First woman chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition” will be completing 100 days in office on March 1, 2006, which also happens to be Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar this year. Hence both government representatives and the media pre-poned a popular democratic ritual: drawing the balance of a newly elected government’s first 100 days in power. Here the balance sheet.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
It’s the first time that the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democrats have got together to form a “grand coalition” since the 60’s. And then there’s Angela Merkel, Germany’s first woman chancellor. The irony of a “grand coalition” is that though it might command the loyalty of 70 percent of the parliamentarians, as in the present case, it’s not really expected to survive. And as regards Angela Merkel, neither the Germans nor the world had really known just what to expect. As such she was in the happy position to fulfil all expectations.
The “grand coalition” naturally includes the Bavarian “sister party” of the CDU, which is the CSU or the Christian Social Union, led by Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber. Not just Merkel, but the leaders of the parliamentary groups of all three parties of the “grand coalition” regaled the press with rosy reports and rosier predictions on Wednesday, February 22, 2006: Volker Kauder for the CDU, Peter Struck for the SPD and Peter Ramsauer for the CSU. The snag was that the rosy glow limited itself to the all-important subject of the general health of the coalition.
Merkel’s administration had not even begun to tackle the real problems facing the country, analysts were not slow to point out. Though the same analysts have been of the opinion – since the polls of Sept. 18 – that a “grand coalition” would be the last constellation from which one would expect vigorous reforms, since CDU/CSU and SPD would always be on the lookout for the lowest common denominator.
Merkel had had to make a string of concessions in the two months of wrangling prior to the coalition was, which ended with the Social Democrats taking such key posts as the finance and foreign ministries.
Stagnating growth, unemployment back above the five million mark, even if one could forgive all that or plead for giving the new administration more time, what about the reforms? Reform of the public health system, tax reform, or deregulating the labour market – everything seems to be in waiting. Even the budget presented the same day as the famous “100 days” statements – on February 22 – showed that there would not be much of an effort to curb public deficit. So why is “Angie” still so popular in Germany?
One reason is that Merkel has cut a fine figure not just in her foreign visits, but in her foreign policy as a whole. She took a key role in fixing up the long-awaited deal on the European Union budget in December. Her visit to Washington in January was hailed as ushering in a new and positive era in US-German relations. She has taken a hard line on Iran and come out strongly and unequivocally in support of Israel. But this “Merkel effect” has not spread to domestic issues.
“Foreign policy-wise tops – on domestic issues, so-so,” that’s how the “Thüringische Landeszeitung” described Merkel’s 100 days.
“There’s little to be seen of a new start,” wrote the “Lausitzer Rundschau”.
“This government has not yet descended to the lower depths of reform politics,” commented the “Reutlinger General-Anzeiger”.
“And the chancellor? Can she rest on her laurels? Not at all. The sweet and heavy fragrance of her stateswomanlike appearances abroad will evaporate at some point of time – and the rotten taste of unsolved problems will cover all,” the commentator of the “Westdeutsche Zeitung” allowed himself.
But Merkel can be “lucky” all over again: growth is expected to pick up this year. The global economic climate is favourable, Germany might well be at the beginning of an economic upswing – consumer sentiment is already showing signs of improving.
The dangers are elsewhere: the economic recovery is not yet self-sustaining and remains susceptible to such disturbances at the present wave of strikes among public sector employees, high energy prices and eventually the bird flu.
But the World Cup 2006 in Germany could well have a positive effect!
Angela Merkel is supposed to treat politics as the art of the possible, and herself as a kind of anchorwoman of the “grand coalition”. But the Germans seem to be demanding more and more that she should stop her mighty ministers like Franz Müntefering from hogging all the limelight – domestically – and start “governing” on her own.