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Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and former Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) . Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Craving harmony

Jeanette Seiffert / gb
October 16, 2013

Coalition talks on forming a new German government are full of pitfalls that would cause political upheaval elsewhere, but in Berlin the parties are calmly searching for common ground.


There were no photographs of the exploratory talks on forming a new coalition government, but there was news of the lunch menu - potato soup and plum pie - shared by the negotiating teams from Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and opposition Social Democrats (SPD).

"Exploratory talks lead to coalition talks - or maybe not," was the very relaxed commentary from Alexander Dobrindt, the secretary-general of the Christian Social Union, the CDU's sister party in Bavaria. Dobrindt looked like a man who was confident that his side would come to some kind of agreement with the other side in the end.

At their second meeting there was still no result, but at least there was mention of "intensive talks" and "a feeling for the other side," as the secretary-general of the CDU, Hermann Gröhe, put it.

Talks with the Greens even took place, and although they led to nought, it was surprising that these once 'deadly enemies' even sat down to chat.

The rest of the world is rubbing their eyes at the calm and tranquility in Germany. Anywhere else, it seems, there would be raucous wrangling and a hurling of epithets in the course of coalition negotiations.

Poker, not politics

In Italy or Greece after elections, all of Europe waits with bated breath hoping beyond hope that a stable government will rise from the electoral hornswoggling like a phoenix from the ashes - and last longer than just a couple of weeks.

Ukrainian parliament members fight in the Verkhovna Rada in Kiev in a protest against the bill that would introduce Russian as the second official language. Center, wearing white: Regional Party member Vadim Kolesnichenko. Grigoriy Vasilenko/RIA Novosti
Harmony is apparently not high on the agenda in UkraineImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In Russia, Ukraine or South Korea parliamentarians have been known to digress from the legislative agenda in the form of fisticuffs.

And in Germany? Well, the parties are…exploring. Cool as cucumbers. Political analysts expect a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD to emerge at some point down the prickly path of party politics. It will be a coalition agreement in which both sides can claim that they pushed through important agendas.

German voters, and non-voters alike, will look on in warm and mushy sentimentality feeling that their political leaders have taken care of things.

If you want to dig up truly divisive issues you're going to need a fine-tooth comb. All parties in Germany, for example, support the move toward environmentally-friendly, alternative energies, more fairness and justice. The CSU wants to hold onto the controversial family allowance paid to parents who choose not to put their child in a daycare center, and introduce a toll on highways for foreign vehicles. The SPD is insisting on the introduction of an across-the-board minimum wage. These do not sound like irreconcilable differences. This appears not to be the time for big political showdowns, but a time for flushing out devilish details.

Long tradition of compromise

The German ability to seek a balance has a long tradition, says Edgar Wolfrum, a historian at the University of Heidelberg. "Throughout Germany's checkered history a craving for security and compromise has emerged and it has led to a very special political culture," he says. This is also apparent in the German social partnership, which is based on employers and trade unions coming to an agreement, Wolfrum pointed out in a DW interview.

German Chancellor and Chairwoman of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, Chairman of the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU), embrace prior to the first meeting of the two parties' factions at the Bundestag following federal elections on September 24, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. The parties narrowly missed receiving enough votes for an absolute majority of Bundestag seats and now face the arduous task of building a viable coalition with another party. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Merkel and CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, enjoying a hugImage: Getty Images

The result has been that the Federal Republic, since its post-war founding, has almost always been governed by a coalition of whatever political stripe and almost all of them lasted until the end of the legislative period.

"The German mentality is different to other countries," adds psychologist and author Stephan Grünewald from the Cologne-based Rheingold Foundation for Market Research. "We don't have a solid national identity and that makes us uneasy," he says. That is why Germans have this need for stability and predictability.

It comes as no surprise then that opinion surveys show some two-thirds of all Germans strongly favor a grand coalition government between the CDU/CSU and SPD. In Grünewald's view that is ultimately a sign that many Germans are afraid of the future and want to conserve things as they are now. That is what a grand coalition - and Angela Merkel - stand for.

'Feel-good democracy'

Anybody in Germany who steers a confrontational course in politics is often attacked from two sides: from the media, which at the slightest hint of discord immediately sees a 'crisis' or 'divisiveness' looming, and from the voters, who apparently do not like party wrangling.

Merkel and her team arrived for talks in an upbeat mood. Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa
Merkel and her team arrived for talks ready for business, but not for battleImage: picture-alliance/dpa

This circumstance contributes to political stability and more effective politics in Germany than in many other countries. But historian, Edgar Wolfrum, is concerned about the inability of Germans to face up to conflicts. "In a democracy, consensus and compromise should really only come at the end and not at the beginning," he emphasizes, warning that "productive disputes are a part of democracy - and democracy lives from that."

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