Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Attack of the Fiendish Müntemerkel

Well, the grey men have spoken and Angela Merkel has, to my considerable surprise, ended up as Germany's chancellor. It seems that the easy-life temptations of a grand coalition overcame the SPD's desire to hang on to the chancellor's office, and motivated them to give Schröder the push. This leaves Germany with a truly bizarre government - the Chancellery goes to Merkel, but all the key ministries with the exception of Economy and Defence go to the SPD. The Vice-Chancellorship - traditionally a fairly empty title for the junior coalition partner's leader - is to go to none other than SPD General Secretary Franz Müntefering, who is apparently going to combine it with the ministries of Labour and Social Affairs.

This, for one, suggests that this government is not going to be a good one. Although the Right gets the Ministry of the Economy for Bavarian elected king Edmund Stoiber, its great rival the Finance Ministry stays with the SPD...and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs goes to Müntefering, he of the so-called Kapitalismusdebatte, placing him straight in the path of the conservatives' agenda on the labour market. Müntefering will have the status of a vice-chancellor, as well as a make-or-break party leader, to back him in his role as Minister for No.

Stoiber's party, meanwhile, added to this promise of internecine viciousness by publicly doubting Merkel's Richtlinienkompetenz. This term means the right of the chancellor to issue "directives" or "guidelines" to ministers, something considered in Germany to be an important characteristic of the German constitution. Unsurprisingly, the SPD has also been very publicly warning her against any "lonely decisions". This opens up the prospect of triangular, SPD/CDU/CSU, negotiation inside the government. It also raises a constitutional point - the SPD claims that her Richtlinienkompetenz is limited specifically by the agreement between the parties. Can such an agreement effectively change the constitution?

Meanwhile, outside the government, the Greens, Left and FDP are left to sweat as a sort of oppositional traffic light coalition. And, no doubt, both Stoiber and Müntefering sharpen their knives for their own bids for the Chancellorship in six months' time. That is, of course, so long as no outbreak of democracy nixes them. The SPD MPs must agree to vote Merkel in. And the SPD activists must reelect their leaders at the imminent party conference. Seeing as the leaders' policy means that Germany, a country with a structural leftwing majority in parliament, gets a conservative chancellor - will they?

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