German chancellor

Angela Merkel starts fourth term facing hurdles

TOPSHOT-GERMANY-POLITICS-GOVERNMENT
Not as smooth as it looks. Source: AFP

A surprised murmur went around the German parliament as the president of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, announced the result of the chancellor’s election. Lawmakers glanced questioningly at each other before joining in a rousing applause.

Angela Merkel has been re-elected for her fourth term as German Chancellor – but only by a narrow majority. In a secret ballot, 35 members of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic alliance and the Social Democrats did not vote for her. That means at least every eleventh lawmaker from the ranks of CDU/CSU and SPD denied Ms. Merkel their vote.

The head of the CDU needed 355 votes to be confirmed as chancellor. She received 364 of the 688 votes in favor – merely nine more than the minimum. As Ms. Merkel received congratulatory messages and flowers, some politicians began to speculate who voted against her. Christian Lindner, head of the opposition Free Democratic Party, told Handelsblatt: “It is certainly not a day underlining Ms. Merkel’s authority.”

“I did not vote for Ms. Merkel, and that’s no secret,” he added in an interview with n-tv. “We do not agree on the political course that is being taken now. It’s a grand coalition that is only grand at spending a lot of our citizens’ money.” Speculating on who may have rejected Ms. Merkel’s leadership, Mr. Lindner said: “I believe that especially the women of the SPD voted against Merkel’s re-election.”

The CDU and SPD are particularly divided on the issue of advertising for abortions: The SPD had introduced a bill to abolish an advertising ban, but conservatives criticized the move.

New German government
The three glum musketeers. Source: dpa

After the signing of the coalition agreement on Monday, acting SPD leader Olaf Scholz had already admitted the alliance “isn’t a love match.” Nonetheless, designated SPD chair Andrea Nahles was surprised by the close vote. “There were more dissenting votes than I expected,” she told the media outlet “Welt.” However, she does not believe the rejection comes from her party ranks. The SPD was “very united” on the matter.

Other politicians seemed upbeat. “Counter-votes are part of a democracy,” CSU’s Alexander Dobrindt told “Welt.” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) called it a “good start for Germany,” because the country has a stable government again.

After Ms. Merkel’s election, the new cabinet was also sworn in. The finance and foreign ministries are being taken over by the SPD politicians Olaf Scholz and Heiko Maas. The interior ministry goes to Horst Seehofer (CSU), the ministry of economic affairs is headed by the CDU politician Peter Altmaier, and Katarina Barley (SPD) is the new justice minister.

Ms. Merkel’s election puts an end to nearly six months of political deadlock. The 63-year-old CDU chair has been at the helm of Europe’s largest economy since November 2005. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier now called on the new government to regain lost trust. Simply “rehashing old ways” would not be enough. “This government must prove itself anew and differently,” he said.

He warned that the coming years will be a “challenge for democracy.” The new government is facing a possible trade war with the US, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, rising tensions between the UK and Russia and increasing cybersecurity threats – to name just a few.

Stephanie Ott is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global based in New York City. Handelsblatt’s Hannah Steinharter and Marius Wolf contributed to this article. To contact the author: s.ott@extern.handelsblatt.com.

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