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Germany

Realistic, Good-natured and Uninspiring

Germany's two major parties reached a coalition deal this week after marathon negotiations. The agreement is hardly a stroke of genius, but it does include painful cuts for citizens.

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The deal forces many Germans to save every penny

There was much laughter during the press conference on Friday as the conservatives and the Social Democrats presented their power-sharing agreement.

Die designierte Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel unterrichtet am Freitag, 11. November 2005 vor der CDU Zentrale in Berlin ueber die abgeschlossenen Koalitionsverhandlungen

Angela Merkel is optimistic the new power-sharing deal will work

Germany's incoming chancellor Angela Merkel was in the best of spirits. Both sides stressed that the new "grand coalition" was hardly a love match, rather a pragmatic "marriage of convenience."

That's how the coalition deal reads as well. The more than 100-page agreement isn't, by any stretch, a stroke of genius. Neither the neo liberal dreams of the conservatives floated during the election campaign nor the Social Democrats' promises that things wouldn't get worse for the average citizen, are to be found within its pages.

Angela Merkel's cabinet guarantees a year of preparation for the new, really painful, cuts. During this time, both sides hope, the economy will spring to life. And then the going will be tough.

A hike in value added tax (VAT) from 16 to 19 percent, higher pension contributions, slashes in public finances -- all that starting 2007. In addition to that, workers' rights will be weakened as will job protection measures.

Finally being honest?

Koalitionsverhandlungen - Stoiber Merkel Müntefering

Germany's rival politicians are willing to take painful steps together

One of the positive things to emerge from the long week of negotiations was the fact that both the conservatives and the Social Democrats were finally ready to look the truth in the face together. The precarious budgetary situation was no longer glossed over and that leads one to hope that something will finally be done about it.

Starting next year, subsidies for home-owners will be axed -- something that was long overdue. And a tax write-off for commuters will only be guaranteed for those who really need to travel long stretches to get to work. Together with a new spurt to reform Germany's tangled federalist system, they represent the three large chunks which long seemed impossible to reform.

The two partners want to work together in a sober and practical manner and, as far as possible, without committing the mistakes of the previous government. In addition, the two sides want to keep out ideology when it comes to tackling the work at hand.

Sticking points that have the potential to cause serious tensions -- such as health policy and nuclear power phase-out -- were simply not touched upon by the two parties. But, that could rebound on them when it comes to implementing policy. So much of new-found harmony between the two parties could also threaten both with a loss of profile -- something that is advantageous to the smaller parties in opposition.

No love marriage

So, this is no love match, no Red-Green (the colors of the former government) reform project, no intellectual-moral transformation as was the case in 1982.

It's enough, to start with, when truth raises its head in budgetary policies and when antiquated political rituals, such as blocking sensible legislation in the Bundesrat or upper house of parliament simply for narrow tactical reasons, go out of fashion. Or the tendency of the larger parties to paint a rosy picture of the country's situation or dramatize, depending on who's at the helm.

Koalitionsverhandlungen Angela Merkel Gerhard Schröder

Merkel and Schröder's style and rhetoric were the focus of debate during the election

The Social Democrats had portrayed Angela Merkel as boring and even cold and emotionless during the election campaign and had presented their jovial Gerhard Schröder as the antithesis.

But, Merkel won the election though she came away with some major scratches. It's quite possible that her government will look exactly the same: dull, realistic, without vision.

But, that doesn't necessarily have to be bad for the country.

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