In two weeks’ time the German parliament will re-open in an unprecedented situation: nearly four months after September’s general election, the country still has no new government. Talks on a new deal between the current ruling coalition parties – Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, and the center-left Social Democrats, or SPD – are not due to begin until January 7.
The delay is eating away at Ms. Merkel’s authority, not least within her own party. “There is no question that Merkel has passed the peak of her power,” says veteran political scientist Heinrich Oberreuter. While talks are ongoing there is still little likelihood of a challenge to her authority, but the delay is frustrating many in her party.
In addition, the slow progress toward a new coalition is causing wider political problems, including with the many appointments that any federal government must make. While German governments do not have the same power of patronage as an incoming American president, the federal government will typically make over 1,000 official appointments during its term in office. These include government positions but also jobs on parliamentary committees, senior judicial and administrative appointments, as well as top jobs in the plethora of public agencies and bureaus which oversee all aspects of German life. During coalition talks, available jobs are haggled over and divided up between the parties.
In the federal parliament, delays to a new government are impacting the formation of the body’s 23 oversight committees. For the moment, the status quo rules: “If someone was in the committee in the last parliament and wants to stay, they can,” says Eckhardt Rehberg, a senior CDU parliamentarian.
In Ms. Merkel’s party, horse-trading has begun for a host of influential positions – chairmanships, spokespeople on policy areas, deputy leaderships and ultimately the position of parliamentary group leader, who in the German system is not the same person as the party leader or the chancellor candidate at elections. The current parliamentary leader is Volker Kauder, a close associate of Ms. Merkel.
Even within an individual party, many factors weigh in when handing out jobs. Balancing out geographical regions is crucial: A prominent candidate for the vacant post of parliamentary economics spokesperson will probably lose out because he is from the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, which is the home state of both Mr. Kauder and the new parliamentary president Wolfgang Schäuble.
Parliamentary jobs will be distributed in January but coalition talks may drag on longer. This means some ministers who lose their jobs in a coalition reshuffle may be left with no handy parliamentary post to fall back on. In addition, some senior civil servants – often de facto party-political appointments – are jumping ship to escape the uncertainty and take a salary hike by joining state agencies and state-owned companies, such as the national agency for nuclear waste. Others are voluntarily continuing their old duties in hopes of taking back up where they left off when a new government is finally formed.
The Christian Democrats have made clear that they want Mr. Weidmann to be given the highly influential position.
One of the most prominent appointments for the new government to make is the presidency of the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank. The current president, Jens Weidmann, is comparatively young, but will be forced to step down in April 2019 at the end of an eight-year term. As well as a replacement for Mr. Weidmann, the new government will have to fill a number of other key senior roles in state agencies. The individual parties will be eager to push their candidates: Although some of these jobs lack public profiles, they often have considerable power to shape policy outcomes. Since they are sometimes better-paid than party or parliamentary offices, there is considerable competition to land the jobs.
The head of Germany’s state development bank, KfW, pulls in a tidy €1.1 million ($1.32 million). Even lower management positions at the bank come with a salary of €500,000, considerably more than Ms. Merkel, who as chancellor earns $263,000. As well as filling the presidency of the Bundesbank, the German government will have a considerable say in the appointment of the next president of the European Central Bank (ECB). Mario Draghi, the current incumbent, will leave that office on November 30, 2019. The Christian Democrats have made clear that they want Mr. Weidmann to be given the highly influential position.
Appointment to the ECB would mean a slight pay cut for Mr. Weidmann – as Bundesbank boss, he makes €444,000 per year. Other central bank officials earn almost as much, meaning upcoming vacancies will be hotly contested in the coalition negotiations.
Some juicy judicial appointments will also have to be made over the next four years, including the presidencies of the Federal Administrative Court, which makes final rulings on bureaucratic disputes, the Federal Office of Justice, and the Federal Fiscal Court, which rules on taxation questions.
The German government even has a wide-ranging voluntary service, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief, which coordinates volunteer efforts. That too requires a new leader, at a salary in excess of €100,000.
Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. Martin Greive is a correspondent for Handelsblatt based in Berlin. Klaus Stratmann covers energy policy and politics for Handelsblatt in Berlin. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]