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The Schism in the Coalition as Reflected by Political Commentators (September 18, 1982)

Political commentators agreed that the end of the coalition was inevitable but interpreted it differently according to their own political orientation. Whereas the Tagesspiegel focuses on mistakes in economic and social policy, the essay from the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine mentions ideological erosion as an additional factor. The author of the left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau pays tribute to the SPD-FDP coalition as an important, groundbreaking experiment, arguing that both national and international factors played a role in the deterioration of relations.

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I. “End and New Beginning” (Der Tagesspiegel, September 18, 1982)

J.B. The end of the social-liberal coalition in Bonn is certainly a historic date. The only problem is that it [the date] has not been fixed exactly. When the four FDP ministers resigned – thereby preempting their pending dismissal, which had been announced by the Federal Chancellor – it was merely the notarial certification of the dissolution of the political-parliamentary marriage. But the common ground they used to share had broken apart earlier. This process is thus also proof that so-called historic events seldom take place in time-lapse mode, nor do they often erupt dramatically. Instead, the coalition approached its end in a series of small steps. [ . . . ]

It nevertheless deserves mention that the end of the coalition marks a new, significant break in postwar political developments. This coalition has left behind many indelible traces. With its Ostpolitik, its policies toward the East, this coalition gave German politics a direction that would be just as hard to reverse as Adenauer’s successful integration of the Federal Republic into the western alliance [NATO] and the European Community, which was built upon by his successors. Under Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, skillful foreign policy and an apparently unendangered economic potential were happily united for a moment, and the Federal Republic could in fact boast of having become a determining force within the circle of the middle powers. But then the change started coming, precisely in the area of economic policy.

It will always remain hard to explain why a coalition that had experienced the profound effects of the shock of the first oil crisis had so little radar for the changes on the horizon in the global economic system, and why it paid so little attention to the warnings that economic growth was reaching its limits. It continued its policies of redistribution and reform even after the pie started getting progressively smaller – only the reforms no longer burdened the state coffers exclusively but came at the expense of others. That doesn’t change the macroeconomic consequences at all. When the state financial crisis then became visible and the scope for political action diminished, the two parties started moving apart. Domestically, the turning point came when the FDP was forced to realize that the loss of confidence that was starting to spread among voters – which could be observed over the course of several state elections – would lead the SPD at worst into the opposition but could snuff out the FDP entirely.

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