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08 February, 2018
Merkel under friendly fire over coalition deal with SPD
Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images
Christian Democrats unhappy about giving away key ministries.
Angela Merkel is facing unrest within her conservative ranks over a coalition deal that gives key ministries to Social Democrats and appears to have passed over rising stars in her own party.
Officials in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are particularly unhappy at having given up control of the powerful finance ministry to their junior partner in Wednesday’s deal to renew a “grand coalition” between the center right and center left.
“Of course it’s a bitter pill to swallow when we can’t really be satisfied with how the ministries were distributed,” Daniel Günther, the CDU’s state premier in Schleswig-Holstein, told Welt newspaper.
Under the terms of the deal, the SPD will keep the foreign ministry it held in the last government but also take over the finance ministry from the CDU. Merkel’s party will also cede the interior ministry to its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.
Günther noted that the allocation of ministries did not seem to fit with the result of September’s general election. The conservative bloc of CDU and CSU came a clear first in the vote, although it suffered significant losses. The SPD fared far worse, winning just 20.5 percent, its worst score in Germany’s post-war history.
We have made compromises, including when it comes to allocating the ministries” — German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Speaking to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper, Wolfgang Steiger, one of the leaders of the CDU’s lobbying group for small and medium-sized businesses, called the allocation of ministries “a miserable result” for the party.
After an all-night negotiating session, officials from Merkel’s CDU, their Bavarian allies and the SPD confirmed Wednesday morning that a coalition deal had been reached. It must still be approved by various party bodies, although that is expected to be a formality. The biggest remaining hurdle is a vote by the SPD’s membership, which is expected to take several weeks.
The coalition deal specifies which party will run which ministry but does not name the future ministers. However, media reports citing party sources quickly put names to all the ministerial jobs. SPD leader Martin Schulz is in line to become foreign minister and Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz is set to run the finance ministry and become vice chancellor.
As further details emerged throughout the day, analysts described the SPD as the winner of the talks, accusing Merkel of bowing to too many of the SPD’s demands to form a stable government and put an end to a four-month political deadlock.
CDU members were also unhappy that, when the party leaders presented the deal to the media, Schulz was able to declare it a largely Social Democratic government program — without any contradiction from the chancellor.
At the same time, the CSU was described as the second big winner.
The Bavarians managed to trade the fringe agriculture ministry for the powerful interior ministry — and even boost the ministry’s portfolio by adding construction and housing policy to its responsibilities. That change means its new boss — likely to be veteran CSU leader Horst Seehofer — will be able to steer millions of government spending to Bavaria, where the party faces a regional state election later this year.
Merkel, meanwhile, is widely seen as a clear loser. In a survey by Civey Institute for Welt published Thursday, almost two-thirds of Germans said Merkel had been weakened by the deal. Even among supporters of the CDU/CSU bloc, only 27 percent thought she had been strengthened.
“We have made compromises, including when it comes to allocating the ministries,” Merkel herself acknowledged in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Of course, after all those years during which Wolfgang Schäuble was leading the finance ministry and was truly an institution himself, it’s difficult for many that we cannot hold this ministry anymore.”
We’ve kept true to our key promises during the campaign” — Julia Klöckner, CDU deputy party chief
But it’s not just the allocation of ministries that has created resentment inside the party, officials say.
It’s also the fact that the potential line-up of ministers mentions a lot of old-timers — such as Seehofer becoming interior minister and Merkel’s current chief of staff and acting Finance Minister Peter Altmaier taking over as economy minister — but includes just a few fresh faces.
To regain lost trust of voters in politics, “we need new faces,” CDU state premier Günther said.
Meanwhile, other leading Christian Democrats are trying to calm things down, suggesting the government program contains plenty of CDU policies.
“We’ve kept true to our key promises during the campaign,” CDU deputy party chief Julia Klöckner — reportedly in line for the agriculture ministry — told public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, describing the loss of the finance ministry as the key compromise her party had to make to get a deal at the negotiating table.