Almost three months after she scored a personal triumph in Germany’s general election, Angela Merkel has begun her third term as the country’s Chancellor, the only woman to do so.
Although the election saw Ms. Merkel emerge as the world’s most powerful woman and Europe’s undisputed leader, she was robbed of an absolute majority by the poor showing of her junior coalition partner the Free Democrats (FDP). This forced her into a “Grand Coalition” with the opposition Social Democratic SDP.
This is the second time the SPD has entered such a coalition, the first being during Ms. Merkel’s very first term in 2005. The party lost massive public support following that exercise in coalition politics and has only now begun reconstituting itself. Over 75 per cent of the SPD’s 465,000 members voted for participating in this second grand coalition.
The SPD’s President Sigmar Gabriel has played his cards well in the three months since the election and has forced Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and its sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social union (CSU) to accept several social reforms including the imposition of a minimum wage of €8.50 an hour.
Germany has not had a minimal wage so far, prompting its European allies to criticise what they call “social dumping”— lowering its wage bill to increase competitivity competitiveness and boost exports. Germany has a two-tier labour market with unskilled workers barely managing to survive on small state hand-outs coupled with “mini jobs” . France, which has the highest minimum wage in Europe, has welcomed the move.
Mr. Gabriel, who has been awarded the crucial portfolios of the economy and energy, will have to shepherd Germany out of nuclear power and towards renewable energy by 2022. The SPD has also obtained other key ministries — six out of 14 — including those of labour, justice and foreign affairs. The Social Democrats also managed to impose the creation of a new ministry of integration, which will be headed by a person of Turkish origin.
Ms. Merkel has placed key persons from her own conservative party in the ministries of the interior, health and defence. For the first time a woman, Ursula von der Leyen has been appointed defence minister. Many say she is being groomed to take over from Ms. Merkel in four years time.