Becoming Germany's first female leader was not easy, but Angela Merkel has already carved her name high up in the popularity stakes.
Merkel and Müntefering: Still smiling after the honeymoon?
The grand coalition has been in office for a full 100 days, which means the period of grace traditionally granted a new government, is officially over. But with the German public appearing more than willing to continue supporting the conservative CDU/CSU and Social Democrat (SPD) alliance, that is of little relevance. Angela Merkel is enjoying massive popularity and opinion polls suggest that her party is steaming ahead of their coalition partner, the SPD.
But at the federal elections last September, the picture was quite different. The two main parties were unable to beat each other, and the results of the ballot made it impossible for either the CDU/CSU to form a coalition with the free-market liberals (FDP) or for the SPD-Green alliance to continue running the country. The additional parliamentary presence of the Left party meant the only alternative was to form a grand coalition.
Merkel and Schröder fought it out for the top spot
And that very coalition, so it turns out, is what the majority of German voters wanted. In it, they see the possibility of fulfilled expectations and greater harmony. On the latter point, with coalition partners who treat one another with care and are quick to resolve budding disputes, the electorate can be satisfied. Yet, on the former, expectations regarding unemployment reduction remain unfulfilled. There is also reason to believe that the two sides will clash over continued welfare and health reforms.
Showing Germany's new face abroad
On the international stage, Merkel made a good first impression. She breezed confidently through her debut visits to Paris, London and Washington, but they were not meant to serve as opportunities to iron out any serious conflicts of interest. Merkel has not yet shown what position she will take on Washington's stance on the Iranian nuclear program. And although the new German leader's appearance at the EU budget summit met with applause, it's not entirely clear to what extent that was the result of her financial generosity.
Vice Chancellor and Labor Minister, Franz Müntefering
Meanwhile, the grand coalition is an acid test for the Social Democrats who are trying to profile themselves. Thus far, Labor Minister and Vice Chancellor Franz Müntefering has been viewed as the SPD heavyweight in the cabinet, but he is not coordinating well with the new party head, Matthias Platzeck, and internal conflicts could become a problem for the coalition.
Although on the whole Germany's grand coalition conveys a stable impression, keeping it up depends on how much space the two partners have for profiling themselves. Merkel is making something of a name for herself as a leader who moderates discussions without clearly stating her position. For the chancellor of a grand coalition that could be a good technique, but the question is whether it is sustainable beyond regional elections at the end of March.