According to German law, parliament will elect the new government leader on December 17, 2013, and current chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is expected to lead the government for another four years after her party won a decisive victory in September of 2013. The conclusion of coalition negotiations paved the way for Germany´s new government with a grand coalition between the two major parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, to form a Grosse Koalition (“GroKo”).
Negotiations about cabinet ministries resulted in the following share of portfolios for each party: the center right CDU will hold the chancellorship and fill five ministries (Interior, Finance, Defense, Health, Education, and Research), the Bavarian sister party, CSU, will have three (Agriculture, Transportation, and Development Policy) and the coalition partner, the Social Democrats, will head six ministries (Labor and Energy; Foreign Office; Justice and Consumer Protection; Environment and Nuclear Safety; Family, Women, Seniors and Youth).
The outcome of the negotiations included some surprises. Ursula von der Leyen (CDU), the ambitious current Labor Minister, is ready to lead the Defense Ministry, a highly visible post, while the former Defense Minister will move on to be in charge of interior affairs. She will be the first woman to head this ministry in Germany. Her new position will give von der Leyen, an experienced and tough female leader in German politics, a highly visible but also complex task, as the Defense Ministry has the reputation of being extremely difficult to lead and most ministers did not serve their full term due to personal or leadership failure and internal strife.
Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the Social Democrats and chief negotiator for the grand coalition, is the designated vice chancellor. In the new cabinet, he will head the Labor and Energy resorts, two key portfolios in German politics now merged into one department, thus becoming “Superminister” with significant influence on German domestic politics. His nomination is not only a personal success in his ambitious career; it moreover signifies the shift towards focusing on domestic social policies for the years to come. Among other tax and social issues, Gabriel championed the minimum wage settlement in the coalition agreement, which is scheduled to take effect in 2017. And, as a concession to the party´s left wing, Andrea Nahles will lead the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs. To underline the modernity of Germany´s new government, the coalition government will also include the first minister with Turkish roots, Aydan Özoguz (SPD), who will hold the special Ministry for Migration, Refugees and Integration, an office in the chancellery that was formerly held by Maria Böhme from the CDU.
To secure the inclusion of social policies in the coalition agreement, Gabriel had scheduled a referendum within the Social Democratic Party, a risky, but in the end successful, move that put pressure on the CDU to agree to this controversial piece of policy. With Gabriel taking on the role of vice chancellor, he will clearly shape Germany´s social and labor policies as he vows to speak for the “little people”, the common man, however defined. By emphasizing social issues with an appeal to its traditional constituency, the SPD hopes to move out of the twenty-five percent ditch the party has plunged into in recent elections and, potentially, to recapture the chancellorship in the next elections.
Aside from the chancellery, one of the highly important ministries is finance, and continuity will prevail here, as Wolfgang Schäuble from the CDU heads the Finance Ministry again. He is one of Germany´s most experienced conservative politicians and he is considered to be a close associate (and at times adversary) of the chancellor. Schäuble has been a staunch advocate of balancing budgets and policies and promoting economic growth and German exports. Moreover, he will clearly play a key role in future EU-policies. Schäuble, a promoter of European integration and long-time supporter of the euro, played a major role in the settlement about banking oversight in the EU, for example, and in the promotion of German interests in European bail-out policies in the past years.
Moreover, according to a common pattern in German coalitions, the Foreign Ministry will be assigned to the smaller coalition partner. The new Foreign Minister to be, Frank Walter Steinmeier (SPD), is no stranger in this office; he already held the Foreign Ministry in the former grand coalition from 2005 until 2009. Steinmeier is a Transatlanticist and he advocates a greater role for Germany in international relations. Expect, therefore, cooperation and continuity in external relations.
But overall, this is a government with few surprises. The coalition agreement, a document of 185 pages in which the parties outline the future aims and goals of the government, reads like a handbook of appeasement for different constituencies and contains neither a grand vision, nor a radical shift in policies. In the midst of a tumultuous Europe, due to the euro zone crisis, there is little indication that Germany may reinvent the future. But it may well pay more attention to long overdue internal reforms.