Germany may get awkward Grand Coalition

12th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

12 September 2005, BERLIN - Angela Merkel, the opposition frontrunner in German elections, has lost her majority in all opinion polls and analysts predicted Monday she may be forced to seek an awkward grand coalition with Chancellor Schroeder's Social Democrats.

12 September 2005

BERLIN - Angela Merkel, the opposition frontrunner in German elections, has lost her majority in all opinion polls and analysts predicted Monday she may be forced to seek an awkward grand coalition with Chancellor Schroeder's Social Democrats.

Schroeder has posted gains after his polished performance in a TV debate with Merkel earlier this month and by focusing scorn on her shadow finance minister who calls for a 25 per cent flat tax.

Even though a flat tax is not on Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) agenda, the issue is fueling allegations that conservatives plan to cut taxes for the rich and slash back the social welfare state.

A commentary in the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper described Schroeder as a political "magician" who has used shadow finance minister Paul Kirchhof to make Germany's five million unemployed "vanish into the election campaign fog."

"The Chancellor and his coalition are running a campaign of angst based on the fear of Germans there will be further cutbacks to state social welfare," the paper said.

Juergen Falter, a political scientist at the University of Mainz, said Schroeder has been hugely successful in making Kirchhof into the "personification of social injustice".

"Nobody's talking about the CDU/CSU tax reform which is totally different from that of Kirchhof," said Falter in an NDR radio interview.

Both Falter and Frank Decker, a political scientist at the University of Bonn, say Germany may be headed for a grand coalition given that polls show Merkel's desired CDU/CDU coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) narrowly failing to win a majority.

On the other hand, Schroeder's gains are not enough to save his SPD-Greens government. Time for a further comeback is running out given that elections will be held next Sunday, September 18.

Both academics warn that in contrast to Germany's last grand coalition from 1966 to 1969 - which passed solid economic and foreign policy reforms - a marriage of two main parties this time around would likely be highly unstable.

"It's not a good start for cooperation if such an alliance is founded on the basis of a sheer emergency," said Decker, adding that this had not been the case in 1966.

Falter agrees and underlines that a grand coalition could only be successful if both big parties saw the need for cooperation to resolve a political logjam.

"If a grand coalition is forced into existence because no other majority is there then I would be pessimistic and see the danger of the lowest common (reform) denominator," he said.

Becker said two major problems would hinder a grand coalition from passing and major reforms.

First, both the CDU/CSU and the SPD - while ruling in Berlin - would remain in constant battle in regional elections in Germamy's 16 federal states, the Laender.

Unlike many other countries which group regional votes on a single day every few years, Laender elections are held at constant regular intervals. It was a series of bitter defeats in Laender elections which forced Schroeder to call for early elections last May.

A second grave problem, Decker says, is that grand coalitions fuel extremist fringe parties. In this case, the new Left Party comprised of former East Germany's communists, rebel SPD members and trade unionists would likely score points by pointing to the centrist policies of a grand coalition.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine agreed and said a grand coalition would likely be short-lived.

"This tandem won't get far because the SPD will come under pressure from the Left Party and its own left-wing," said the paper, adding that Merkel will face challenges from ambitious members of her own party who "wouldn't shed any tears if (she) fails."

Germany's six leading opinion polls show Merkel's conservative bloc at between 47.5 per cent and 49 per cent.

Schroeder's SPD-Greens alliance is at 40 per cent to 41.5 per cent.

The Left Party is between 8 per cent and 8.9 per cent.

Schroeder has vowed not to rely on the Left Party to stay in power, even though this might be enough for him to get a majority.

Decker said a coalition of the SPD-Greens and the Left Party would pose serious foreign policy problems for Schroeder and would infuriate many in his party given that Left Party is led by rebel former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine.

DPA

Subject: German news

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