Grand Coalition: Having Their Cake and Eating It Too
Angela Merkel's incoming government is promising a little something for everyone, but it will all come at a price of billions. Those costs are likely to be fobbed off on either the next government or generation.
Of course it wouldn't be fair to characterize the new German government coalition as flawed on the first day of its existence. The alliance between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) deserves a chance to prove itself.
The most important cabinet members will likely be current CDU Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, former SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, SPD party chief and former Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, SPD parliamentarian Thomas Oppermann, and current CDU Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen. They are in a completely different league than current FDP ministers in the outgoing government, including Economics Minister Philipp Rösler, Health Minister Daniel Bahr and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," said Chancellor Angela Merkel in her own unique way. And she's right about that.
Nevertheless, one could unfortunately say that this pudding will possibly not settle well in Germans' stomachs, to take the metaphor one step further. The small print of this coalition agreement does not include great visionary or reform measures, but instead offers up a little for each party's constituency.
The SPD negotiated well. Indeed, although Merkel's party performed very strongly in the election, coming very close to securing its own majority, the coalition agreement gives the impression that there were two equal partners sitting at the table. It's clear that Merkel and CSU party boss Horst Seehofer are now afraid of the SPD's base and the planned vote on the coalition agreement by its more than 400,000 members in early December.
Something for Everyone
There's something in the coalition agreement for everyone -- at least almost everyone. The new coalition government has plans for billions in new spending, although it is entirely unclear where the money for those programs will come from. This isn't what true courage for making reforms looks like. It's likely that these costs will come, as they so often do, at the expense of workers and future generations.
Thoughts about making sustained cuts to subsidies, lowering government spending and taxes, or providing effective relief to families and small- and mid-sized businesses petered out almost without a trace. Instead, Merkel and company parceled out other people's money with a friendly smile. The good news is that this can work at times when there is an economic upswing and rising tax revenues. The bad news is that this upswing can't last forever. The next crisis will most certainly come, and then everything that has been distributed will be collected again.
But that's an issue that will likely be addressed by the next government after it.
Roland Nelles is the Berlin bureau chief of SPIEGEL ONLINE.
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH