Germany's Merkel must unite with opposition Social Democrats

The challenges ahead for Germany and Europe are on a grand scale. Therefore, a 'grand coalition' between German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats is best for Germany and for Europe. 

Michael Dalder/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel signs autographs during the 23rd German Unification Day festivities in Stuttgart Oct. 3. Op-ed contributor Sudha David-Wilp writes that 'growing income inequality in a reunified Germany could overturn the country’s emblem as a social market economy.'

The most powerful woman in the world – as German Chancellor Angela Merkel is often called – is now going to have to bend a bit. Despite the very strong showing of her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) in Sept. 22 elections, the CDU fell just short of a parliamentary majority, and will have to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with one of the opposition parties. For the sake of a healthy Germany in a still-distressed Europe, let’s hope for another “grand coalition” with the main opposition, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

The two parties are meeting today to discuss a coalition; the CDU will meet with the opposition Greens, a smaller party, next week.

Grand coalitions are not the norm in German federal politics. The last one occurred in 2005, when traditional political party partners couldn’t form a majority. It was Ms. Merkel’s first term as chancellor, and she was forced to integrate her main adversary, the SPD, into her governing team. The situation is similar today, but this time the SPD is loath to enter into a coalition with Merkel’s CDU.

Four years of governing with Chancellor Merkel reduced the Social Democrats to junior status, and it is now questionable if the party can still call itself a catch-all party. Its base is not so eager to stand in Merkel’s shadow again. Merkel also knows that she and her party will have to concede a great deal to reconfigure a grand coalition – though she insists that her position on Europe’s fiscal crisis is not for sale. She has stood firmly for structural reform in debt-burdened countries such as Greece in exchange for financial help. But she has been criticized for focusing too much on austerity in these countries and not enough on stimulating growth.

In fact, both parties will risk upsetting their base because of the inherent compromise involved in forging a coalition agreement between the CDU and SPD, but Germans support just such a union. According to a recent poll, 64 percent of Germans think a grand coalition is a good solution for their country.

Indeed, several grand-scale problems on the horizon could quickly tip a relatively robust Germany into crisis. Therefore, in addition to the majority of Germans, Europeans and their allies are also keen to see these parties come swiftly together and begin to share the burden of problem-solving – regardless of whether a four-year term is eventually completed. The country had a grand coalition in place during the economic crisis of 2008, and the two political stakeholders could react quickly with stimulus packages to fend off the worst economic crisis in post-war Germany.

Among the looming problems is energy. Today unemployment in Germany is low at 5.3 percent and the country is the world’s third largest exporter. But structural fissures beneath the surface threaten the “Made in Germany” economic model. All eyes are on Europe’s largest market as it embarks on a path to replace nuclear power with green energy. Policymakers will have to get this tricky transition right, since Germans already pay the highest electricity prices in Europe.

A demographic decline also weighs heavily on future outlays for an aging society in the heart of Europe. The CDU and the SPD could enact social policies to welcome highly-skilled immigrants and encourage more mothers to take part in the workforce to preserve productivity.

Finally, growing income inequality in a reunified Germany could overturn the country’s emblem as a social market economy, a political platform common to all German political parties. Europe needs an economically strong Germany not just for transfer payments to the beleaguered periphery countries such as Greece, but to show the world that the continent’s mix of industriousness and social welfare has a place in the global marketplace.

Germany recognizes the value of the “European project” of an ever-closer union, and has profited immensely with the introduction of the euro currency in 2002. A grand coalition is best positioned to legislate on long-term decisions for Europe, such as a banking union and boosting growth in Europe’s periphery. Finding common ground between the right and left in Germany will send a strong signal to euro naysayers and lend credibility to a European Union as it negotiates a historic free trade agreement with the United States.  

German political foes have the chance now to shape decisions for future generations, with spillover effects that will have an impact on Europe and the world. They must find a way to work together.

Sudha David-Wilp is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Berlin office. She previously oversaw the Congressional Study Group on Germany in Washington DC, a program for lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in the German Bundestag (parliament).

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Germany's Merkel must unite with opposition Social Democrats
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today