More of the same is not what Germans voted for in last September’s parliamentary elections, but it is what they will get now that the Social Democrats (SPD) have grudgingly agreed to proceed with formal negotiations for a grand coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). After contentious internal battles, SPD delegates narrowly voted, at a party convention on Sunday, to give their leadership the license to serve for a third time as a junior partner to Merkel’s conservative party. Their decision is based on a 28-page joint-position paper that the two parties had hashed out earlier in Berlin.
Given the collapse of government coalition talks in November, the willingness of the SPD to enter formal coalition talks with the CDU has thrown Merkel a political lifeline. She will enter her fourth term in office, most likely by Easter, and by then the ink on the coalition agreement will have dried and the 400,000 SPD party members will have given their approval of it in a pro forma SPD ballot. If the SPD convention vote on Sunday had gone the other way, however, Germany would have faced the uncomfortable prospect of having to hold new elections, which would prolong delays for crucial reform within the European Union and hurt the country’s reputation as a global leader. With a grand coalition government in the making, the EU and the rest of the world can expect a strong, stable hand in Berlin. But back at home, this compromise will continue to weaken the German political party system as visionary plans for the country’s future will be put on hold and populist parties will have a field day criticizing the two major parties in one go.
In the September elections, the results clearly pointed to the voters’ dissatisfaction with four years of CDU and SPD rule. Both parties performed poorly, and the SPD in particular suffered a historic loss at the polls as Germany’s oldest political party.
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