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Germany

Opinion: More water than wine in coalition agreement

The coalition agreement has been reached, but DW's Volker Wagener thinks there are too many compromises in it. What's more exciting are the alternatives to a grand coalition.

It was agonizing to watch how details of the coalition talks were being leaked throughout recent weeks: the Social Democrats (SPD) were insisting on a minimum wage, the Christian Democrats' Bavarian sister party, the CSU, wanted a freeway charge for foreign cars, and the chancellor was insisting that taxes should not go up.

Now it's up to the SPD grass roots

Volker Wagener. Photo DW/Per Henriksen

Volker Wagener is DW's Germany editor

Well, the minimum wage is coming, even if a bit more slowly, as is the freeway charge, although there are more negotiations needed for that. And taxes won't be increased - at least, not yet. Oh yes, and dual citizenship was agreed - at least a little bit.

Children born in Germany of foreign parents will no longer have to choose which citizenship they want at the age of 23. But does that mean that Germany now accepts dual citizenship? That's not clear! That's what happens with compromises: you end up with something pale and watered-down.

This wishy-washy mixture is what the SPD will now be presenting to its membership. That's a novelty in German history: Over the next two weeks, 473,000 Social Democrats will be able to vote by postal ballot and give the coalition agreement the thumbs-up, or the thumbs-down. The vote will be binding if 40 percent of the members take part, and that could mean that just 100,000 members of the party decide whether Germany has a grand coalition.

Delayed revenge

And that's the most exciting element in the whole process of maneuvering towards a coalition. Under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the SPD experienced a sudden modernization - or at least, that's how it's seen by the supporters of his reform policies, which imposed serious burdens on a large number of people, especially among the socially disadvantaged. It's they who tend to vote SPD.

Schröder's critics still call his reforms a "social massacre." The party is still licking the wounds which its leader inflicted on it, and some of its members want revenge. They'll be able to tear the agreement out of the leadership's hands just before it's finally signed. The grass roots are feeling rebellious. It looks like a conjuring trick, the way SPD party leader Sigmar Gabriel is selling the agreement as digestible for SPD stomachs.

New elections

If the members vote no, then the fragile architecture of the coalition agreement comes tumbling down. Just 100,000 people with SPD membership cards would have rocked the foundations of the republic. And that would mean either another attempt at building a coalition with someone else, or new elections. There's seldom been such political tension in Germany, a country which usually runs its public life in an orderly way. And the alternatives are all interesting

It's often forgotten that the last elections essentially produced a left-wing majority. SPD, Greens and the Left could govern together, if they wanted to. The SPD has said it might consider that after the next election - but why not now?

Another possibility would be a coalition of Christian Democrats and Greens. The two parties have been thinking about the idea, and in the state of Hesse, they're working towards just such an alliance right now.

But if all else fails, there'll be new elections. And they'd be exciting too. Merkel would have little to worry about, but voters' anger at an SPD that refused to take responsibility could well push the party below 20 percent - a disaster in the year it celebrates its 150th anniversary. Angela Merkel would finally become "queen" of Germany - unless of course her former political partners, the liberal Free Democrats, made it over the 5 percent hurdle this time, out of sympathy from voters who ejected them from parliament in September.

Anything else?

It all looks less exciting from abroad. None of the points over which the parties have been arguing really interests anyone outside the country. Compared to the important global issues, Germany looks as it always did: reliable in foreign policy and financially solid. And the countries involved in the debt crisis know what that means.

Aside from that, people abroad will be waiting to find out how Germany will manage the energy reforms it imposed on itself after Fukushima. There's not much about that in this coalition agreement, and what there is, is fairly imprecise.

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