While the Federal Republic has been famously characterized as a "grand coalition state," the Merkel government, formed in the after-math of the 2005 federal election, is only the second CDU/CSU-SPD coalition at the federal level since 1949. A comparison of the present administration with the first grand coalition government (1966-1969) reveals a wealth of differences that include some of the basic parameters of governing and governance in Germany, such as the structure of the party system and the overall public climate. Also, the personnel features and patterns of informal coalition governance under Chancellors Angela Merkel and Kurt-Georg Kiesinger display major differences. Arguably the single most important difference between the two administrations, however, relates to the level of public policy, with the Merkel government seeking to reverse some of the key decisions of its historical predecessor. Such u-turn dynamics have been particularly tangible in the field of federal system reform.
The Social Democrats at the Crossroads
Andreas M. Wüst
With a vote share of just 20.5 percent, the Social Democrats’ (SPD) 2017 Bundestag election result was a disaster. Despite initially deciding not to continue the Grand Coalition (GroKo), when negotiations on forming a Jamaica coalition failed, the Social Democrats found themselves back in coalition talks they never wanted. Although a strong minority of party members remained opposed, in the end the coalition agreement proved to be the best strategic alternative and is a Social Democratic success, especially concerning the level of social expenditures. In light of the election outcome, the success of the new GroKo is highly important for the coalition parties, as well as for Germany and its people.
Angelika von Wahl
For decades conservative welfare states have reformed reluctantly. To understand recent family policy reforms in Germany we must add institutions and economics to any account of politics. This article focuses on the grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD formed after the 2005 Bundestag election. Two opposed assumptions pertain to grand coalitions: one holds that a coalition of parties with different ideologies will act according to the lowest common denominator resulting in policy inertia. The opposite holds that grand coalitions enable policy change because constraints are removed by the supermajority. This article develops five conditions for successful reform, arguing that traditional family policies directed at the protection of motherhood are shifting towards reconciliation policies that emphasize labor market activation and increased birth rates. The shift indicates 1) that even conservative states have the potential for bounded reform; and, 2) that agency—particularly partisan and coalitional interests—needs to be considered more seriously.
Joyce Marie Mushaben
Angela Merkel has not only been repeatedly ranked “the world’s most powerful woman;” she is also the only German chancellor since 1949 to have successfully led her party to a “normal” victory after a full term heading a grand coalition from 2005-2009. Merkel’s ability to lead has been shaped by the dynamics of coalition politics, proportional representation, and German federalism. Perceived as a more successful leader under an exceptional grand coalition than under a typical CDU/CSU-FDP constellation, Merkel provides a one-woman-laboratory for comparing the impact of different coalition modes on the chancellor’s powers and limitations on her ability to rule. The study offers a two-level analysis, comparing Merkel’s performance atop a “gender balanced” Grand Coalition (2005-2009) with Hans- Georg Kiesinger’s maledominated Grand Coalition (1966-1969). It then contrasts leadership dilemmas confronting Merkel during her first term with those arising during her second chancellorship, 2009-2013. It urges scholars to “bring the institutions back in” when considering the skills female leaders must evince in order to manage divergent coalition types: grand coalition configurations may, in turn, require men to adopt leadership behaviors usually ascribed to women in order to prove effective cross-party managers.
Contrary to many common expectations for a Grand Coalition, Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2005-2009 CDU/CSU-SPD government produced few major policy changes. Its modest output is generally attributed to polarized competition between two co-equal, longtime rivals that blocked cooperation. Yet, interparty gridlock was less decisive than intraparty paralysis. The CDU, CSU, and SPD formed a government at the very time when each was plagued by internal divisions over programmatic identity, fueled in turn by interrelated strategic and leadership struggles. The result was caution, confusion, patchwork measures, side payments and reversals.
The recent federal elections refuted a number of established hypotheses on the development of the German party system and contradicted the electoral strategies of nearly all parties involved. The outcome was neither a further fragmentation of the parliamentary landscape nor the unavoidable establishment of a grand coalition. On the contrary, in most cases, the respective parties failed as a result of their own mistakes in selecting adequate campaign issues, strategies and/or candidates. Aside from party-specific questions, such as the trajectories of both the AfD and the FDP, the future of the German party system seems largely dependent on the relationships between the three left-of-center parties at the federal level.
A comparison of the 2005-2009 cabinet Merkel I (the “Grand“ Coalition) and the Christian Democrat-Liberal coalition cabinet Merkel II formed in 2009 presents an interesting puzzle. Political commentators and coalition theorists alike would have expected the CDU/CSU-SPD coalition to experience a relatively high, and the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition a relatively low level of overt inter-party conflict. In reality, however, relations in the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition were relatively conflictive, whereas the Grand Coalition seemed to manage conflict between reluctant partners successfully. This article seeks to explain these seemingly paradoxical differences between the two coalitions. It demonstrates that both the positioning of the coalition parties in the policy space and important institutions constraining coalition bargaining after the formation of the cabinet Merkel II (portfolio allocation, role of the CDU/CSU state minister presidents) disadvantaged the FDP in pursuing its key policy goals (especially tax reform). As a result, the Liberals resorted to “noisy“ tactics in the public sphere. The grand coalition, by contrast, was an alliance of co-equals, which facilitated a more consensual management of inter-party conflict.
This article deals with the political, programmatic, and organizational changes within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) during the time of the second grand coalition (2005-present). For the CDU, the period of the grand coalition is a time of waiting concerning its organizational and programmatic reform processes. Thus, the election of 2009 will be crucial for the political development of the party—in respect to its political profile, as well as its strategic options within the political market.
The German Party System Before and After the 2017 Federal Election
Frank Decker and Philipp Adorf
The 2017 federal election illustrated the transformation of Germany’s political party system with six parties managing to enter the Bundestag. With the Christian and Social Democrats finally coming to an agreement almost half a year after the election, a grand coalition is set to govern for two consecutive terms for the very first time. The Alternative for Germany’s success also signaled the definite parliamentary establishment of right-wing populism in Germany. Multiparty coalitions that bridge ideological gulfs as the political fringe has grown in size are a new reality that must be accommodated. The 2017 election and subsequent arduous negotiations point towards a period of uncertainty and further upheaval for Germany’s party system.
Hermann Schmitt and Andreas M. Wüst
When Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der went public and announced his plan for early elections on the evening of 22 May 2005, the SPD and the Green Party had just lost the state election in North-Rhine West-phalia. It was the last German state ruled by a Red-Green government, which left the federal government without any stable support in the Bundesrat. The chancellor's radical move resulted in early elections that neither the left (SPD and Greens) nor the conservative political camp (CDU/CSU and FDP) was able to win. While the citizens considered the CDU/CSU to be more competent to solve the country's most important problems, unemployment and the economy, the SPD once again presented the preferred chancellor. The new govrnment, build on a grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD, might be able to solve some of the structural problems of the country. While this will be beneficial for Germany as a whole, it will at the same time weaken the major German parties, which are running the risk of becoming politically indistinguishable.