Monday, December 16, 2013

GroKo with Angie: Germany's new Grand Coalition government

The deed is done. The SPD membership vote approved the formation of a Grand Coalition government headed by Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel. (Karl Doemens, Der Triumph des Sigmar Gabriel Frankfurter Rundschau 14.12.2013) Seventy-six percent of the membership voted "yes" for the Grand Coalition, or "GroKo" as the nickname has it.

From Deutsche Welle, Germany's SPD agrees to join Grand Coalition 12/14/2013:

The program they approved envisions what amounts to permanent depression imposed on Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain to benefit Germany's export economy by a euro value considerably lower than a separate Germany currency would be valued. This will not end well.

If congratulations are in order, it would be to Frau Fritz, who looks more and more like Communist East Germany's last revenge on the West:

Frau Fritz continues as Chancellor.

Germany gets its first female Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen (CDU).

In more bad news for the eurozone, Wolfgang Schäuble remains as Finance Minister. That means he and Angie can continue with their preferred policies toward the rest of the eurozone, depicted here in a cartoon by Yannis Ioannou of 19.03.2013:

Ulrike Hermann explains in Undank ist des Schäubles Lohn taz 13.12.2013 explains how the recent "bank union" deal by the Angie-and-Wolfgang duo is a bad joke that avoids having to implement genuine reforms (not the neoliberal variety) that the giant banks would find uncomfortable, like boosting their capital ratios to safer levels and requirements on the amount of profits that banks have to reinvest in the banks themselves as opposed to distributing the earnings to rentier stockholders. "Schäuble ist der oberste Lobbyist der deutschen Banken," she writes. ("Schäuble is the head lobbyist for the German banks.")

And the Social Democratic Party is fine with continuing those policies. Awesome.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) becomes Foreign Minister, a post he held in Merkel's first GroKo government of 2005-9. Merkel has successfully downgraded the role of the Foreign Minister during her Chancellorship. Many of the most pressing problems in foreign affairs have to do with the EU and the eurozone, and Frau Fritz calls the shots on that herself.

It strikes me as one more sign of the SPD's weakness or fecklessness or corporate-'ho'-dum that they settled for Foreign Minister instead of Finance Minister. They're going to share the blame for Merkel's disastrous economic policies anyway. But with the Finance Ministry, they could at least have a higher profile and maybe if mitigate some of the damage, if they care to.

Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) will be Vice Chancellor - in practice a mostly honorary title - and Minister of Economics and Energy. At first glance, the optics of that don't look good to me. The Foreign Minister has traditionally been the Vice Chancellor. If the SPD were heading the Finance Ministry, that would seem to be a better fit than Gabriel's office. According to the Frankfurter Rundschau, a fond nickname for Gabriel in the SPD is Sigi Pop. (Wer wird was in der Großen Koalition?-accessed 12/16/2013) Sounds frivolous enough to fit his public performance as an SPD leader. The taz gives the spelling as Siggi Pop. (Anja Maier, Der große Sieger heißt Gabriel: Sie nannten ihn Siggi Pop 15.12.2013)

Thomas de Maizière (CDU), who has a reputation as an Angie-bot, will be the Interior Minister (in charge of national law enforcement)

The approval of the GroKo by the membership base wasn't a surprise. Since this was a new thing, it will presumably become a measure by which such base votes will be measured in the future. But 76% is an impressive approval percentage pretty much any way you look at it.

Wolfgang Lieb in Zum Mitgliederentscheid – Die Resignation wird zunehmen NachDenkSeiten 14.12.2013 sees the SPD membership vote reflected resignation, demoralization. He also doesn't think much of the whole poll-the-membership vote, though SPD Chair Sigi Pop made it out to be a major democratic reform. Lieb writes that the No position got little play in the party press and publicity or at formal Party forums. As one might expect, there was major pressure from Party officials for the Yes vote, as one would expect. He also says that unions, which are still far stronger in Germany than in the US, pushed for the Yes vote. The arguments were also not surprising: the SPD can do more good in the government than in the opposition, Frau Fritz agreed to a minimum wage so we're getting something, you need to back up the national leadership, yadda, yadda. He believes its a sign of a feeling of powerlessness among the working class (Arbeiterschaft) who are the SPD's core voters, a sense that he plausibly believes the GroKo will deepen.

Even the newly-elected chair of the Jusos (the SPD's youth wing) says of the membership vote, "Das ist ein Sprung für die innerparteiliche Demokratie." ("That is a spring forward for inter-party democracy.") (Anna Lehmann, Juso-Vorsitzende zur Großen Koalition: „Das ist kein Freifahrtsschein“ taz 16.12.2013) But then she needed to say something nice about it since she opposed the GroKo and advocated for a No vote.

Also, the vote was a choice between a known quantity - the GroKo agreement - and unknown alternatives. There was no guarantee that immediate new elections would produce a better result for the SPD; since they had rushed into a GroKo headed by Merkel, it's entirely possible the SPD would have had a worse result in a new election right now. And the SPD leadership never seriously pursued the possibility of a majority left coalition with the Greens and the Left Party, so SPD members presumably saw little reason to think that was a practical immediate alternative. The coalition agreement also calls for a partial rollback of previous neoliberal "reforms" that worsened retirement terms and better rent control.

A No vote would also have meant what the German political vocabulary euphemistically calls "personnel consequences," i.e., it would have been a serious vote of no-confidence in the existing leadership, meaning Sigi Pop and Steinmeier would have to resign their leadership roles. While it's not obvious to me that would be at all a bad thing, the SPD members were aware that it would be a very big deal.

But the future of the euro and the EU is also a very big deal. And the GroKo means that Frau Fritz continues to dictate policy on that front. as Lieb puts it, the SPD will "die Politik der Kanzlerin Merkel diszipliniert mittragen" ("will support the policy of the Chancellor in a disciplined way"). And the truth is that the SPD in the election campaign always sounded like a minority partnership in a new Merkel-led GroKo was what they were really campaigning for.

Anja Maier notes that a smaller SPD membership vote for the GroKo is likely to be read by Sigi Pop as an endorsement of his subservience to Merkel, while a smaller margin might have signaled him that he had to try harder to keep the confidence of his base. (Sozialdemokraten wählen Merkel taz 15. 12. 2013)

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