Disharmony rules Grand Coalition, Grand Illusions

Germany's ruling right-left coalition must stamp out its factional squabbles so that it can get down to the real business of government.
Angela Merkel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier have differing views on Ukraine.

 

Angela Merkel doesn't particularly like the "coalition committee." If the German chancellor had her way, the ad hoc meetings between the leaders of the parties that make up her coalition government would be held as seldom as possible. It is not surprising that, in a little less than a year, she has called the bosses of her own party, the Christian Democratic Union, its sister party the Christian Social Union and the rival Social Democrat Party (SPD) to confidential talks only once.

Even that meeting, at the beginning of October, brought little more than a vague promise to move toward a more economy-friendly path.

So Germans can wonder with some justification what concrete results will come from a meeting of the committee this week. The responsible figures in the Grand Coalition continue to pull on the same rope, but no longer in the same direction.

The best example is the handling of Russia's president Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine crisis. Whereas the chancellor has clearly sharpened her verbal attacks against the leader of the Kremlin, her foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, entirely in the tradition of Social Democratic foreign policy, has continued to try to deescalate the crisis through diplomatic means.

It is hard to imagine how the two Union parties and the SPD intend to overcome these fundamental differences over Ukraine. The divergences of opinion, however, not only threaten the German-Russian relationship, but could also prove to be explosive for the Grand Coalition itself.

It is hard to imagine how the two Union parties and the SPD intend to overcome these fundamental differences over Ukraine.

The fragility of the coalition-imposed peace between the two Union parties and the SPD is also reflected by two other controversial issues: the introduction in 2016 of a 30 percent quota for the number of women appointed to the supervisory boards of public companies, and the search for projects suitable for an additional €10 billion ($12 billion) investment program.

Shortly before the law on corporate equality is scheduled to be approved by the cabinet in December, the Union parties are pressing for a loosening of the quota. Ms. Merkel, who in recent months has been subject to much criticism with regard to the provision, is now demanding that exceptions be made.

A similar chaos reigns with regard to the government's new investment package. Instead of coming to an agreement as to which project has the most economic usefulness, the Union parties and the SPD are fighting to ensure that neither coalition partner comes up short when the money is distributed. This approach has more in common with squabbles at a children's birthday party than the governmental work of one of the leading industrial nations.

Bearing in mind the unresolved Ukraine crisis and the weak economic growth in Europe, the black-and-red coalition should stop distracting itself with unimportant matters. What is necessary is an effective agenda for more growth and employment. Otherwise the saying that grand coalitions bring grand achievements is an illusion.

 

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