German election: Merkel considers grand coalition option

Five weeks before the federal election in Germany, leading politicians and the media have raised the prospect of a new edition of the grand coalition between the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Union, and Christian Social Union. Germany was governed by a grand coalition from 2005 to 2009.

In the middle of last week, several media outlets ran the headline: “Germans want another grand coalition.” In fact, the survey on which this claim was based indicated that only 23 percent of respondents favored a grand coalition. Given, however, that the poll results for the current conservative- Free Democratic Party (17 percent), SPD-Green (17 percent), CDU-Green coalitions (16 percent), or a SPD-Green alliance with the support of the Left Party (11 percent) were all lower, the survey concluded that a majority favored a grand coalition.

Last weekend, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) also raised the prospect of a grand coalition. “I once led a grand coalition, so it would not be credible if I were to exclude the possibility,” she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She then added that she would personally prefer a continuation of her current coalition with the free market FDP, remarking: “Nobody is now aiming for a grand coalition.”

Her statement, however, had the intended effect. The FDP complained loudly, while forces inside the SPD indicated their approval.

The Secretary-General of the Hessian SPD, Michael Roth, warned his party against excluding any possible options. “We cannot tell our constituents, when SPD-Green is not an option we will definitely go into opposition,” Roth told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

SPD Bundestag deputy Hans-Peter Bartels told the same newspaper that one should not rule out any coalition with other parties in the democratic spectrum.

The SPD’s candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, reaffirmed his previous position, i.e. that he would not serve in a future grand coalition, but SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel took a different stance. Gabriel had to defer to Steinbrück on the choice of the SPD’s leading electoral candidate, but the SPD chairman is reckoned to have his own sights on the posts of vice chancellor and foreign minister. Gabriel could fill these posts in a grand coalition, if Steinbrück withdrew.

Gabriel has convened a party congress just two days after the election. The congress only makes sense if the SPD fails to win a majority for its official target of forming a coalition with the Greens, and the SPD must then opt for another coalition partner.

Speculation about a future grand coalition is not just the product of the usual electoral tactics. Growing sections of the German ruling elite regard such a coalition as the best political solution for the post-election period.

According to Stern magazine, many representatives of the ruling class view the last grand coalition as a “godsend.” It continued the anti-social Agenda 2010 introduced by the SPD-Green government led by Gerhard Schröder, increased the retirement age to 67 years, gave away hundreds of billions of euros to banks during the deepest global financial crisis in 70 years, and initiated the brutal austerity measures to recoup these funds at the expense of the workers of Greece, Portugal, Spain and Germany.

Similar dramatic cuts and austerity measures are on the agenda after the September election. The euro crisis is by no means resolved. A further debt reduction for Greece, which many economists including the International Monetary Fund regard as inevitable, would involve tens of billions of euros in losses for the German budget.

Major European countries remained mired in crisis. In Spain, industrial production has fallen for 22 months in a row. Property prices have fallen by 70 percent since 2007 and have ripped deep holes in bank balance sheets. In Italy, household debt continues to grow, amounting to a deficit of 9 billion euros in July, and France has been unable to shake off its own crisis.

The liability for the German budget from the various euro rescue programs now stands at 86 billion euros. This is the official figure of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, however, and is widely considered a gross underestimation. The Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, citing government sources, puts the total at 122 billion euros. The fiscal spokeswoman for the Green Party parliamentary group, Priska Hinz, cites a total of 400 billion euros. This is much higher than the annual German budget of around 310 billion euros.

Should a fraction of that amount actually be called upon, the inevitable result would be new austerity measures to cover the funding. The brutal cuts carried out in Greece were always seen by the ruling elite as a role model for similar drastic cuts in other European countries.

For the ruling elite, a grand coalition has the advantage that it can carry out a new round of social attacks without the inconvenience of having to take into account state elections, changing parliamentary majorities and the resulting political tensions.

Together, the CDU/CSU and SPD have a near-guaranteed majority in German’s second house, the Bundesrat, which is currently dominated by the SPD and the Greens. A grand coalition would be a precursor to dictatorship. It would not have to take election results into consideration, while refraining from formally abolishing elections.

A grand coalition can also count on the support of the FDP, the Greens and the unions, which agree with the SPD and the conservatives on all decisive questions: European policy, compliance with the debt ceiling, and related social cuts.

The same goes for the Left Party. It has offered its services to the SPD and Greens in forming a governing coalition. It would also defend a grand coalition and endorse its attacks on the working class.

In fact such a grand coalition of all parliamentary parties already dominates in the election campaign. The Merkel government has postponed all financial decisions, including at a European level, until after the election, to ensure they do not arise as issues in the campaign.

Every parliamentary party is involved in this conspiracy of silence. They are all determined to shift the burden of the crisis onto the working population. This is the reason for the hollowness of the campaign, for the “political standstill” and “overriding dullness” (Süddeutsche Zeitung), which has become the subject of many comments.

The Socialist Equality Party is the only party in the federal election that warns workers and young people of the coming class confrontations and is undertaking to prepare them for such struggles with an international socialist program.