Just after The Andy Marr Show (tm) went on air this morning, the news came through from Germany that the centre-left SPD had agreed to enter into another Grand Coalition with the centre-right CDU/CSU of Angela Merkel, in order to form a Government. Thus the long coalition negotiations that began last November were concluded, and the resulting uncertainty following that month’s elections, was ended.
Germany does not do political crises: the country is on only its eighth Chancellor since the 1949 foundation of the Federal Republic, then of West Germany. By contrast, the UK is now on its fourteenth Prime Minister in that period. Angela Merkel has been in post for more than a decade. Her two predecessors managed more than 20 years between them. Stability is the key word. Coalitions take time to negotiate.
Meet the new Chancellor, same as the old Chancellor
But after those elections last year, one pundit here in the UK decided he knew best: to no surprise at all, step forward former Sunday Times editor and now BBC presenter Andrew Neil, who claimed “Germany tonight in its biggest political crisis since late 1940s. Bigger even than UK’s current ongoing political crisis”. He was told that it wasn’t, but Neil knew more than those claiming otherwise. He ranked as high as any in Rome.
So the sniping continued through last month, as Neil seized upon anything vaguely resembling bad news. “The generally pro-Merkel Bild, Germany’s most-read newspaper, calls her new Coalition deal with the SPD ‘historically the worst negotiating result ever obtained by an election winner’”. And there was more.
“Today’s excellent FT coverage of Germany: Others said that with infighting of last few days, SPD was now in freefall. ‘This is an absolute crisis,’ said Hilde Mattheis, leftwing Social Democrat MP opposed to the grand coalition. ‘There’s this impression of total chaos’”. Someone opposed to the Grand Coalition is opposed to it. Big deal. And more. “Germany’s Die Zeit, pro-SPD, Page 1 headline: ‘A republic on the verge of a nervous breakdown’ Plus cartoon of German eagle crash landing on its head”.
There was even a side order of misunderstanding NATO: “After Brexit, 80 percent of NATO country defence spending will come from non-EU members, even tho primary purpose of NATO is defence of EU countries”. The reality? “NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party … The members agreed that an armed attack against any one of them in Europe or North America would be considered an attack against them all”.
If NATO were only about the EU, Norway, Turkey, Iceland, Canada, the USA and Greenland would not be part of it, or that mutual defence pact. Still, back to Germany: “SPD members vote to renew Grand Coalition with CDU/CSU. So over 5 months after election, Germany finally gets new government. But Merkel diminished, SPD future uncertain, hard-right AfD largest opposition party. Hard left buoyant”.
Who’s in Government? The CDU/CSU and SPD. What makes this mythical “hard left” buoyant about that? Moreover, what diminishes Angela Merkel? She’s just successfully assembled another Grand Coalition. Meanwhile, our own Government can’t even agree how it wants to approach the Brexit negotiations. Wrong again, Andrew Neil.