22 November 2005

More on Merkel

So, there we have it. Germany has a government. And it "only" took two months and 4 days! As I wrote earlier in the day, Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel and her cabinet have now all been sworn into office.

The right-left "Grand Coalition", consisting of the CDU/CSU and SPD has a total of 448 seats in the German parliament, or Bundestag. Assuming that all the MPs from the opposition parties (FDP, Left Party, Greens) voted against her, this means that 51 coalition Members of Parliament did not give Merkel their seal of approval today. The ballot was a secret one, so noone knows for sure who voted against Merkel from the coalition camp, but the speculation is that there will have been a handful of CDU/CSU MPs and rather more SPD MPs who couldn't bring themselves to support her. That was always expected, however, especially given that for decades the SPD and CDU/CSU have been pitted against each other and are only now having to get used to co-operating for the first time since the 1960s (the last time there was a Grand Coalition government in Germany).

Merkel herself claims she had no concrete expectation of the numbers she might get in today's vote, but was pleasantly surprised by the strength of her majority. A few of her government colleagues have suggested that they'd have liked to see her hit the 400 mark. But realistically, all of that is neither here nor there. By next week, everyone will have forgotten what Merkel's margin of victory was. Instead, they'll be watching and waiting to see what her government can do to right the listing German ship.

The powers that be wasted no time in updating the German Chancellor's website to reflect todays' changes. Typing in the traditional address for the German Chancellor's office, www.bundeskanzeleramt.de, now sees you redirected straight to this website, [German link, I'm afraid] where Angie in presented in all her glory. You can even check out what's in her diary. If you were to do that, you'd find that she's not mucking around and is in fact off on her first foreign trip as Bundeskanzlerin tomorrow, to Paris and Brussels. (I wonder if it's too much to hope that she'll have a stern word in Jacques' ear to the effect that France's insistance on clinging to ridiculous and damaging farming subsidies is holding up the whole works when it comes to the EU budget? I expect so, what with it being her first day on the job and all.)

The fact that Merkel has taken office naturally means that the previous German Chancellor is on his bike. Schröder was the first to congratulate Merkel on her victory today, and handed over the keys to the Chancellor's office and residence this afternoon, having already cleared his things out yesterday. Schröder, for his part, has announced that he will be renouncing his mandate as an MP tomorrow, in favour of returning to practising law and taking time out to write his memoirs. (I imagine there's also a fairly lucrative after-dinner speech market in the offing too). Noone seems to care enough who will be taking his place in parliament to bother reporting it, so I had to do my own research on that. Schröder was a list candidate from Niedersachsen, meaning that no by-election is required to replace him.

His seat simply goes to the next person on the SPD's Niedersachsen party list. As far as I can tell from this website, that would appear to be one Clemens Bollen, who was number 11 on the SPD Niedersachsen Party List. Never heard of him. Nor, it would seem, has anyone from any of Germany's big daily papers, so I don't feel too bad.

Unsurprisingly enough, all of the major media outlets I've checked are carrying this story today. The BBC's coverage is pretty superficial, which is par for the course when it comes to German storie
s covered by British outlets, I'm afraid. Deutsche Welle does it better, here. But the best analysis in English I've found so far is at Der Spiegel's English website, here, which covers not just today's vote, but also some of the challenges facing Merkel and her new government. If you're only going to click on one of those links, follow that one.

And finally, for the Americans amongst you, who must be wondering who Germany's new "First Lady" is now that there is a female Chancellor in office, try this link. You won't find out very much about Professor Joachim Sauer, Merkel's husband, because he has been extremely assiduous about keeping out of the limelight. He is a quantum chemist at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He has already been dubbed "The Phantom of the Opera" by sections of the press, because one of the very few occasions he has been seen in public at Merkel's side was at this year's Bayreuth Opera Festival. But that's about it. Basically, the chances of him playing a Laura Bush role, or even a Dennis Thatcher role are virtually nil. Can't say I blame him.