Angela Merkel will take office for a fourth term as German chancellor

  1. SPD-members voted to enter a new government coalition with Merkel’s center-conservative CDU
  2. The “big coalition” will secure Merkel her fourth term as chancellor of Germany
  3. New political players and rising polarization will make it difficult for Merkel to hold her party and her coalition together

The center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) will enter a new coalition with Angela Merkel’s center-conservative Christian Democratic Union.

Olaf Scholz, the interim Social Democratic party chairman and Dietmar Nietan, treasurer of the party announced the result of the party members’ vote on Sunday morning (March 4).

“Now we have clarity,” Scholz said. “The SPD will enter the next government.”

Almost 80 percent of the SPD’s 463,722 members participated in the vote with 66 percent voting to enter a new government coalition with Merkel’s party.

Since the CDU and SPD hold a combined 56 percent of the 709 seats in parliament, Merkel’s reelection as chancellor is assured.

The clear result of the vote was unexpected. Experts in German politics and media had anticipated a narrow decision (Bloomberg). Supporters and opponents of the so-called “great coalition” had campaigned tirelessly in all of Germany in the last weeks. The most outspoken opposition of another Merkel government was the SPD-Youth Leader Kevin Kühnert, who organized the popular #noGroko campaign.

Kühnert and his allies worry, that another coalition under Angela Merkel will cost the SPD further support. The SPD entered the first “grand coalition” in 2005. Their share of voters in national elections has since decreased from 38 percent to only 20 percent in the most recent election.

Kühnert immediately accepted the decision and requested his supporters on Twitter not to engage in conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

Kevin Kühnert on Twitter

Wegen zahlreicher Nachfragen: Unser #SPD-#Mitgliedervotum wird von 120 Mitgliedern (#YoGroko und #NoGroko) ausgezählt und notariell beaufsichtigt. Kein Beschiss. Bitte Verschwörungstheorien stecken lassen. ☝️🤓

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has since officially nominated Merkel. Her official reelection as Chancellor in the Bundestag will take place on 14 March 2018 according to the parliamentary leaders Volker Kauder (CDU) and Andrea Nahles (SPD). (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article in German)

The federal election was held on September 24, making this the longest period without an officially elected government in German post World War II history.

Forming a new government took so long, because Angela Merkel first attempted to form a different coalition. But negotiations with the environmental party “Die Grünen” (“Green Party”) and the libertarian FDP failed in November (DW).

FDP leader Christian Lindner left the negotiation table with the infamous words: “It is better not to govern at all than to govern the wrong way. (Politico)”

Even though Merkel has now managed to form a new government coalition, her fourth term will be anything but easy. The appearance of the far right Alternative for Germany or AfD has altered the political spectrum in Germany. Gaining 92 Seats in the federal election, the AfD is now the country’s third most influential party.

Following Merkel’s controversial refugee policy in 2015 (Guardian), many traditional CDU-voters changed their affiliation to the AfD. In 2017 the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, got a combined 33 percent of the vote — the weakest result in the party’s history.

Merkel has already made concessions to her more conservative voter base. She has announced, that she will appoint Jens Spahn of the CDU (Financial Times) and former governor of Bavaria Horst Seehofer of the CSU (DW) to important cabinet positions. Spahn and Seehofer were among the most vocal critiques of Merkel‘s immigration policy. Both politicians worry, that a continuation of this policy might drive even more voters in the arms of the AfD. As Seehofer put it in a speech immediately after the 2017 election: “We have a flank on the right side, an open flank. (Politico).”

For now Merkel‘s position in her party is stabilized. In February, Merkel proposed her long time ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer for the influential position of secretary general of the party. The delegates at a national party convention confirmed her with 98.87 percent of the vote. This was seen as a sign of confidence for Merkel. (from Die Zeit in German)

But important state elections will be held in the core state of Bavaria in October. Should the union lose the majority in the arguably Germany’s most conservative state, Merkel’s political future will be up for debate once more.

While the conservative wing of her own party pushes her to the right, Merkel will also struggle bringing her coalition-partner in line. The SPD has lost a massive amount of voters to smaller parties of the left spectrum in the last decades. In 1998, the SPD was the most influential party getting more than 40 percent of the vote in the federal election. The party is currently polling at an all-time low of 16 percent according to a recent poll of the Emnid Institute (Handelsblatt article in German).

SPD politicians are worried that their traditional party, founded more than 150 years ago, might cease to be a relevant factor in German politics. The left wing of the party will likely push for extensive social and economic reforms. The 33 percent of SPD-party members, who opposed Merkel’s government, will not disappear after the government is formed.

In her fourth term, Angela Merkel will always have to maintain a delicate balance between the several interests in her coalition. It will be her most difficult task yet.

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