Angela Merkel has been re-elected Chancellor of Germany for the fourth time. At least 35 deputies of the coalition denied their vote to the president, who obtained just nine more votes than necessary. It is wrong to interpret it as a sign of weakness. Let’s not forget that these types of results are traditional, adjusted in the coalitions between Christian Democrats ( CDU ) and Social Democrats ( SPD ). Especially taking into account the six complicated months and negotiations that have elapsed since the elections.
There have been 171 days of uncertainty that have had their positive side. On the one hand, they have shown that the German political system is prepared for this type of contingency. On the other hand, they have taught the Germans that it is better to express greater humility when judging similar political circumstances in difficult socio-economic contexts.
The government consists of seven women and nine men. The proportion of women increases slightly: 43.8%. The quota in Parliament is much lower: just 31%. Merkel, a scientist, is accompanied by six political scientists, four lawyers, three economists and two doctors. The average age of the cabinet is 51.2 years. The oldest minister is the Bavarian Horst Seehofer (68 years old), followed by the chancellor (63). Two ministers are less than 40: Health, Jens Spahn (37), and Family, Franziska Giffey (39).
Of the previous executive they are, apart from Merkel, Heiko Maas (51) and Peter Altmaier (59). At the head of the Justice portfolio, Maas sparked a broad debate with his law against hate on the Internet. In his new role as Foreign Minister he will gain popularity and it is speculated that he will be the next candidate for the SPD Chancellor. The former minister of the Chancellery, Altmaier, Merkel’s trusted man, now occupies Economy and Energy. A ministry that after the loss of Finance at the hands of the SPD is considered of particular importance in the CDU.
Only two maintain their position. The Bavarian Gerd Müller (62), who fights the causes of migration from the Ministry of Development. And Ursula von der Leyen (59) in Defense, where she remains under pressure for matters related to the equipment and operational readiness of the army. Her name sounds like the next secretary general of NATO, since it becomes vacant in two years.
The Social Democrat Olaf Scholz (59) succeeds Wolfgang Schäuble in Finance. The former mayor of Hamburg will try to avoid contracting new debts as set out in the coalition agreement. A clause that many of his party mates have not liked. Another Social Democrat, Hubertus Heil (45), occupies the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, where he has a budget of more than 100,000 million euros, the portfolio with the highest expenses. The deputy president of the CDU, Julia Klöckner (45), will lead the Ministry of Agriculture. The until recently Bavarian Prime Minister, Seehofer, becomes Minister of the Interior. It aims to promote a more restrictive migration policy.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2016 around 13% of Germans had a migration background. It is about the born (or at least one of their parents) without a German passport. Most of them come from families repatriated from the former Soviet states or have Turkish roots. This is not reflected in the composition of the government; only in the case of the Minister of Justice, Katarina Barley (49), whose father is from the United Kingdom. Barley will fight for the strengthening of women’s rights and the promotion of gender equality in all ministries.
New airs in Germany?
Among the objectives at the national level is to recover lost confidence. It was the serene one, as well as a resounding message from the Federal President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier: “To recover lost confidence, a simple varnish of novelty will not suffice for what was before. This government must demonstrate its effectiveness with new and better solutions. ” The leadership of the State is not a symbolic position and Steinmeier has shown this, whose intervention in this crisis when in December he appealed to the responsibility of politicians has been decisive.
The clearest example has been the chancellor herself, who had to persuade her former SPD partners for another “grand coalition.” Nor was it easy to convince his Bavarian allies of the Christian Social Union. The price that Merkel has had to pay has been very high in the face of discontent in her training. One of the concessions has been to give entry to Spahn, a rival in the CDU, as Minister of Health. The ambition of the youngest member of the cabinet is great. It is the opposite to Merkel. You want to limit the number of refugees. Bet on policies of law and order. For him, consensus is synonymous with paralysis. But he does not want to be branded as a hawk; he wants to be seen as a liberal conservative. “I want to fight against right-wing extremists and right-wing slogans, as well as against right-wing Islamism,” he says. Regrets the “macho culture of many migrants” and voted in 2016 against Merkel’s proposal to approve dual citizenship. In the debate on the opening of homosexual marriage, he pleaded for the yes.
It is also foreseeable that from now on the Social Democratic leader in the Bundestag, the energetic Andrea Nahles , will point out to the chancellor that the role of the SPD – although weakened – goes beyond comparsa in the grand coalition. Merkel, whose popularity after 12 years in power has suffered a logical erosion, should – if not reinvent herself – try to persuade voters that she has something new to offer. To do this, he will have to stimulate and support the initiatives of the many new faces in the executive. In a word: show more team spirit.
The visible part of the renovation are the federal government’s restructuring projects. This is how Construction and Heimat (homeland) is added to the Interior, and action will be taken focusing on the areas of digital affairs, education and job training.
It also highlights the Chancellor’s will to recover lost voters. Especially those who, due to insecurity in the face of immigration and globalization, have opted for the fear discourse of the Alternative for Germany . That means talking about security and migration. Snatching those votes from populism must be a priority for all moderate parties. The green politician and son of Turkish immigrants Cem Özdemir demonstrated how to face hatred and exclusion. He showed that the love of the country and the pride of being German, instead of always linking to dark past times, can be an incentive to help build the plural and free society that Germany represents.
A new impulse for Europe
Merkel’s international challenge is to revitalize the idea of the European Union . Its partners, headed by Emmanuel Macron , wait. It is interesting to note how these months have changed the perception of the other Member States about Germany. If it is considered an exception with a monotonous election campaign and without a large anti-EU party, Germany has come to be seen as a more or less normal country.
The coalition agreement is entitled “A new impulse for Europe”. There are few government programs with such explicit commitment and enthusiasm. It favors a reform of the euro zone, great project of Macron. It is proposed to create a new investment budget. And that the European stability mechanism becomes a real European monetary fund, whose control would fall on the European Parliament . It even states that “we are equally willing to receive higher contributions from Germany to the EU budget”. The detractors, of course, fear that Berlin will pay all the debts of Europe. And they underscore how reckless it is to pay without demanding compensation. However, Brussels celebrates what it considers a forceful response to populisms and eurosceptics.
The most serious problem is that the reform relies almost exclusively on cooperation with France. It is true that without these two countries nothing works. But they need the support of others and European cooperation is not going through its best.
The competences of the Union in foreign policy and defense must be greater. With the German government already operational, the EU has to come out of the immobility to find its place in the world of Trump, Putin and Xi.
The Chancellor’s leadership style will remain moderate and pragmatic. While still exercising her authority, Merkel seeks consensus. One example among many is that after criticizing their “passivity” in the talks to reach the coalition, in the end what prevailed once again was the president’s approach. Now he is not going to abandon this formula that has been so successful.
-MARCOS SUÁREZ SIPMANN