Opinion: As CDU spats, Merkel retains her nerves of steel | Opinion | DW | 12.02.2018
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Opinion: As CDU spats, Merkel retains her nerves of steel

Germany's chancellor is reaching out to critics in her party — kind of. Angela Merkel intends to remain the top Christian Democrat, and chances are good that she will succeed, DW's Jens Thurau writes.

On Sunday, after a week without precedence in German politics, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a stunning appearance on the public broadcaster ZDF. Merkel had just reached a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) in which her Christian Democrats (CDU) had forfeited all of their key cabinet positions — all except the Chancellery, of course.

The Foreign and Finance ministries will be led by SPD politicians, even though the CDU was the clear winner of the elections in September. This was a spectacular achievement for the SPD, but it did not prevent the party from publicly falling apart. CDU members are not satisfied either. Merkel's negotiating skills were criticized with an intensity seldom seen in a party that has shown nearly unquestioning loyalty to its chancellor.

Jens Thurau

DW's Jens Thurau

Merkel acknowledged that on Sunday. She said the painful ("also for me") concessions were necessary to reach an agreement with the SPD. "We spent 12 hours talking about the allocation of the ministries," she said. Then, she dismissed the debates in her party — as well as the speculation about who might succeed her, saying she would remain chancellor for the next four years and did not intend to step down as the party's leader either.

C'est la vie

Merkel knows that young, further-right CDU allies such as Jens Spahn and Julia Klöckner are loudly calling for fresh ideas and for the party to take a more clearly conservative stance following several years during which the chancellor pursued policies that some members complained could have been drafted by the SPD. The chancellor is now declaring her willingness to include such young and vocal members in her government. The fact that Klöckner, a deputy national leader of the CDU, has a good chance of becoming agriculture minister had been brought up in the past. This concession was met with loud cheers from the Junge Union (Young Union), the CDU's youth organization. That's how quickly Merkel can get people on her side. In other words: She still wields a great deal of power.

And the SPD, which has been hit hard by catastrophic elections and infighting, is so thoroughly internally divided that it needed strong incentives to push through the coalition at all. So Merkel gave till it hurt — even beyond that. "C'est la vie," says her stoic facial expression. The woman has nerves of steel.

Angela Merkel has shown this hundreds of times. Of course, there is a risk that the chancellor's composure and cold realism are exaggerated. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Merkel method works again. It was also painful for the SPD to approve the grand coalition. Now, everyone has calmed down. She has directly addressed her critics more than she had in the past and perhaps, in return, will remain the CDU's leader and Germany's chancellor for four more years. Let's face it. It's not thrilling, but it's better than calling new elections.

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