After nearly three months of talks, Germany is poised to install a new government this week, with Angela Merkel leading the country in her third term as chancellor. On Saturday, Merkel's future junior coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) concluded a vote among its members that resulted in an overwhelming majority supporting plans to govern together with the chancellor's conservatives.
On Tuesday, Merkel is expected to be elected chancellor by parliament. Her new cabinet of ministers is also expected to be sworn in, with the new government beginning its work in parliament later in the week.
Government negotiations lasted longer than usual because the SPD decided to allow its party base to vote on whether the party should enter into a government coalition with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The outcome of the ballot had been anything but certain, but prospects for passage improved after the SPD secured a number of important concessions from the conservatives, including approval for Germany's first-ever legal minimum wage.
Although Merkel made a number of concessions, she is also at the zenith of her power as chancellor. Her conservatives had to make some concessions to form the government, but the CDU and CSU also won 41 percent of votes during the Sept. 22 election -- ending up just five seats short of a majority in parliament. And, in the end, Merkel didn't face too much resistance within her party for the concessions she was forced to make make. Throughout, she proved to be a deft negotiator.
Now her party will choose the chancellor and her chief of staff, and it will lead the finance, defense, interior, health and education and research ministries. With these key posts, the CDU will be in a very strong position within the government.
Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the SPD, will now serve as both deputy chancellor and the newly created minister for economics and energy. After coalition talks, Gabriel himself is in a stronger position than ever before within his party. Although the party gained only 2.7 percentage points during the election, Gabriel was a strong negotiator during coalition talks, and his ability to lead the SPD member vote on the government to success has bolstered his position. He has also been praised for the minimum wage and other labor and social policy issues he pushed through in talks. He will also be a strong position within the government with Merkel and her conservatives.
Unease Could Return
Still, the left-wing of the SPD is unlikely to remain quiet for long, and its unease with the idea of governing together with the conservatives will likely soon return. There are also other areas that could prove prickly for the new government. Be it the planned minimum wage, a toll on German roads for foreign automobiles or changes to the pension system, negotiators for both parties have left enough maneuvering room for tensions to emerge.
Another potential problem is Merkel's sister party, the CSU, whose clout has significantly diminished as a result of the so-called grand coalition. The party has been passed over for the most important ministries, and it will also be losing three ministries. CSU party boss Horst Seehofer will likely be able to live with that, but the outspoken politician may become more critical if he feels his party is being dwarfed by the CDU and SPD in daily politics.
In addition to forming the government, the parties have also announced their decisions for transforming ministries and appointing new ministry heads.
The Transportation Ministry will in the future also be responsible for digital infrastructure. It will also lose responsibility for construction in Germany, which is to be transferred to the Environment Ministry. It is expected that CSU General Secretary Alexander Dobrindt will lead the Transportation Ministry.
The Environment Ministry will be transferring responsibility for energy policy to the Economics Ministry. This is important because the Economics Ministry will now be responsible for implementing the country's Energiewende, the planned phaseout of nuclear energy and shift to renewables.
Responsibility for consumer-protection policy is to be shifted from the Agriculture Ministry to the Justice Ministry in the new government.
Merkel's CDU will have five minister posts as well as the Chancellery:
Herman Gröhe, who has been secretary of the CDU since 2009, will become health minister, his first ministry posting. Gröhe is considered a confidant of Merkel, and he was responsible for her election campaign.
Ursula von der Leyen is to be appointed defense minister. Von der Leyen is one of Merkel's closest political allies and a politician who is considered a potential contender for the Chancellery one day. In the last two governments, she headed the family and labor ministries. Von der Leyen will be the first woman ever to have led the Defense Ministry.
Peter Altmaier, the current environment minister is to become Merkel's chief of staff in the Chancellery, a cabinet-level position in Germany. Altmaier is said to be one of Merkel's closest political confidents and is considered loyal and reliable. As Merkel's chief of staff, he will also be responsible for coordinating the country's intelligence agencies. His predecessor in the office, Ronald Pofalla, is reportedly leaving the post for personal reasons. Pofalla had been widely criticized for his handling of the NSA spying affair.
Wolfgang Schäuble, one of the few people in the current government well known across Europe, will remain finance minister, the most important position in Merkel's cabinet.
Johanna Wanka will remain education and research minister, a post she assumed this year after her predecessor, Annette Schavan, resigned following accusations that she plagiarized part of her doctoral thesis.
Thomas de Maizière, the current defense minister, will become interior minister, an office he initially led during the last government.
Bavaria's CSU party will be responsible for three ministries:
Hans-Peter Friedrich, the current interior minister, is expected to become agricultural minister.
CSU General Secretary Alexander Dobrindt is to become transportation minister.
Gerd Müller, who has been a senior official in the Agricultural Ministry since 2005, will become development minister.
Meanwhile, the SPD is to manage six ministries.
Party boss Sigmar Gabriel will become economics and energy minister and Merkel's deputy chancellor.
Manuela Schwesig, currently the social minister in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is to become minister for family, senior citizen, womens' and youth issues.
SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles will become labor and social minister.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, currently the head of the SPD's parliamentary group, will become foreign minister, a post he held during the last grand coalition government between 2005 and 2009.
Barbara Hendricks, the SPD's treasurer, is to become the minister for the environment, nature conservation, construction and nuclear reactor security.
One of the few surprises on Sunday was the selection of Heiko Maas, the current economics minister in the small western state of Saarland, as the minister for justice and consumer protection.
Another minister-level post, that of federal commissioner for migration, refugees and integration is also to be given to the SPD, with Aydan Özoguz becoming the first person of Turkish origin to assume a minister-level position in Germany's federal government.