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Analysis
Arduous coalition talks in Berlin

Arduous coalition talks in Berlin

Possible havoc for European decision-making

by Michael Stürmer in Berlin

Thu 21 Nov 2013

The negotiations over the future Berlin coalition promise a long decline in German economic strength, social cohesion and ability to lead Europe out of the financial and economic crisis.

The dynamics of weeks of laborious discussions between the two main parties, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), do not augur well for a harmonious conclusion. The prospect of a breakdown in the negotiations, or a veto on their results by the SPD rank-and-file, who will be consulted in a binding referendum taking up the first fortnight of December, cannot be excluded.

That would bring a new round of negotiations between the CDU and the Green Party, or even new elections in Germany next year. These outcomes would cause havoc for the important 19 December European summit in Brussels, undermining decision-making on the crucial issue of banking union.

The episode throws a poor light on the lack of political leadership and decision-making strength in Europe’s pivotal country. Germany is turning the clock back to the sluggish performance and pessimistic outlook of the years before 2003, when former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pushed through a package of policy reforms that added greatly to Germany’s competiveness and resilience.

Other countries should resist the temptation for Schadenfreude. The guiding spirit of the parties at the negotiating table reflects a social democratic consensus of the worst kind, leading to governmental paternalism, economic redistribution and a blithe determination to consume tomorrow’s resources today without caring about the cost.

Drift and indecision come at a price that the whole of Europe will pay. The process reveals the obliviousness of the political class in Berlin to the crucial conditions for Germany’s past success and future wellbeing. Furthermore Europe’s ‘reluctant hegemon’ is apparently ignoring the implications of Berlin’s policy paralysis for the rest of Europe, uneasily watching the political antics of a country that appears thoroughly daunted by the leadership role many of its neighbours would wish it to bear.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when strong personalities like Helmut Schmidt (SPD) or his successor Helmut Kohl (CDU) dominated the political stage, the lead role in coalition bargaining belonged to the chancellor. He would call upon a small group of political advisers who, within a few days, at most two weeks, provided a consensual framework between the future coalition partners, with details to be filled in through various ministries and their future principals.

In 2013 we have an arduous and unpredictable imbroglio. No less than 75 people from the two parties, at times even more, sit around a large horse-shoe shaped table reflecting upon the drafts and partial results provided by various committees. Few resist the temptation to announce their achievement and advice. Compromise is normally out of the question. When common ground emerges, it normally involves more government spending.

During the coalition talks, SPD leaders adopted a programme which promised the ex-communist far-left party, Die Linke, an upgrade along the lines that, for the time being, the party would remain untouchable as a partner, but it might be suitable as a coalition partner in the future. This flirtation with the far left – the equivalent, according to a prominent CDU figure, to visiting a brothel on the eve of marriage – does not bode well for the future predictability and reliability of the SPD.

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