Craftsmen of Power
It is this fact precisely that provides the unquestionable justification for the formation of a Grand Coalition. It also formally executes what is otherwise just covered up and proceeds informally by way of a thousand tactical detours. But what will be the goal, the glue that will hold this coalition together? In order to create continuity and the ability to act, alliances need a specific ethics, a political vanishing point, a binding standard. Alliances are held together either through a strong, shared ideological opponent or an affinity for common values, and also through the myth of a collectively shared past, and, of course, through similar social interests.
The new coalition has hardly any of that. Shared pride in the extraordinary achievements of the old Bonn Republic, of the Catholic-Social Democratic social welfare state, could have been one such point of reference. But the political elites of both mainstream parties bizarrely detached themselves, in unison, from this by no means dishonorable past, and made it virtually contemptible. Thus, it will not be easy, but it is absolutely necessary that the Grand Coalition is not only a present-day alliance of two partners eyeing each other suspiciously, but that it also agrees on future goals that have something of a central purpose. Advocates of pure Realpolitik like to make fun of this, but it is precisely because of this inability to declare a purpose that they fail in all regularity.
This is where the Bundestag comes into play. What will become of it during these next four years of the giant merger? The public regard for Bundestag representatives is extremely low, as is their influence on major decisions. Journalists and scholarly experts have already been writing for years about the parliament’s loss of power. During the Kohl era, decisions were made in exclusive coalition meetings; during Schröder’s chancellorship, commissions of experts set the programmatic course. Bundestag representatives just had to give a nod to whatever the executive oligarchs had agreed upon among themselves. According to the firm convictions of most full-time political commentators, the process of deparliamentarization could continue more than ever under a Grand Coalition. In this alliance, all that matters are arrangements made by the likes of Merkel, Müntefering, Kauder, Struck, Stoiber, and Steinbrück, and not what the other 600-odd members of the Bundestag regard as right or wrong.
The dismal prognosis about the increasing de-democratization of German parliamentarianism is not a complete absurdity. In the coming weeks, two parties will come together to form a governmental alliance, though this was clearly not their political aim. Furthermore, they represent different material interests, continue to be very different in terms of culture, and are present and entrenched in different spheres of society. A Grand Coalition will not integrate a cohesive socio-cultural camp from within; instead, it will attempt the difficult task of bundling very heterogeneous backgrounds, interpretations, and perspectives. In order for such a coalition to succeed, the opposing parties will have to find a constructive channel for cooperation, compromise, and concordance. The electorate has high expectations. Voters want the government’s work to be efficient and move toward solutions. The two mainstream parties must therefore find a rational negotiation structure in order to quickly determine action-oriented consensus points in which neither of the two parties loses face.
There is a clear logic to such negotiation structures: They are not particularly democratic, and, in fact, they must not and cannot be. If you were to seek a Grand Coalition balance under the ideally optimal conditions of a democracy – that is, unrestricted transparency, a critical and engaged public, and an intensely participatory political base – then you might as well give up, since that is not the way to achieve reasonable results. The democratic marketplace, public meetings, and the public forums of opposing parties all serve to reward inflammatory speeches, rhetorical thunder, loudly proclaimed allegiance to one’s own convictions, and devotion to the essentials of one’s own core group. Democratic public discourse thus promotes the pathos of adhesion to principles and the unswerving fixation on basic policy positions. Insight into the motives of the other side, the will to cooperate with the negotiation partner, the ability to abandon rigid initial positions, sever dogmatic fetters, and seek a balance – all of that is least likely to emerge in the public arena of fundamentalist democratic debate.