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Germany

Unlikely Hamburg Coalition No Marriage of Love

In a first-ever coalition agreement at the state level, the conservative Christian Democratic Union have signed a deal with the Greens. The German press says the strategic move is risky, but unavoidable.

Logo: CDU and the Greens

Germany's new five-party system has led to the reconsideration of traditional alliances

The landmark coalition agreement signed on Thursday, April 17, in Hamburg's City Hall, follows five weeks of intensive political negotiations that centered on energy and environmental issues. It is expected to be formally approved by party executives at the end of the month.

"In politics as in normal life, it is important to have the strength and the courage to walk new paths," said Hamburg's CDU Mayor Ole von Beust. "It's not an experiment but a chance ... Even if it may seem unusual to many, I'm convinced it'll be a success for Hamburg."

Von Beust lost his absolute majority in the Feb. 24 state elections and his party has since then been on the search for a suitable coalition partner.

Berlin won't follow suit, says chancellor

The Bundestag in Berlin

Merkel gave her blessing but said Hamburg wouldn't set an example for Berlin

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is also head of the CDU, welcomed the new partnership in the city-state of Hamburg, but denied speculations that it could be a sign of things to come at the federal level.

The Greens have typically partnered with the SPD and the CDU has traditionally found an ally in the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), but the addition of fifth party -- the Left Party -- has forced political camps to rethink their well-practice two-party alliances.

For both the CDU and the Greens in Hamburg, "it's just about opening up new options in the new five-party system," wrote the Financial Times Deutschland on Friday. "For chancellor and CDU chairwoman Angela Merkel, nothing less than securing her chancellorship beyond the election year 2009 and the likely end of the grand coalition [of the CDU and SPD] are at stake. For this goal, serious conflicts are simply papered over, particularly in the areas of economic and energy policy."

Coal question remains unanswered

Hamburg port

The CDU wants large ships to be able to access Hamburg's port

Indeed, energy was a key point in negotiations between the two sides. The CDU plans to build a large coal-fired power station within the city limits, which the Greens oppose. No agreement was reached before the coalition deal was written up.

However, the environmental party did yield to a CDU-supported initiative to deepen the Elbe River so that large container ships can access one of Europe's largest ports.

"Now older and wiser, the children who had once run away from the middle-class are coming back," opined the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Friday from Munich. "The Greens are becoming the junior partner of the party that they once considered to represent the bleak, stale, unenlightened middle-class. And Ole von Beust ... is making it easy for them because he has a big heart."

Von Beust partnered with the far-right party PRO from 2001 to 2004, the paper pointed out, and has now turned to the Greens at the other end of the political spectrum. "That’s not a lack of principles; it's politics. Above all, politics is concerned with power."

"A break in Germany's party history"

Christa Goetsch and Ole von Beust

Have von Beust and Greens head Christa Goetsch pushed the problems under the rug?

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said that it's not just the Greens who are changing their image, but the CDU as well, "Breaking out of its middle-class camp was of utmost priority for the CDU.

"One doesn't have to think hard about the current developments in the party landscape to figure out why the CDU is doing this to itself. If it had limited itself to its previous coalition possibilities -- grand coalition or black-yellow [CDU-FDP] -- the conservatives' government possibilities could be counted on one hand."

Even with just this one state collation, the CDU "can still put pressure on its traditional coalition partner," continued the paper.

Berlin's Tagesspiegel considers the milestone coalition "a break in Germany's party history."

"If it's successful, the Hamburg coalition will contribute to the de-ideologization of German politics, so that it's no longer membership in a political camp but agreement on individual issues that will determine how governments are built," wrote the paper on Friday.

"For the voters, that means that politics is becoming less predictable and more complicated."

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