BERLIN: A centre-left-led alliance of parties on Wednesday, November 24, 2021, announced a deal to form Germany’s new government, with rising coronavirus infections posing an immediate crisis for the post-Angela Merkel cabinet to put out.
Two months after the Social Democrats (SPD) beat Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU bloc in a general election, they concluded a roadmap on plans for Germany’s next four years with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats that will install Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, 63, as chancellor.
The relatively rapid accord is likely to be greeted with relief by international partners wary of a hamstrung Germany while crises from the global Covid emergency to Belarus and a weak economic recovery rage.
Within Germany, voices have grown louder for the new coalition to take swift action to curb a surging fourth wave of the pandemic as hospital beds fill up and new infections soar to record highs day after day.
In a sign of the emergency, Merkel, who is retiring from politics after four terms, summoned the leaders of the new coalition parties for talks over the rapidly deteriorating Covid situation midway during their last spurt of negotiations Tuesday.
Scholz said his incoming government will set up a crisis team to fight the pandemic, and pledged to spend a billion euros ($1.12 billion) on bonuses for health workers in hospitals and care homes who have been on the frontlines of the crisis.
He voiced backing for compulsory vaccinations for health staff and said his government will “do everything necessary to bring our country safely through this time.”
– ‘Super’ ministry –
Besides the pandemic, the three parties’ coalition contract presented Wednesday covers the main policy outlines for their term in government.
It includes a plan to bring Germany’s exit out of coal forward to 2030 from 2038, a pledge to reinstate the country’s constitutionally enshrined debt limit for 2023, as well as a proposal to legalise recreational use of cannabis.
A thorny part of coalition-building negotiations — which party takes which ministry — was also settled.
With the business-friendly FDP to run the powerful finance ministry, the leader of the party Christian Lindner is poised to take charge of Europe’s biggest economy’s finances.
A new “super-ministry” grouping the portfolios of economy, climate protection and energy and the foreign ministry go to the Greens, with Robert Habeck, the ecologists’ co-leader, expected to take the environmental portfolio.
Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ other leader, is poised to become Germany’s next foreign minister — the first woman in the job.
The line-up hints at a Germany that could take a more assertive tone towards China and Russia, while economically it will stick to budgetary rigour and aggressively push green investments.
The swift pace at which the three parties — known in Germany as the Ampel or “traffic-light” after their colours — came together to defy expectations as the FDP is not seen as a natural partner of the centre-left SPD or Greens.
But the parties were anxious to avoid a repeat of the messy negotiations four years ago, when Lindner was vilified for pulling the plug on talks with Merkel’s CDU-CSU and the Greens.
The 177-page coalition contract will now be put to the parties’ rank-and-file, which are expected to rubberstamp them, following which Scholz will be elected formally by MPs in the Bundestag, likely in early December.
– ‘Sleep soundly’ –
Known for her steady hand steering Germany through the eurozone crisis, migrant influx and Brexit, Merkel is leaving office still widely popular with the German electorate.
Mindful of the value placed on a stable Germany, the veteran politician has taken pains to ensure an orderly transition.
Stressing continuity, she included Scholz in key bilateral meetings during the G20 summit in Rome in October including with US President Joe Biden.
When she met regional leaders of Germany’s 16 states for urgent talks last week on the pandemic, Scholz was prominently also in attendance.
She has also shrugged aside the fact that Scholz hails from a rival political party, saying she will be “able to sleep soundly” with him as chancellor.
Vote of confidence from Merkel aside, Scholz is an experienced hand, having been labour minister in her first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice-chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
Known for being meticulous, confident and fiercely ambitious, he has cemented his reputation as a fiscal conservative — something that at times puts him at odds with his party.