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Where German Politicans Fear to Tread

DW staff (tkw)September 19, 2005

Historically speaking, Germany has tended to consider federal level grand coalitions to be a clumsy last resort option. Thus far, the country has only had one and it lasted just three years.

Can they? Will they? Should they? Would they do it together?Image: Montage AP/dpa/DW

Working on the basis that a coalition should be more than such in name alone, German politicians have traditionally resisted the nationwide alliance of parties whose policies do not share a natural alignment.

Ludwig Erhard
Former chancellor, Ludwig ErhardImage: AP

Back in 1966, Germany was ruled by a CSU-CDU-FDP coalition with Ludwig Erhard as chancellor. But the union was not a happy one: After arguments over budget affairs, the Free Democrats withdrew from the alliance, causing Erhard to step down.

It was then, in December of the same year, that Germany's first, and to date only, federal-level grand coalition was formed. The CSU/CDU teamed up with the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrat Kurt Georg Kiesinger was appointed as the nation's new leader.

Bundeskanzler Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Kurt Georg KiesingerImage: AP

The conservative leader had served as state premier of Baden-Württemberg, but had also been a member of the Nazi party serving in the foreign ministry during World War II. For that, he came under fire from radical, left-wing student movements.

Tough times

It was a difficult time for the fledgling nation and its new coalition, which was grappling with economic woes, high levels of unemployment and a worrying budget deficit. Emergency legislation did little to quash widespread student protest action, and the Red Army Faction terrorist movement emerged.

Grosse Koalition: Kurt Georg Kiesinger und Willy Brandt
CDU Chancellor, Kiesinger and his SPD deputy, Willy BrandtImage: dpa

Voters became disgruntled, and allegiances shifted in a number of directions. Some moved over to the environmentalists who later became the Greens, while others endorsed right-wing extremist groups such as the National Democratic Party of Germany (NDP), which scored its best-ever election result in the 1969 federal ballot.

The coalition was widely considered "unnatural" given that its partners came from opposite ends of the political spectrum. It was only ever viewed as a temporary solution -- a means to the end of gaining trade union support and stabilizing the economy.

Willy Brandt
First SPD Chancellor, Willy BrandtImage: dpa

It lasted the three years, until the next federal elections in 1969, when Willy Brandt, who was vice chancellor and minister of foreign affairs under Kiesinger, was elected as Germany's first SPD leader.