Cabinet Appointments in Germany Hint at Merkel’s Third-Term Priorities

Cabinet Appointments in Germany Hint at Merkel’s Third-Term Priorities

Last weekend, three weeks of anxious waiting came to an end in Germany when the Social Democratic Party (SPD), in an unprecedented internal referendum, approved a coalition agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). With the new German government sworn in on Tuesday, it is now possible to size up its key personnel and review its foreign and domestic policy agenda.

After the federal election on Sept. 22, the victorious Merkel lost her preferred coalition partner when the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) failed to make the 5 percent threshold for representation in the Bundestag. As a result, Merkel had to choose between her main competitor, the center-left SPD, and the divided Green Party. Given Merkel’s personality and the nature of German politics, with its primacy of stable majorities, a grand coalition between CDU and SPD had always seemed more likely. Yet the SPD—still suffering from the trauma of the previous coalition with the CDU from 2005 to 2009, in which it had been routinely upstaged and which led to the worst electoral defeat in SPD history—took the unprecedented step of putting the new coalition agreement to a vote among its members. Since defeat would have meant new elections, for the past three weeks German politics have remained in limbo, alternating between fearful anticipation and eagerness to allocate ministerial posts.

On Saturday, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel finally presented the results of the internal vote, which showed a surprisingly strong approval of 76 percent for the coalition agreement. This was in part due to the fact that, in the policy negotiations for the coalition, the SPD prevailed with its two core demands: to legally mandate an hourly minimum wage of $11.70 by 2017 and permit dual citizenship for children born to immigrant parents in Germany. For Gabriel, who had tied his political fate to the vote and who will serve in the new coalition as vice chancellor and minister of economics and energy, the result consolidates his supremacy in the SPD and clearly establishes him as its candidate for chancellor in 2017.

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