- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

The “grand coalition” government now shaping up in Germany is anything but grand and only barely a coalition. The plans announced Monday suggest a hulking and incapable patchwork of a government. Under the agreement, Christian Democrat Angela Merkel would assume the chancellorship, ending Gerhard Schroeder’s seven untoward years leading the country. But the German cabinet would be split down the middle, with eight ministries under Social Democratic control — including the influential foreign and finance ministries. If Mrs. Merkel is to be Germany’s “Iron Lady,” she won’t lack opportunities to prove herself in a government likely to be unwieldy and deadlocked.

The foreign-policy implications of this arrangement promise to be the biggest disappointment for the United States. Mr. Schroeder’s anti-Americanism simply will not die, it appears, and a foreign ministry controlled by Social Democrats will surely aim to continue elements of his aggressively anti-American foreign policy — especially if Mrs. Merkel becomes hamstrung in a split government. The Christian Democrats control the defense ministry but will play second fiddle to a Social Democratic foreign minister if the historical clout of those two ministries is any guide. “Revenge of Gerhard Schroeder” editorials are probably only a matter of time.

On economic reform, things do not look significantly better. It’s some consolation that Mrs. Merkel’s ally Edmund Stoiber, head of the Christian Social Union, will head the economy ministry, but reports of Social Democratic vows to strangle economic reform were already emerging on Monday. On ideas like collective-bargaining reform and cost-cutting, “It is time to say goodbye,” one German economist told Bloomberg News. Perhaps Mr. Schroeder’s Social Democrats could hide behind the odd governing arrangement to furtively allow reform, but no one should bet on it. It’s just as likely that Social Democratic threats to Mrs. Merkel’s economic-reform agenda are sincere.

Politically speaking, the big losers in this arrangement are Mr. Schroeder and Mrs. Merkel. In the last three weeks, Social Democrats steadily bartered away Mr. Schroeder’s chancellorship. Meanwhile, Mrs. Merkel settled for a government unlikely to accomplish much.

But in reality German voters and consumers and the United States are the ultimate losers in this bargain. For Germans, the price is competitiveness: The country’s expected gross domestic product growth is 1 percent this year, lowest in the 25-member European Union. This cries out for redress, but sadly, a coalition government is unlikely to do much on this front. For the United States, a Schroeder-inspired foreign ministry promises to be blithely obstructionist toward future American attempts to bring order to the Middle East.

This couldn’t possibly be the government Mrs. Merkel and German conservatives envisioned while campaigning. It’s worth asking — surely many Germans will want to know — why in the critical recent days Mrs. Merkel conceded so much to a flagging Social Democratic Party recently rebuked by voters.

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