Young politicians rail against grand coalition | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.12.2013
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Young politicians rail against grand coalition

If Germany's future federal government is made up of the country's two largest political groups, it won't receive much support from younger party members. They oppose the grand coalition alliance for several reasons.

The leaders of the parties seeking to govern Germany for the next four years were very proud, after weeks of negotiations, to finally present their coalition agreement to the public at the end of November. The 187-page document contains the political objectives the alliance plans to implement.

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Horst Seehofer, leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and Sigmar Gabriel, head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), know that they've had to make some big compromises. After the federal elections in September this year, none of the parties got enough of a majority to be able to govern alone - or even form a coalition with their favored partners.

But now the potential grand coalition is facing fierce criticism, mainly from the younger politicians in its ranks. Members of both the CDU and SPD's youth organizations, which can include people as old as 35, at the federal and state levels have expressed their discontent with the proposed grand coalition.

Coalition agreement under fire

Jens Spahn CDU

Jens Spahn believes the coalition can withstand the pressure

"There will certainly be disagreements," 33-year-old Jens Spahn told DW of the approaching term in government. With 53 of his party colleagues, the CDU parliamentarian signed the CDU 2017 paper, which endorses the coalition's agreement as a work of conservative values. "You first need to earn everything that you want to hand out," said Spahn, adding that the SPD had repeatedly put the German economy at risk by forgetting this principle.

The paper's key point is that the conservative Christian negotiators were too willing to make costly compromises to secure the SPD's support for a grand coalition. Spahn said many of the pledges made in the coalition agreement are subject to funding restrictions and may not be implemented as planned.

He added that he bulk of the so-called "gifts for the people" that have been agreed upon would come at the expense of future generations. That's not good news, and it's something that will affect the CDU's future potential, Spahn said.

New elections beat a bad compromise

Louder still were the complaints regarding the coalition agreement coming from inside the SPD's youth organization. The party leader and likely deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, was recently confronted at national conference with posters showing a large black CDU fish eating a little red SPD fish. The message is a clear one: many of the SPD's demands had been sacrificed to the CDU/CSU.

Federal Congress of the youth wing of the SPD 2013

The SPD's youth wing has rejected the coalition agreement

"During the election campaign we promised to improve the situation of many young people. Now nothing is going to happen under a grand coalition government," said Johanna Ueckermann, the 26-year-old leader of the SPD's youth wing.

Ueckermann and the other young SPD politicians wanted to see minimum wages for trainees, boosts to student support funding, more comprehensive measures to combat youth unemployment in Europe, and tax increases for the wealthy.

"We wanted more from the top 5 percent to encourage young people and to close the gap between rich and poor," Ueckermann told DW.

Ueckermann and some members of the SPD's youth organization are so disappointed that they have said they would not rule out new elections.

Premature end of the coalition?

As negotiated, the coalition agreement sets out the government's goals for a full, four-year terms. So just how much of a threat does vocal criticism from younger politicians pose? It will be certainly be uncomfortable, Johanna Uckermann and Spahn agreed. Critics will want to make improvements to the agreement and address the points they believe are missing.

Angela Merkel sits down with party heads to work out coalition agreement

Finally, a deal is struck following months of negotiation

"The next few years aren't mentally written off, but we are already thinking about the next election, because this current partnership is definitely not a good pairing," said Spahn, pointing to the success the CDU had with younger voters in the 2013 election. About 30 percent of first-time voters and 34 percent of 25-34-year-olds voted for the conservatives. Spahn and the other critics from the CDU are now speculating that the young voters will also follow the lead of the younger CDU lawmakers.

"It's not the case that the youth wing has no way to influence the situation," said Ueckermann.

The SPD youth wing's 50,000 members amount to almost 20 percent of the entire 470,000 SPD party members. Party leadership has already felt some pressure from younger members. "It's clear that the youth policy has fallen short," Ueckermann said.

A recent article in the daily "Die Tagesspiegel" labeled the rumblings among younger politicians a "revolt of careerists," but Spahn said he wants nothing to do with such labels.

There's no talk of a rebellion, or criticism of Merkel in the CDU's youth wing. "Our concerns are a reminder of the need for a detailed discussion," he said. For him it's about the future.

Younger party members may see things differently to the party elders, but Spahn doesn't believe this will lead to a premature break up of the grand coalition. "Even with the fighting it will stick together."

But before it can stick together, the coalition agreement needs to be approved by SPD members in a mail-in ballot - the results of which will be announced this weekend.

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