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German Parties Reportedly Form Coalition Government

Feb 7, 2018
Originally published on February 7, 2018 6:28 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In countries that have a coalition government, the reality for a leader is you can't control who your friends are. Leading means making deals, which was the case for Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. Parliamentary elections were more than four months ago, and it's taken this long for Merkel to form a government. Her conservatives, this morning, finalized a deal with the center-left Social Democrats. The good news is Germany will now have a functioning government. But for some observers, their worst fear has come true. The country's main opposition will now be Alternative for Germany, a far-right party that's been gaining influence. Let's talk through all of this with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who's in Berlin.

Soraya, good morning.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So can I get this straight? It's been, like, four months of deal-making and back-and-forth. And Germany has landed with the exact same group - coalition - forming a government that - the same group in power before. So what was all this for (laughter)?

NELSON: It's a good question, believe me. I think a lot of reporters have their heads spinning at this point. But yeah. It's - basically what happened is that you had the Social Democrats and the conservatives saying they did not want to have another coalition - especially the Social Democrats were saying this - because they had such bad returns on - during the election, which they blamed on the fact that the Germans were not satisfied with this grand coalition. And so...

GREENE: Their supporters didn't like them working with the conservatives?

NELSON: (Laughter).

GREENE: They feel like they were punished at the polls.

NELSON: Exactly - and vice versa. I mean, the conservatives weren't too happy with it either. So basically what happened is Merkel and her conservatives sought to make other alliances, and those just didn't happen. So in the end, I mean, it was looking as if there were going to have to be new elections. And ask me about this in a bit 'cause it's still not ruled out...

(LAUGHTER)

NELSON: ...That they won't have new elections.

You know, they decided - the German president said sit down and form a deal - you know, form a government. And so that's what the Social Democrats and Merkel and her conservatives did. And then this morning, they finally reached - at least at the party and negotiator level - a deal, you know, to form a new government.

GREENE: So and Merkel - I mean, she's leading Europe's biggest economy. So I mean, this is a big, impactful choice between making a deal that might not be perfect or having new elections and basically starting from scratch. So I mean, tell me - where are they now? What is this deal, and is it done?

NELSON: Well, we're still waiting to hear the details. Those have not been officially announced yet, but being pretty widely reported at this stage that they - that the Social Democrats have made a lot of gains in terms of moving everything to the center when it comes to health and welfare benefits for Germans, especially seniors. But the ultraconservatives in that coalition have also won key concessions when it comes to refugees. So there'll be a cap or a goal, if the reports are to be believed, of no more than 220,000 refugees per year. And there will also be strict restrictions on who gets to come, like the relatives who get to come join those people who are designated refugees.

GREENE: So what happens now with this deal?

NELSON: Well, the deal has to go to a vote among the Social Democratic membership. That's about 460,000 members. And that is not a given that they're going to say yes because there is a lot of dissent about whether there, again, should be this coalition. And about 20,000 new members have joined in recent weeks. And these are "no" votes apparently. And so we'll have to wait and see what happens in a few weeks. If this deal were to implode, then, I think elections are pretty much, at this point, the only choice the Germans have.

GREENE: If it does not implode - I mean, that the new political reality in Germany - right, Soraya? - will be that you'll have this governing coalition. And the main opposition will be this far-right Alternative for Germany party. So what does this all mean for them and the far-right movement in this country?

NELSON: Well, in a way, it's a win-win for them because if there is a grand coalition, the Alternative for Germany becomes the main opposition party. They were the third-highest vote-getter. So they get to take control of key parties or - I'm sorry - key committees, for example, the budget committee. If, let's say, the Social Democrats go back into parliament, you have a non-functioning government. You have to go to elections. Their approval rating show that AfD has nowhere to go but up, so they could end up gaining more seats in the parliament. So I think they're pretty satisfied with everything that's going on so far.

GREENE: Whatever happens, it's not a bad day for the far-right movement in Germany, it sounds like.

NELSON: Yeah. That's probably the prediction anyway.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Berlin this morning.

Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome, David.

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