Merkel, finally, to be sworn in ending political limbo

Agence France-Presse

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Eighty-six days after Merkel, 59, swept to victory in elections but failed to grab an outright majority

BACK IN POWER. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (center), along with other top German officials,  arrives for the signing of the new "grand coalition" government agreement at the German Parliament on December 16, 2013. AFP/John Macdougall

BERLIN, Germany – Angela Merkel is due to be sworn in Tuesday, December 17, for a rare third term as German chancellor, capping months of political uncertainty as she bartered with her rivals to help govern Europe’s top economy.

Eighty-six days after Merkel, 59, swept to victory in elections but failed to grab an outright majority, the Bundestag lower house of parliament will vote on handing her another four-year term.

The ballot is secret but the outcome likely holds little surprise.

With a whopping 504 of the 631 seats, Merkel’s conservatives and their new centre-left partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), hold a comfortable majority under their hard-fought ‘grand coalition’ deal.

Afterwards she must be confirmed by President Joachim Gauck at the presidential palace before returning to the Bundestag to be sworn in as Germany’s only third post-war chancellor to win a third mandate.

The ceremony and later swearing-in of ministers followed by the first cabinet meeting will enable Merkel to finally get back down to business in earnest after the longest government-building period since World War II.

Merkel is then due to address parliament Wednesday, December 18, and travel to Paris for talks with President Francois Hollande the same day, ahead of an EU summit at the end of the week.

A parliament debate after Wednesday’s address will be the first opportunity for a face-off across the floor since the SPD moved off the opposition benches.

Merkel has defended the time spent haggling over policy and posts with an initially reluctant SPD as time well spent, voicing appreciation on signing the coalition pact Monday “that we listened to each other”.

Few observers doubt though that the road ahead will be bumpy.

Merkel at ‘peak of her power’

Having wrested concessions from the conservatives in negotiations to pave the way for the new coalition, SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel, the new vice chancellor and economy and energy minister, will need to impose his party’s imprint on the new government to avoid the costly mistakes of its first tie-up with popular Merkel.

Cartoonists in Monday’s (December 16) Tagesspiegel newspaper depicted her in a wedding dress next to her ‘groom’ Gabriel pledging “until death do us part” – Merkel clutching a dagger and Gabriel with a gun.

Merkel on Monday pledged “solid finances, secure prosperity and social welfare” and said that “a grand coalition is a coalition for grand tasks – we want to make sure that the people in 2017 are better off, even better off, than they are today”.

News magazine Spiegel online commented that Merkel was “at the peak of her power”.

“The red-hued coalition agreement admittedly asks a bit of the (conservative) Union but when you get more than 41% in a federal election that’s enough to calm your own people.”

Merkel keeps her trusted lieutenant Wolfgang Schaeuble as finance minister to continue Berlin’s tough loans-for-reform stance toward troubled eurozone countries and as the watchful guardian of the German public purse.

The SPD gets the foreign ministry, where Frank-Walter Steinmeier returns as Germany’s top diplomat, while the CDU’s rising star Ursula von der Leyen, a worldly high achiever and mother-of-seven, takes over the defence ministry.

Despite its poor election outcome, the SPD came out of coalition talks with trophy concessions such as a national minimum wage and pension benefits that helped win over the party base, who signed off on the deal at the weekend.

Berenberg Bank’s chief economist Holger Schmieding however has echoed business concerns that softening tough decade-old labour and welfare reforms in rapidly aging Germany will harm its still humming economy in future.

“These policies will weaken Germany over time,” he wrote. “They are the opposite of what Germany is urging other European countries to do.

“But due to its strong starting position, Germany can afford such costly policies for a while.” –

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