It’s hard to keep track of what Germany’s grand coalition is currently fighting about – even for Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.
Mr. Gabriel, the economics minister and head of the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), needs to keep a list of SPD projects stymied by the majority Christian Democrats. They range from workplace laws to building north-south power lines for the country’s energy transition, which has been blocked by Horst Seehofer, head of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.
No one knows if Chancellor Angela Merkel is keeping a similar list of CDU projects blocked by Social Democrats, the coalition’s minority partner. Perhaps top of her list would be Mr. Gabriel’s stubborn refusal to lower the solidarity tax. The tax was first introduced in 1991 to finance Germany’s participation in the Second Gulf War, and re-introduced in 1995 to finance eastern states.
In any case, the mood in the governing coalition is reaching its lowest ebb, with a new conflict flaring up every day.
Manuela Schwesig, minister of family matters from the SPD, is unhappy about the too-small hike in child benefits suggested by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the CDU.
Andrea Nahles, minister of labor from the SPD, is suspicious of CDU plans to undermine the minimum wage, even after the coalition’s internal agreement. Tax support for building refurbishments is also off the table for now because of quarrels between the partners in the coalition.
Currently there is more fighting than governing going on in Berlin. That’s a real shame, because this year offers a small window of opportunity to tackle controversial issues without the distraction of big elections.
With only two relatively minor state elections in Hamburg and Bremen, 2015 would be a good time to push ahead with difficult projects. Both the CDU and SPD could give a little, without fearing punishment at the polls.
For now, the public isn't really worried about the coalition’s squabbling – as long as the German economy keeps on humming along.
But the coalition is acting like national elections are three months away and refusing to grant the other even the smallest concession.
In part, that’s due to how frustrated Mr. Gabriel is feeling – and his party as a whole. Regardless of what they do, the Social Democrats cannot seem to get above a 25-percent approval rating in the polls. That doesn’t exactly make him feel more willing to compromise.
On the other hand, the CDU and CSU feel they have already conceded far too much to their minority partner. They also don’t see any urgent reason to get into a frenzy of work right now. Many of the politicians in the party think Ms. Merkel could win the elections in 2017 simply by turning up. In any case, the chancellor has enough other things on her plate at the moment, with the crises in Greece and Ukraine.
For now, the public isn’t really worried about the coalition’s squabbling – as long as the German economy keeps on humming along. But if the economy should show any time of weakening, the mood of the public could quickly change. Then all this fighting and lack of action won’t be okay any more.
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