German Party Vote Clears Way for Third Merkel Government

Germany’s Social Democrats vote to enter into a coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

German Social Democrat politician Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech, April 22
German Social Democrat politician Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech, April 22 (SPD/Boris Trenkel)

Germany’s Social Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of a coalition agreement with Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the party said on Saturday, clearing the way for the chancellor’s third government to take office next week.

76 percent of the leftist party’s members voted in favor of the deal. Despite their misgivings about entering into another “grand coalition” with the right, which last time cost them more than 10 percent support in the polls, most analysts agreed that the threat of grassroots members voting down the agreement enabled them to get more out of the negotiations than their disappointing election result would otherwise have allowed them to, including the introduction of a national minimum wage and dual citizenship for the children of immigrations.

The Social Democrats won a quarter of the votes in September’s election compared to 41.5 percent for Merkel’s Christian Democrats — which left the latter five seats short of an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament.

The left would have liked more comprehensive immigration and tax reforms but most dissatisfaction seems to be on the right where pro-business conservatives decry the rolling back of labor reforms that have made Germany one of the most competitive nations in Europe.

Merkel successfully resisted demands to raise taxes on the rich but agreed to limit temporary work contracts to eighteen months and introduce an hourly minimum wage of €8.50. Most workers who earn less are in the formerly communist East Germany where economists fear unemployment could rise again as a consequence of this measures.

The new government will also allow Germans who started working at the age of eighteen to retire when they are 63, four years earlier than the statutory pension age.

Moreover, the government does not intend to scale back the Energiewende, an expensive push for green energy that has made German industrial electricity prices among the highest in Europe.