At long last, Angela Merkel is sworn in as German chancellor

She is Germany's most popular politician, and won a resounding electoral victory in September. So why did it take so long for Merkel to form a government?

Thomas Peter/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is sworn-in by Parliament President Norbert Lammert in Berlin today. Mrs. Merkel was elected to a third term as chancellor in a vote in the German lower house of parliament on Tuesday, paving the way for her new 'grand coalition' government to be sworn in and formally take power later in the day.

The negotiations have been painstaking – the longest of their kind since the end of World War II. But today German Chancellor Angela Merkel was finally officially elected to lead the country for a third term.

Why did it take three months after an overwhelming electoral win for one of Germany's most popular leaders in history to form a government?

In short, because Germany's parliamentary system meant September's elections resulted in a popular vote for Mrs. Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) but a majority of seats for the left. She thus faced a choice between forming a coalition with the Greens or the Social Democrats (SPD), and ultimately worked with the latter. They will now govern in what is known in Germany as a “grand coalition” of the two dominant, rival parties.

As such Merkel's government will be more left-leaning than its predecessor, which saw a coalition between center-right parties.

And Merkel did have to concede on some issues: Most notably, the CDU accepted a national minimum wage, set at 8.5 euros ($11.70), which was the major policy platform of the SPD.

But in reality, almost nothing will change, including Germany's tough policies in Europe on fiscal discipline. Notably, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will remain in the government.

And in fact, accepting the minimum wage may be vintage Merkel, a woman who is known for her political savvy and ability to think several steps ahead, as we reported in a cover story ahead of the September elections.

“She has again totally monopolized the center” of German politics, Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, told Bloomberg News. The SPD "really has no policy platform anymore to attack her.”

Also, as Michael Wohlgemuth, director of think tank Open Europe Berlin, notes in The Local, the results of the coalition have left Germany without opposition. “One of the not so grand consequences of the 'grand coalition' or 'GroKo' which was named German word of the year – is that there will be no real opposition left in both houses of parliament. In the Bundestag, 504 out of a total of 631 seats will be members of 'GroKo.'”

"I accept the election result and thank you for your trust," Merkel said today after the confirmation vote in the Bundestag, with her characteristic calm and understatement.

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