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Germany

Four more years of quiet power for Merkel

As Merkel takes her place ahead of her new coalition government with the Social Democrats, she can look forward to new challenges for her cautious style of government.

Critics say that Chancellor Angela Merkel has come to hover above the realities of political life. She doesn't often commit herself and thus doesn't say much about day-to-day politics. Instead, she mediates, corrects, moderates and calms people down. And in the end, she takes a decision - often a compromise, but sometimes, too, an ice-cold ruling.

She's proved successful with this way of working - both as head of the Christian Democrats and as chancellor. It has moved her party more towards the center of society, winning it the support of new groups of voters. The last election campaign, which was designed around her personally, led to a record result and was another justification for her way of doing things.

Merkel's style determined the nature of the recent coalition negotiations: There were dozens of working groups which met several times each, as well as small and large coalition discussions. They included not just national politicians and leading party personalities, but also figures active at the state level. Her reasons for this way of doing things were thoroughly pragmatic.

Comfortable majorities

Merkel knows she could have a relatively easy job as chancellor over the next four years of the legislative period. The grand coalition of CDU, Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) has a comfortable majority in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament. That gave her a majority of 462 votes out of 631 when she was reelected chancellor on Tuesday (17.12.2013). At the same time, the two opposition parties, the Greens and the Left Party, are so weak in numbers that even if they should set up commissions of inquiry, they wouldn’t represent a serious threat to the government.

Merkel acknowledging applause in the Bundestag

Merkel has earned wide-spread support for her political style of wait-and-see

Nor does Merkel have to fear strong opposition in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament. Contrary to recent practice, the SPD is not likely to use the states' chamber to counterbalance the Bundestag. There are clearly advantages of being in a position to share responsibility with as many politicians as possible and to sign a jointly written coalition treaty. Perhaps the main one is that if the treaty contains clear agreements, there's no need to renegotiate during the legislative period.

On top of that, Germany is in good shape, thanks partly to economic decisions made over the past years. Merkel's third government now stands to reap the benefits.

Reorganizing the controversial but important financial relationship between the federal and state governments is also easier in a grand coalition. That will certainly be a task for the near future, as Germany's federal states are prohibited from accruing new debt as of 2020.

Still, governing will not be easy for Angela Merkel, even if no competitor contests her power within the CDU. Only Horst Seehofer, the head of the CSU Bavarian sister party, is known to occasionally throw sand into the gears. But in the end, CDU and CSU depend on each other, and none of the three ministries which the CSU has been given - agriculture, transport and international development - are ministries with much influence.

But the next national elections are already looming on the horizon. The question is: Who will rule with whom after 2017? The Social Democrats have dropped their previous refusal to form a coalition with the Left Party. It's not at all clear whether the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the CDU's traditional coalition partner, will manage the leap back into parliament in four years' time. Perhaps the environmentalist Green party will join a coalition with the conservatives in 2017, as they have just done in the state of Hesse.

Gerhard Schröder congratulates Merkel +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The previous grand coalition was an uneasy political marriage

Christian Democrat and Green members of the Bundestag plan to get together on a regular basis to get to know and understand each other better.

But if Merkel, blessed with tactical skills and adaptability, manages to keep such partisan developments under control, she will be able to focus attention more closely on other issues, such as European unity.

EU challenges

Merkel has long said Europe should come out of the crisis looking better than it did before. The comfortable situation she enjoys in Germany may give her the leeway she needs to help reshape the European Union. She's already announced she'll take a closer look at how to best move closer to a political union within the EU. Merkel would like to see strong institutions that can ward off future crises. Instead of telling EU citizens how to live their lives, the future EU, she argues, should also focus more on creating a framework for more economic growth and innovation.

Angela Merkel is 59 years old. When the next national elections roll around, she will almost have reached retirement age. There were rumors earlier this year that she planned to step down in two years. On election night, she denied any such plan. There are also rumors that she may take on a position in the EU. But it's too early for such speculation.

It's also too early to think about who might replace her. As Merkel herself once said, a successor has always been found. In the new cabinet, both Thomas de Maizière and Ursula von der Leyen are possible chancellor material. And it will be interesting to see which of the younger figures make their way to the front row. By choosing 39-year-old Peter Tauber as the CDU's new general-secretary, Merkel has given the new generation a chance to prove itself.

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