Sworn in for fourth term, Merkel has a lot on her plate
GERMAN lawmakers voted 364-315 yesterday to re-elect Angela Merkel as chancellor for a fourth term that may prove her most challenging yet as she takes charge of a fragile coalition following half a year of political uncertainty.
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel, bruised by half a year of post-election coalition haggling, was yesterday narrowly confirmed by parliament to her fourth term. Lawmakers voted 364315 to re-elect Merkel, Germany’s leader since 2005. The coalition of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union and the center-left Social Democrats has 399 of the 709 seats in parliament.
In what is widely expected to be her last term, Merkel will have to hold together what is potentially her most fragile coalition yet, while also addressing challenges such as a potential Europe-U.S. trade war and seeking agreement with France and others on the future of a fractious European Union.
“The expectations of our friends and partners are huge, particularly in Europe,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Merkel and her ministers as he formally appointed the new Cabinet, as reported by AP. “Many hope we in Germany will show that liberal democracies are capable of acting and facing the future.”
The chancellor heads a much-changed Cabinet, with the governing parties — which are traditional rivals — keen to send signals of renewal after a September election in which all lost significant ground. There are new faces in the most important posts, the finance, foreign, economy and interior ministries. The same parties have governed for the past four years but putting together the new administration has been unprecedentedly hard work.
Wednesday’s parliamentary vote came 171 days after the election, nearly double the previous record. The Social Democrats initially planned to go into opposition after crashing to their worst result since World War II, but Steinmeier nudged them into a reluctant about-turn after Merkel’s talks with two smaller parties collapsed in November.
Merkel will travel to Paris Friday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on the first trip abroad of her new term.
In office since 2005, she has dominated Germany’s political landscape and steered the European Union through economic crisis. But her authority was dented by her decision in 2015 to commit Germany to an open-door policy on migration, resulting in an influx of more than one million people. She must now juggle competing domestic demands from her conservative CDU/CSU alliance and the SPD, just as Germany is locked in a trade stand-off with the United States.
A right-wing populist rise in September elections weakened all mainstream parties and deprived Merkel of a majority, forcing her into another unhappy alliance with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The grand coalition, mockingly dubbed a “GroKo” in German, didn’t start as a “love marriage”, her designated vice chancellor and finance minister, the SPD’s Olaf Scholz, drily observed this week.
All coalition partners have nonetheless sought to allay fears that their marriage of convenience could break up mid-term, insisting they plan to jointly govern until 2021.