German coalition update

Via Deutsche Welle’s Election 2005 coverage, leaders of the two main parties—the Chistian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—are engaging in talks that are expected to lead to the formation of a grand coalition.

Both parties claim that these are not (yet) formal coalition negotiations. For one thing, there is the by-election in Dresden yet to occur (this Sunday). But it is clear that they are staking out positions.

For instance, Norbert Röttgen, parliamentary spokesman for the CDU, said a grand coalition could be formed in October:

We can do it if [Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder comes to his senses quickly.

In other words, the CDU position is that Schröder must give up his claim to remain Chancellor. Not so fast, says the SPD, through Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement:

I don’t think it’s wise to start the discussions by stating pre-conditions.

It seems to me that both major parties’ chancellor candidates have lost this election and that the best solution would be for someone other than Schröder or CDU leader Angela Merkel to get the top job. But for the time being, at least, each party is standing behind its leader—of course, as a means to keep leverage in the ongoing talks.

On the possibility that the grand coalition might prove to be just what Germany needs to move on stalled policy reforms, Röttgen noted:

A grand coalition can address unpleasant questions that have not been resolved by the policies of the last 15 years.

It is quite clear by now that a grand coalition will result. But the bargaining over its precise shape and program will take a little more time. In the end, a government containing both big parties could be more able to take chances and accomplish reforms than a coalition containing only one of them.

After all, the 15 years of deferred reform (since German reunification) that Röttgen refers to includes eight years of center-right coalitions led by his party, as well as the last seven years of the SPD–Green coalition.

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