State minority coalition could alter German political atmosphere | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.06.2010
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State minority coalition could alter German political atmosphere

If the Social Democrats in Germany's largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, go through with the minority coalition they announced on Thursday, it will change the balance of power in Germany.

Hannelore Kraft announces the decision to enter a coalition with the Greens

Kraft made the announcement but not the decision, say experts

Six weeks after elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) ended inconclusively, the Social Democrats and the Greens will try to form a government, even though between them they do not have a working majority in the regional assembly.

Although the minority government appears at first glance to have an uncertain future, Hannelore Kraft, the Social Democrats' leader in NRW, said she was attempting to establish stability.

"The instability that dominates politics in North Rhine-Westphalia must be done away with," Kraft told reporters Thursday in Duesseldorf, the state's capital.

"We need quick and forceful action to establish a stable government. There have been minority governments before. But we also need unity so that this change can take place," she added.

Enormous implications

German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to questions during a media conference after an EU summit

The decision in NRW could have implications for Merkel

Stability in North Rhine-Westphalia, however, though certainly important in the decision to go ahead with the minority government, was not the central factor, said experts.

Professor Manfred Schmidt, of the University of Heidelberg, told Deutsche Welle that it wasn't even Kraft's decision to enter the minority coalition, but much more the decision of her superiors in Berlin.

"As we know from what she said to the general public, she did not want to enter a minority government with the Greens. But now she has changed her mind, and it seems that the impact from Berlin has been the central impact for that change," he said.

If the Social Democrats take over in North Rhine-Westphalia - in effect taking out the Christian Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel's party - Merkel's majority in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament in Berlin, will vanish.

And this is significant, said Schmidt.

"This would mean that the Merkel government will no longer be able to govern the way it wants to. In each and every decision in which the consent of the Bundesrat is mandatory, she must enter a de facto coalition with the social democratic party, giving an opposition party co-governing status."

Juergen Ruettgers, head of the CDU in NRW

There's no future for Juergen Ruettgers, head of the Christian Democrats in NRW

Uncertain future

Professor Christoph Butterwege, a political scientist at the University of Cologne, however, voiced doubt as to how long the Social Democrats and the Greens could remain in power in NRW.

What's more, Butterwege was incredulous as to the effectiveness of the minority government in Germany's largest and most populous state, where over 17 million people live.

"It will be very interesting come autumn, when this government has to consolidate the budget. They will need the support of another party, and they are not going to get it from the liberal Free Democrats, the Christian Democrats or the Left Party. Who's left? Nobody."

Butterwege called the Social Democrats' decision "questionable" and added that it was at best a "temporary solution" to a much larger problem facing the state.

Surprise decision

The Social Democrats had been saying for weeks that they did not trust the idea of a minority government, with the announcement taking analysts by surprise.

The process leading up to Thursday's decision had been marked by intense political wrangling ever since the regional election on May 9. Talks had been held with the Left party, the Liberals, the Greens and even the Christian Democrats, but they were unable to reach an agreement.

Author: Gabriel Borrud
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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