Germany’s Right Wing Press Decries Social Democrats’ “Victory”

German social democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel addresses a party conference in Berlin, September 26, 2010

German social democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel addresses a party conference in Berlin, September 26, 2010 (SPD/Marco Urban)

Germany’s right-wing press unanimously interpreted the coalition agreement Chancellor Angela Merkel struck with her social democrat rivals on Wednesday as a victory for the left. But left wingers weren’t particularly satisfied either, seeing the accord — which will form the basis for the next four years of government — as still a largely conservative document.

The conservative Bild tabloid was predictably livid, wondering on its front page, “How much will you pay?” Columnist Hugo Müller-Vogg sarcastically congratulated the social democrats on their victory, chastising the right for “capitulating” on what he sees as the two key issues: the minimum wage, which the conservatives agreed to introduce, and dual citizenship, which will be made available to the children of immigrations who are born in Germany.

The country’s more respectable conservative press echoed Müller-Vogg’s sentiment. Die Welt described Wednesday’s deal as a “surprising victory” for Sigmar Gabriel, the social democrat leader. “Rarely has anyone succeeded in getting so much from such a poor election result.” According to Der Spiegel‘s Roland Nelles, “The coalition agreement does not reflect the election results.”

Merkel’s conservative parties almost secured an absolute majority while the social democrats only improved 2.7 percent on their 2009 election result, which had been their worst since the end of World War II. “Clearly, Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer,” the leader of her Bavarian sister party, “were afraid of the social democrats’ base and their membership vote,” Nelles wrote. Party faithful will decide whether to accept or reject the coalition agreement next week.

Der Spiegel‘s main criticism was that the parties were unable to bridge their ideological divides. Rather than spelling out a compelling vision for reform, the coalition deal has a little something for everyone. The social democrats got the minimum wage, early pensions for workers and limits to temporary work contracts. The conservatives kept taxes low and won’t have to change their European policy from its emphasis on structural reforms designed to improve member states’ competitiveness.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung‘s Berthold Kohler also described the deal as a “potpourri” of conflicting interests that indiscriminately spreads social benefits across the country to keep each party’s constituency happy. His liberal business newspaper was skeptical that without tax increases the parties can make good on their pledge to start paying off Germany’s debt in 2015.

“The burden of social policy decisions for pensions and health care as well as labor market regulations could run into the tens of billions,” it predicted. The new minimum wage and limits to temporary work could cost Germany as many as two million jobs — which would not only inhibit growth but tax revenue and social security contributions as well.

Even the leftist Süddeutsche Zeitung was dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive tax and immigration policy reforms and especially lamented the lack of improved privacy protection in the wake of revelations about American spying in Germany.

Die Zeit, also leftist, was relieved that at least the pro-business Free Democrats wouldn’t stay in government for another four years and argued that the “political pendulum is swinging back” to the left. But its political editor, Ludwig Greven, maintained that Germany still didn’t have much of a foreign policy vision. “This coalition, like he last one, doesn’t have a clear sense of what Germany’s role in the world should be after the war in Afghanistan ends.”