SPD membership proved no less inclined to resist coalition gravity, thanks largely to the advocacy of the Trade Union Confederation, for whom the decisive point was the coalition commitment to a minimum wage. As a result Gabriel came out not only politically stronger but also looking like the better democrat, and the SPD defeat at the polls was turned into a victory, as he brushed aside constitutional criticisms of the vote as legalistic quatsch (rubbish)

When the cabinet posts were announced, it emerged that the SPD had indeed managed to punch above its weight, obtaining six ministries, including the economy --taken by Gabriel--and work and social affairs--taken by Andrea Nahles, former SPD general secretary and one-time confidante of Oskar Lafontaine. On the CDU-CSU side, the indestructible Wolfgang Schauble retained the finance ministry while Thomas de Maiziere moved from the ministry of defence back to the interior. The big talking point was Ursula von der Leyen's appointment to the defence ministry, where she became the first woman to hold the position. Popular with voters though less so within her own party, von der Leyen is tipped to run as CDU chancellor candidate in 2017, should Merkel decline to stand for a fourth time.

The departure of the FDP from the Bundestag has left only the Greens and Die Linke to form an atrophied opposition, which is led by Linke chair Gregor Gysi. With only 127 seats out of 631-20 per cent--this is the smallest opposition since the FDP stood alone between 1966 and 1969. The most striking consequence has been the drastic reduction of parliamentary speaking time for the opposition: time allocated is based on seats, and is therefore only 12 minutes in the hour. …

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