Scenes of a marriage of convenience

First attempts at rapprochement between SPD and FDP make waves

FDP deputy chairman Rainer Bruderle made headlines after he called on the SPD to change coalition in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine: "The grand coalition can’t do it, we need another constellation. Therefore, we must now sound out what works", said Westerwelle’s confidant. This volte-face is surprising for several reasons. The FDP has thus made it clear that it is considering government constellations that it had categorically ruled out a year ago

As a reminder: After the early Bundestag elections, the term "traffic light coalition" was bandied about in the media for a short time. This meant a coalition of SPD, FDP and the Greens. It was the SPD, which for a few days gave itself up to the hope that it could continue to be chancellor. It was the FDP that quickly made it clear that this alliance could not be achieved with it.

Less than a year later, the political world in Berlin already looks different. Under Bruderle’s "new constellations," an alliance with the Greens is no longer ruled out. Even Westerwelle has recently made a few easing moves in the direction of the unloved competitor in the liberal field.

In fact, the political landscape has changed since a year ago. The front figures Schroder and Fischer have disappeared from the political stage. The latter in particular was the personified bogeyman for Westerwelle’s FDP. With him, they historically only conditionally correctly associated the old sixty-eight, who arrived at the very top in the march through the institutions and was always one step ahead of the Westerwelle generation. With Fischer’s departure, the view of the green base and current program becomes clearer. Even Westerwelle cannot overlook the similarities.

The changes in the SPD resulting from the election of Kurt Beck as party chairman are even clearer. He governed for several years in Rhineland-Palatinate in a coalition with the FDP and built up good contacts to the liberals. Bruderle expressed his appreciation for this SPD politician in Der Spiegel: "If Beck succeeds in convincing the Social Democrats of the need for a change of course, he will be the first to do so "to bring Bruderle back to his pragmatic and pro-burgeois course", then a social-liberal coalition with a chancellor like Beck would be possible "get something done", Westerwelle’s deputy emphasized.

This political flirtation was understandably viewed with suspicion by the CDU/CSU. According to media reports, a meeting between leaders of the Social Democrats and the Liberals, which had already been arranged, was cancelled at short notice. The Union had exerted prere on its coalition partner, he said. Now, in political Berlin, the principle is that all democratic parties can always talk to each other.

Health care reform as a divisive ie

Thus, the cancellation clearly shows the instability of the grand coalition. The honeymoon of the alliance of convenience, in which Merkel and Muntefering ared the world how well they could get along, was quickly over. Meanwhile, each partner is waiting for the other to make mistakes. There are disputes between the two parties on all major political projects. They are no longer willing to cap these disputes for the sake of coalition rason.

The points of contention range from the planned Center against Expulsions to the speech by right-wing conservative historian Arnulf Baring to the Hessian Union to the search for a final repository for nuclear waste. As political observers predicted months ago, however, health care reform has turned into the coalition’s crude bone of contention.The current controversy developed around the social clause, which stipulates that insured persons should spend only one percent of their household income on additional health insurance contributions. While health insurance companies and parts of the CDU/CSU are rattling on, the SPD is sticking to the clause. A top-level discussion between Merkel and Beck last week was unable to end the dispute.

The background of the disputes are the different models of the SPD and the CDU/CSU for the reform of the health care system. In the coalition agreements, the dispute was postponed because no agreement was possible even then. However, since the only alternative to a grand coalition in the fall of 2005 was new elections, which were feared by both the SPD and the CDU/CSU, the ie was put on the back burner.

End uncertain

Forecasts about the duration of the grand coalition are also not possible at the present time. Finally, a change of coalition within a legislative period without new elections is risky for all parties involved. The FDP and the Green Party, in particular, were allowed to have some internal party discussions before declaring their willingness to cooperate.

Thus, the current easing measures in political Berlin are rather positioning for the time after the next federal elections. Das konnten die regularen Wahlen im Jahr 2009 ebenso sein wie vorgezogene Neuwahlen, wenn die Gegensatze in der groben Koalition unuberbruckbar werden. At least the arguments for the future election campaigns are already being formulated. Thus, the SPD is trying to portray the CDU-led state governments as disloyal to the Union and especially to Merkel. When the government alliance bursts, in case of doubt it was the Merkel critics in their own party who were to blame. The CDU/CSU, on the other hand, accused its coalition partner of inserting clauses into the health care reform that had not been agreed upon after the fact. This is the stuff of long arguments, but also of quick partings.

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