Much left to do
The evening ended in silence - not even with an explanation, an expression of regret, or at least an attempt at putting up a harmonious front. Three party heads took their leave without comment, as they had planned.
On Tuesday (18.02.2014) afternoon, Chancellor Merkel had already been trying to minimize the damage - she would of course like to see the crisis ended as quickly as possible. As such, "trust" was one of the words she used the most, and the media followed her cue on Tuesday. As is often the case, people notice just how important trust is once it's no longer there.
That's exactly what has happened in the last week: A coalition that just began to work together has lost its trust in one another and, as a result, is risking its ability to govern successfully. The political crisis began with an interior minister who wanted to do something understandable: Spare a potential coalition partner from harm. He achieved the reverse outcome.
There's a German saying that the opposite of well done is well intended. Considered through a personal lens, that saying fits Hans-Peter Friedrich - the now ex-interior minister's - actions perfectly, apart from the potential legal ramifications, which remain disputed.
The Social Democrats' share of blame
The fact that former parliamentarian Sebastian Edathy's case has spiraled out of control is due in part to his party, the SPD. Party chair Sigmar Gabriel didn't keep quiet, but talked about the case instead. Others apparently did, too. Justice officials must clarify whether Edathy was warned in advance of the investigation concerning him and whether that's why no punishable materials could be found in his possession. The political damage has been done.
That makes the frustration of the CSU, Friedrich's party, understandable; after all, the SPD bears a key part of the blame for the disaster, since it was the SPD that made everything public. Nevertheless, this "lust for revenge" has played a role in turning the Edathy case into a government crisis that keeps growing. The CSU has called for "clarification," as it should. What the party really means is "resignations" as a compensation for the loss from within its own ranks.
Putting an end to the crisis was Merkel's goal at the meeting of the three party heads of the CDU, CSU and SPD on Tuesday evening in Berlin. That's reasonable, but it remains to be seen whether a meeting will suffice for that purpose.
Analysis and appraisal must follow
Presumably, the damage that has been done is too great for that approach. Nevertheless, it was appropriate to take this step, even if additional steps must follow. The SPD now has to decide how it should handle things further. Expelling Edathy from the party is controversial, and doing so would certainly not suffice to restore harmony with the SPD's coalition partners.
Above all, the SPD now has to contribute to introducing clarity into the affair so as to dispense with the impression of its members having loose mouths - or the SPD should take the bull by the horns and uncover where its weak spots are in order to do things better in the future.
Achieving clarity about what happened is necessary no matter what. Who got information from whom and when? Was Edathy warned? Whose behavior was merely ill-advised rather than in violation of official responsibilities?
It's partly up to prosecutors to shed light on these questions, but apart from that, it's also a political question. The Bundestag will now examine what happened.
In order to solve the crisis, the SPD must help achieve transparency, and the CDU/CSU will have to separate their frustration with the SPD from the facts and the political work at hand, or they must resolve things in joint meetings. And the opposition - as uninvolved parties - will have to help sort through the confusion of facts and emotions.
Now it's the task of everyone connected with the affair to end it, and that won't be easy. It is, after all, much simpler to destroy trust than to rebuild it.