January 13, 2018 09:45
Angela Merkel has survived as German chancellor but the coalition deal she clinched on Friday puts her fate in the hands of her Social Democrat (SPD) partners and risks eroding support from her close allies before the end of her fourth term.
Europe's pre-eminent leader for more than 12 years, Merkel's star is waning as she pays for her 2015 decision to leave German borders open to over a million refugees, a move that cost her Christian Democrats votes and fueled the rise of the far-right.
After the collapse of talks in November to form a three-way coalition with the liberal Free Democrats and Greens, Merkel and her conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) allies were forced to turn again to the left-leaning SPD.
Merkel's immediate destiny now lies in the hands of rank-and-file Social Democrats whose party leaders will ask them on Jan. 21 to back Friday's deal, a repeat of the grand coalition that governed from 2013 to 2017.
The chancellor, who still commands wide respect abroad, needed the talks to succeed to avoid further erosion of her authority, after losing ground in September elections, and the weakening of German influence, not least in the European Union.
An Infratest Dimap poll for broadcaster ARD published last week showed Merkel's personal approval had dropped 2 percentage points from a month earlier to 52 percent.
To win over the SPD, Merkel agreed to 5.95 billion euros of investment in education, research and digitalization by 2021, expanded child care rights, and a pledge to strengthen Europe's cohesion with increased German contributions to the EU budget.
The investment is a small proportion of the extra 45 billion euros the government will have at its disposal for the next four years and for many in the SPD, the deal did not go far enough on cherished social justice issues.
The leader of the SPD's more radical Berlin branch, Michael Mueller, said commitments on affordable housing were inadequate. "Living cannot be allowed to be a luxury," he said.
Friday's 28-page coalition blueprint also failed to convince Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic research institute and an advocate of stronger investment in Germany, who said "a clear vision and courageous reforms are lacking."
Even if SPD delegates do back the coalition agreement, negotiations on forming a government could still fail.
Describing the deal clinched after a 25-hour meeting as a "give and take" agreement, Merkel said much hard work remained before a full coalition could be formed. "The coalition negotiations probably won't be easier than the exploratory talks," she told a joint news conference with CSU leader Horst Seehofer and SPD leader Martin Schulz.
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