Both, however, know that they are dealing with a populace that is generally conservative. Changes in this country are associated more with risk than with opportunity. Therefore, the necessary reforms can only be implemented if the parties are able to combat the feeling of economic and social insecurity that stretches far into the middle class. Jürgen Rüttgers took on this task enthusiastically,* not only to the annoyance of the SPD. Going it alone in the way that he did was enough to prompt the CDU to start discussing their direction again.
But the chancellor, too, is seeking to take the Germans’ pronounced need for security into account: small steps don’t trigger as much fear as big ones, and goals don’t confuse voters as much as details do. However, Ms. Merkel needs to make sure that her reform agenda doesn’t get hazy and that the coalition parties don’t start competing to see who can move the least. In any case, this will become apparent in years three and four of this coalition – if it lasts that long. The coalition and the chancellor have pretty much just the coming year to improve their standing in the history books. They still lack a major triumph that will make people forget their formidable tragedy: healthcare reform. So far, even their respectable foreign policy hasn’t been able to do that.
The Hessian state parliamentary election in early 2008 will be the first in a series of closely spaced mid-term report cards. The chancellor is already finding it difficult to control the minister presidents, for whom charity begins at home. Pressure on the three coalition parties** to distinguish themselves is growing more and more with the approach of the Bundestag elections. No one should expect all that much from this coalition in the second half of its term.
Then it will be up to voters once again to determine the future path of the Federal Republic. The mainstream parties are showing signs of emaciation and are already feverishly awaiting a clear-cut mandate that will release them from their forced marriage. For Germany, one can only hope that this fever becomes an epidemic.
* Jürgen Rüttgers, minister president of North Rhine Westphalia (2005-2010), questioned whether neoliberal policies – such as cutting taxes –would always lead to the creation of new jobs – eds.
** In this article, the CSU is considered the third party in the Grand Coalition government, together with the CDU and the SPD – eds.
Source: Berthold Kohler, “Ein Abbild dieses Landes” [“A Reflection of this Country”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 20, 2006.
Translation: Allison Brown