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Germany's coalition agreement: What's in it?

Ben Knight | Timothy Jones
March 12, 2018

Germany's Social Democrats and Angela Merkel's conservatives have signed a coalition agreement. DW examines their plans for the country's future.

Front page of the contract
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

Germany's two biggest political parties  — the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), together with the Bavarian sister part the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) — agreed on a 177-page paper that lays out the policies the new government has committed to pursuing over the next four years in power.

The agreement, which was finalized more than five months after September elections, represented an important victory for Angela Merkel, who is expected to serve her fourth and final term as chancellor at the helm of another "grand coalition." The SPD rank-and-file voted in favor of the deal in early March, the last major hurdle for forming the government.

The key points of the contract

A continuation of the coalition that has governed Germany since 2013 was pretty much a last resort. The SPD had initially ruled out entering another Merkel-led coalition after their worst election result since World War II. And then talks between the conservative bloc and the smaller Free Democrats and Greens collapsed in November.

The long, almost tortuous, negotiations threaten to create tension even before the new government holds its first cabinet meeting.

The repeated appearance of the phrase "We want to..." in the text, leaves plenty of room for future interpretation. 

So what was agreed?

Refugees/Family reunification: The previous government (also a CDU/SPD grand coalition) had suspended the right of refugees with a "limited protection status" to bring their families over. The new coalition deal says this will be limited to 1,000 people per month. On top of that, the number of asylum-seekers taken in altogether is to be capped at between 180,000 and 220,000 per year.

Syrian refugee family seen from back
The plan to reunite families of refugees has been one of the most contentious coalition issuesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S.Pförtner

Europe: The parties underlined the importance of European Union reform and said Germany wants to work closely with France to protect the eurozone from global crises. The new government would be willing to pay more into the EU budget, while the parties stressed that budgetary discipline remains crucial.  

Defense and development: The coalition agreement is vague on this point, committing to spending an additional €2 billion ($2.46 billion) on "international responsibility" and mid-term plans to invest roughly €9 billion more, but the topic remains a contentious one between the parties. Any investments in development will be tied to increased defense spending. 

Arms deals with Saudi Arabia: The paper also included a phrase that might be seen as a breakthrough for Germany's anti-arms trade activists — "The government will with immediate effect not approve any exports to countries as long as they are involved in the Yemen war."

Top tax rate: The CDU and SPD are not planning any more tax hikes. The SPD had been pushing for an increase from 42 percent to 45 percent.

Solidarity tax: The special tax instituted after the reunification of Germany in 1990 to help support the former East of the country will be gradually reduced. This is a compromise in a debate that has been running in Germany for several years.

Health insurance: Here too, the SPD failed in its bid to establish a "citizens' insurance" that would guarantee basic health care standards for both state and private patients. Instead, the two sides pledged to restore parity between the contributions from employers and employees.

Housing: The two sides have agreed to a new construction target of 1.5 million new apartments in Germany by 2022 — an ambitious goal, given that the current rate is only around 280,000 a year.

Glyphosate: A small but significant gain for the SPD here. The two parties agreed to ban the use of the controversial pesticide, which is thought to be responsible for killing huge insect populations across Europe in the past few years. 

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight