• Germany edition
 
How is Germany faring in political limbo?
Chancellor Angela Merkel with SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel. Photo: DPA

How is Germany faring in political limbo?

Published: 19 Nov 2013 15:29 GMT+01:00
Updated: 19 Nov 2013 15:29 GMT+01:00

If a week is a long time in politics, eight weeks without agreeing on a new government is surely an eternity.

Since Germany's election on September 22nd, Merkel's Conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have been inching slowly towards a deal.

But time does not stand still waiting for Germany to get its act together, and the stalemate is beginning to be felt.

Since September, Germany has effectively been run by the pre-election government, albeit with a dramatically reduced mandate.

Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, for instance, found himself more or less powerless when forced to travel to Brussels last week for a meeting of EU finance ministers without a mandate to agree a common plan to deal with ailing European banks. 

Schäuble opposes using funds from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to shore up failing banks, while his future coalition partners in the SPD support the plan - also backed by the European Central Bank and several member states.

The new coalition's tentative draft agreement states: “The CDU/CSU and SPD will consult together on the planned measures, decisions and legal initiatives of individual ministries. This also applies to voting at European level." 

If Schäuble must consult the coalition on every point of European fiscal policy, the minister could find himself severely limited in his ability to push forward his own agenda abroad. Many see this uncertainty on a European level as a threat to Germany's traditional leadership role in negotiations.

'Civil servants know what to do'

Despite the impasse, government ministries told The Local their ministers were carrying on as normal.

The education ministry said their minister, Johanna Wanka, had been busy in the coalition negotiations and had appointments most days this week in Berlin, Potsdam and Munich.

And outgoing health minister Daniel Bahr, whose party the FDP was voted out of parliament in September, recently attended a conference in Washington. Meanwhile outgoing economics minister Philipp Rösler, also of the FDP, travelled to Paris on Tuesday for a ministerial conference of the International Energy Agency.

German civil servants can be relied upon to run the show smoothly, said Professor Michael Wohlgemuth, director at think-tank Open Europe Berlin, while the work done by ministries would have eased off over the last two months.

“In some ministries, especially those that used to be run by FDP ministers, the workload has gone down dramatically – whereas anxiety is high on who will keep what kind of job. It is similar with ministries likely to go to the SPD, such as the foreign office and economics," he said.

But Professor Wohlgemuth added: “The people at the finance ministry, who have worked extra hours for years now, are still under stress with EU banking union and keeping track of all the extra billions of expenditure that the new coalition put on its wish-list.”

While Merkel's Conservatives received a ringing endorsement in the election, they fell just short of an absolute majority.

After negotiations with the Green Party failed, the Social Democrats emerged as the most obvious coalition partner.

But the SDP are not overly enthusiastic about the idea of going into government with the Conservatives, a move that cost them considerable support during the last so-called "grand coalition" between 2005 and 2009.

As a result, the party has entered negotiations determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and is taking a firm line in its demands for a nationwide minimum wage of €8.50, an extension of gay rights and measures to fight old age poverty. "We will not pursue politics for a second time in which the SPD again breaches its self-concept," their leader Sigmar Gabriel vowed.

Additional reporting by Louise Osborne and Tom Bristow

READ MORE: Merkel and SPD agree on women's quota

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Kate Ferguson (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall
Photo: Paul Sullivan

Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall

Two expats who walked the Mauerweg - the 160-kilometre trail that runs the length of the former Berlin Wall - have written a book about forgotten aspects of its past and present. READ  

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat
Photo: DPA

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat

Germany's biggest department store chain Karstadt will close at least six stores, putting around 2,000 jobs at risk, in a drastic bid by its new boss to return it to profit. READ  

Quiz
How well do you know Germany?
Photos: DPA/Shutterstock

How well do you know Germany?

Do you know your Saxony facts from your Saxony-Anhalt ones? Test your knowledge of Germany's federal states in The Local's quiz. READ  

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal
Pollution from a coal-fired power station in Frimmersdorf, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal

The UN's climate chief hailed a European agreement in Bonn on greenhouse gases on Friday as providing "valuable momentum" for a world pact to be inked in Paris next year. READ  

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth
Photo: DPA

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth

Germany will get an early Christmas present of around €779 million from the EU, thanks to weaker than expected GDP growth. READ  

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told
Photo: DPA

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told

It will take several days to find out what caused a massive explosion on Thursday which rocked a town on the Rhine, killing a builder and injuring 26 others. READ  

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'
An NH90 helicopter. Photo: DPA

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'

Germany's fleet of NH90 helicopters is undergoing engineering checks after one of them suffered a serious engine failure, in the latest blow to the country's military capabilities. READ  

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m
Rainer Schwarz at a court hearing in September into the case. Photo: DPA

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m

The man who was blamed for Berlin's miserable attempt to build a new airport must be paid more than €1 million - after being fired. READ  

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Kurds watching the attack on Kobane. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressed UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to bring possible poison gas use by Isis in Iraq before the Security Council. READ  

Spring back in German consumers' step?
Photo: DPA

Spring back in German consumers' step?

Update: Consumer confidence in Germany has stopped falling, as households appear to be no longer fazed by concerns about the economic fallout from geopolitical crises, a new poll found on Friday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Politics
Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: Huge explosion rocks Ludwigshafen
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
Which high school cliche is your German city?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Storm hits southern Germany
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,533
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd