Three months after the parliamentary elections in Germany, we have finally learned how power will be shared in Angela Merkel’s third Cabinet. The protracted negotiations between “blacks” and “reds” characteristically resulted in a Cabinet of surprises.
It had long been known that the coalition partners would include the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, making up the conservative block CDU/CSU, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Negotiations on a coalition agreement between the two sides ended back in the end of November, creating a so-called grand coalition. However, the parties postponed announcement of the new government’s personal composition, because the Social Democrats had to decide whether the coalition agreement with the conservatives would be acceptable for them. New government’s composition was announced in Berlin on December 15 by both sides, surprising the Germans with sudden changes and reshuffles.
TWO FEMALE MINISTERS, INCLUDING ONE OF TURKISH ANCESTRY
According to the Ukrainian service of Deutsche Welle (DW), “the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen, formerly responsible for the social sector, as defense minister in place of Thomas de Maiziere, who returned to the Interior Ministry, can be seen as a sensation.” She has seven children and is the first woman in that position in the history of Germany. “This position can catapult von der Leyen to Merkel’s successor as well as become her ticket to political oblivion,” the DW noted, “as many past German defense ministers resigned their position in disgrace.” In addition, the grand coalition government will include Aydan Ozoguz who will take the position of minister of state for migration, refugees and integration.
A HEAVYWEIGHT VICE CHANCELLOR
The appointment of Sigmar Gabriel as vice chancellor was another important decision for the new government. Gabriel will also head a super-ministry in charge of economy and energy. Because of the weight of his office, the press is already calling him “a heavyweight minister.” “This portfolio can be seen as the most important one because Germany’s greatest domestic task for the next four years is a smooth transition of the entire national economy from the traditional to the alternative, green power sources,” the DW maintained.
Moving on from the SDP representatives, former secretary general of the CDU Hermann Groehe was announced minister of health in the new government. Bavarian CSU received three ministerial portfolios in the new government. Former interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich will take charge of agriculture, while powers of the Ministry of Transport have been expanded just as the former secretary general of the CSU Alexander Dobrindt takes the portfolio. It is argued that he is a new conservative face in the government of Germany, together with Gerd Mueller who was appointed minister for economic cooperation and development.
MOVING PIECES ON CHESSBOARD
German conservatives delayed announcement of their list of ministers until the last possible moment. “The problem, according to observers, arose because Merkel was unable to convince Ronald Pofalla to stay on as head of the chancellery, which coordinates the work of all German ministries. Pofalla’s obstinacy forced a comprehensive reshuffle within conservative leadership. Eventually, his position went to Peter Altmaier who surrendered his environment portfolio to Social Democrats,” DW reported. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has retained his position in the new Cabinet. He enjoys universal respect and authority, being, together with Merkel herself, among the few members of the outgoing government who kept their jobs. Conservative Johanna Wanka kept her education and research portfolio.
“OLD NEW” FOREIGN MINISTER
In line with expectations, the foreign affairs portfolio went to the leader of the SPD faction in the Bundestag Frank-Walter Steinmeier who was German foreign minister before, under another grand coalition in 2005-09. It is this figure that will be the most important for Ukraine, strongly influencing Germany’s relations with this country. The Day asked Cand. of Sc. in History and Political Science, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kyiv Mohyla Academy Andreas Umland to clarify how the new Cabinet’s composition will affect the role of Merkel in Europe and Germany’s relations with Russia and Ukraine. Umland believes that despite some surprising appointments, the new government is mostly a traditional one. “This is not the first grand coalition presided over by Angela Merkel, and Steinmeier, too, was foreign minister in the first grand coalition involving Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. Similarly, the fact that a Turk became a minister was not a big surprise, because we have seen regional ministers of Turkish ancestry before. However, a female defense minister is truly unprecedented in German history,” the analyst said.
He also noted that major changes were unlikely. “As the Foreign Ministry is now headed by a Social Democrat, we can see some new accents. For example, the Social Democrats have a better relationship with the Russian leadership than the Free Democrats, who previously headed this ministry. But it is hard to say whether this would entail some unusual effects. The policy will remain the same. In general, foreign policy differences between German parties are less pronounced than in Ukraine.”
Instead, according to the expert, surprises are likely in German-Russian relations:
“It will be interesting to watch the German policy toward Russia, as compared with the first major coalition of 2005-09 when Steinmeier held pro-Russian stance, the image of Russia and Vladimir Putin has sharply deteriorated in Germany. Traditional ties between Russia and the German Social Democrats are still important, though. Presumably, there will be new nuances.”
“In general, it is just a distribution of portfolios,” Umland summed up. “The role of the Social Democrats is larger than one might expect from their electoral performance, because they got two important ministries, to be headed by Gabriel and Steinmeier. I doubt it will have a serious impact, though, for the parties’ positions are not that different. We may see more emphasis on social justice.”