Meseberg Castle fits the image the grand coalition wants to convey: tranquility. Germans, however, see the government differently. But, unlike the doomsayers, DW's Jens Thurau thinks the coalition will continue.
There they stood on the balcony of Schloss Meseberg: the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, Angela Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel. Amid the soft sunshine light, greenery and peacefulness, a relaxed smile was visible on their faces. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) rule the country, despite all the disputes and crises. They do actually manage to cooperate; it's just that nobody has really noticed it.
Down from 67 to 50 percent in three years
The third grand coalition came into being as a marriage of convenience in 2013. In other words, the two largest parties in the country did not dare attempt to forge any bold or exciting alliances. The smaller parties, like the Green Party, were also averse to the idea. Back then, just under three years ago, a grand coalition was still grand. About 67 percent of voters put their cross next to CDU or SPD, contributing to their ample majority in parliament. But, if the coalition partners anticipated smooth governing ahead, they have been mistaken. According to polls, the 67 percent has shrunk to 50.
But much has happened and it has proved to be an intense journey: Domestic politics have regulated retirement at 67, mothers' pensions, minimum wage (particularly popular in the eastern part of the country), energy policy, climate protection and major spending for new infrastructure. But above all, the international crises and their consequences have kept Germany's cabinet busy: the refugee crisis, fighting terrorism and the disintegration of the European Union. And now the country must meet the challenges posed by the new integration act and the powerful rise of right-wing populists.
Perception: We are all fed up
Yet many have the feeling that people have had enough of the grand coalition and that the coalition partners cannot stand each other. The Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's CDU, is no longer recognizable as a partner as it rails against the Chancellor on an almost daily basis. Surveys say that the SPD has hit an all-time low; never in its worst nightmare could it have imagined the current result of 20 percent: the populist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD) is hot on their heels. Meanwhile, the chancellor has driven her party to despair: In the state elections of Baden-Württemberg, the proud conservatives had to accept a Green Premier. Actually it all feels like the end is nigh, like chaos and dissolution.
Nonetheless, they will go on – do you want to bet?
Yes, it does feel like things are coming to an end. CDU faction leader Volker Kauder has already said that the coalition will split after 2017 and the SPD apparently no longer wants to go on. Choosing an SPD Chancellor candidate seems to come down to a matter of who is willing to lose to Merkel this time. Everyone thinks Vice-Chancellor Gabriel (SPD) is doing a good job but no one is suggesting what he could do instead. What a disaster. And the CSU would prefer to rule only in Bavaria and have nothing to do with the rest of the world.
And now comes my guess: The same coalition will rule after the next election, the exact same parties: CDU, CSU and SPD. Who else could rule? The AfD will easily top ten percent, but is not experienced and will surely complicate alliance options. There will probably not be enough votes to put together a CDU-Green coalition or a coalition consisting of the Left Party, SPD and Greens. A CDU, Green and Free Democrat coalition is conceivable but the Green Party has already criticized the idea of a coalition with the CDU and if the Free Democrats join them, the problems would just be exacerbated. Anyone else have any suggestions? No? So there you go.
And the core group around Merkel, Gabriel, von der Leyen, de Maiziere and Steinmeier? They would probably get along quite well, if they lived together permanently at Meseberg Castle. The naysayers of the CSU are not part of the cabinet; they are out in Bavaria, ranting. Most importantly, German citizens in general – not including the very angry ones and the permanently outraged social media set - probably prefer the safety and familiarity of a grand coalition in tense times over any experiments. Anybody willing to bet?
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