• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

How is Germany faring in political limbo?

Kate Ferguson · 19 Nov 2013, 15:29

Published: 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.

Story continues below…

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 news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Kate Ferguson (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
VW to pay US suppliers $1.2 bln over Dieselgate
Volkswagen model vehicles on a dealer lot in Bedford, Massachusetts, USA. Photo: Cj Gunther/Picture Alliance/DPA

German auto giant Volkswagen has agreed to pay US suppliers $1.2 billion to settle claims emanating from the "Dieselgate" pollution scandal, the firm and suppliers said late Friday.

This Week in History
75 years since one of Holocaust's worst massacres
Photo: DPA

On Thursday, German president Joachim Gauck spoke in Kiev 75 years after the Nazis slaughtered 33,771 Jews during one of the worst single massacres of the Holocaust.

Six things you need to know about troubled Deutsche Bank

Shares in Deutsche bank plunged on Friday morning, dragging down other European banks and markets worldwide. Here are six things to know about Germany's biggest lender.

Deutsche Bahn jacks up prices for first time in 3 years
Photo: DPA

Germany's main rail provider, the state-owned Deutsche Bahn (DB), announced on Friday that it will raise prices on long-distance train travel.

Baby found alive in suitcase with skeleton in Hanover
File photo: DPA.

A baby has been found alive, along with the skeleton of another infant inside of a suitcase in Hanover, police reported on Friday.

Morocco to speed up repatriation of illegal migrants
Photo: DPA

Morocco has agreed to streamline the procedures for the repatriation of citizens living illegally in Germany, the royal court said late on Thursday.

890,000 refugees arrived in Germany last year - not 1.1m
Photo: DPA

Previous reports had suggested that around 1.1 million people entered Germany to seek asylum last year. But now the German government has confirmed the number was actually lower.

Racist attacks cast cloud over Dresden Unity Day planning
A police vehicle in Dresden. Photo: DPA.

As Dresden prepares to host Germany’s national Unity Day celebrations on Monday, the capital of the eastern state of Saxony is upping security after a mosque was targeted by a homemade bomb.

Sinking Deutsche Bank stock sends shock across Europe
Photo: DPA

Shares in Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank plummeted on the Frankfurt stock market on Friday, dragging other European banks and global markets down with it, after reports some customers were pulling money out.

The Local List
10 things you never knew about German reunification
Reunification celebrations in Hanover in 2014. Photo: DPA

With German Unity Day (October 3rd) happening on Monday, Germans are looking forward to a three-day weekend. But did you know these facts about reunification and German Unity Day?

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
Lifestyle
10 German films you have to watch before you die
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
6,789
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd