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Setting a new course for Germany

November 25, 2021

The SPD, Greens and FDP have agreed the first "traffic light" coalition at federal level which will lead Germany into the post-Merkel era. Their motto — "Dare more progress" — sounds promising, says Marcel Fürstenau.

A photo showing three buttons, one each of the logos of the SPD (red), Greens (green) and FDP (yellow)
Image: Torsten Sukrow/Sulupress/picture alliance

Germany will soon be governed by an alliance that, until now, has never been in power at the federal level. It will be led by the surprise winner of the election, the center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The country's oldest political party grew out of the 19th century labor movement, and over the course of its long history it has already shown several times that it has the courage to change.

The last time was at the start of this millennium, when it joined forces with the Greens to modernize inflexible employment social, and economic policies. This strategy, known as "Agenda 2010," was a radical change of course that enabled the sick man of Europe, as Germany was known at the time, to recover — economically, at least. The world's fourth-largest economy got back on its feet and was able to return to playing its important part as the engine of Europe.

Germany's Scholz hails groundbreaking new coalition

Each party made its mark on the agreement

However, there is no question that, for many people, these radical changes made life considerably harder. Germany's low-wage sector is extremely large compared to other countries, and relative poverty is a serious concern. The incoming red-yellow-green "traffic-light" government wants to change this by raising the minimum wage to €12 (about $13.50). In doing so, Olaf Scholz, the future German chancellor and successor to Angela Merkel, is fulfilling one of the SPD's key election promises. And this is a good thing, because around 10 million people will benefit from it.

This long-overdue measure was by no means uncontroversial during the coalition negotiations. The Free Democrats are strongly free-market oriented, and do not believe the government should intervene in free collective bargaining. In return, however, the FDP was able to push through its demand that the debt ceiling enshrined in the Basic Law should be retained. Meanwhile, the mark of the Green Party is unmistakable when it comes to its most important policy issue: the climate. Here, for example, the phaseout of coal will be brought forward from 2038 to 2030.

COVID-19 crisis team a good start

With this coalition agreement, the three "traffic light" parties have shown they are very capable of compromise. They will need a lot of allies beyond the cabinet table, and outside parliament itself, if they are to implement their ambitious program for Germany, Europe and the world.

DW's Marcel Fürstenau
DW correspondent Marcel FürstenauImage: DW

At home, deeds must quickly follow words. The announcement that a crisis team of experts will be set up to try to control the COVID-19 pandemic is a good start.

The passages on foreign, security, defense and development policy read as good intentions. Making the European Union more effective and more united on the international stage has already been a goal for the past 16 years under Merkel. Brexit has shown just how difficult, if not impossible, this is. And the forces of disunion are growing stronger rather than weaker, if deficiencies in the rule of law, in Poland and Hungary above all, are anything to go by.

Scholz guarantees continuity in Europe

In this tricky landscape, the future German government will need to be both diplomatic and assertive. This is also true of its relationship with the six Western Balkan states that are keen to become members of the European family. It sounds promising that the coalition agreement pledges to approach Germany's traditionally large responsibility within the EU from the perspective of "serving" the bloc as a whole. With Scholz, who was previously Germany's vice chancellor under Merkel, continuity is guaranteed.

The same applies to the relationship with the North Atlantic defense alliance (NATO), and thus automatically with the United States. In this regard, it would certainly make sense for the political element to be strengthened in future, if only in view of the recent military disaster in Afghanistan. The intention to pursue a restrictive arms policy fits perfectly with this goal.

From left to right: Christian Lindner of the FDP, the SPD's Olaf Scholz, and Green Party leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck.
Christian Lindner (FDP, left), Scholz (center) and the Greens' Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck found compromiseImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

In the tradition of Willy Brandt

After many years of increasing tensions with countries such as China, Russia and Turkey, the new German coalition also wants to do what must be done: insist on respect for human rights, while maintaining dialogue, even if relations are in crisis. The three parties that will form the new government — the SPD, Greens and FDP — seem to have found a workable basis from which to address all these national and international challenges.

It's no coincidence that the motto they came up with for this coalition agreement — "Dare more progress" — harks back to the slogan of the first Social Democratic chancellor, Willy Brandt. "Dare more democracy" was a promise made by the coalition he forged with the FDP in 1969. Little by little, this promise revived Germany's sociopolitical image and led, on the international stage, to a policy of detente with the communist world.

Democratic mindset and spirit of optimism

The three-way coalition describes itself an "alliance for freedom, justice, and sustainability," which is first and foremost a nod to their own self-image. Freedom is a key tenet of the FDP, while the SPD stands above all for justice, and the Greens for sustainability.

Who could object to this harmonious triad? Only those in Germany and beyond whose are focused on nationalism, isolationism and authoritarian politics. Unfortunately, they are many. In facing up to them with confidence, a democratic mindset and a spirit of optimism, Germany is sending out a very positive signal.

Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.