Germany’s new government has vowed to become a “grand coalition for the little people”, as Angela Merkel’s conservatives and her two coalition partners embark on a precarious project of reforming Europe while nodding to the language and concerns of the far-right.
Merkel, who is due to be sworn in for her fourth term as chancellor on Wednesday, almost six months after national elections last September, said on Monday that her new government would focus on “the integration of refugees, but also on the state’s ability to act when people have not been granted right of residence”.
“We have all enjoyed the benefits of the Schengen area, allowing us to move freely,” Merkel said at a joint press conference with her new vice-chancellor and finance minister, the Social Democrat (SPD) Olaf Scholz, and her interior minister, Horst Seehofer of the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU).
“But when we introduced free movement, we did not sufficiently think about securing our outer borders. That must happen now, as well as a development policy that tackles the causes of migration,” she added.
On Sunday, Seehofer laid down his government’s law-and-order credentials by pushing for more video surveillance in public areas and faster deportations of rejected asylum seekers.
Wednesday’s swearing-in of the new government will put an official end to the longest period of coalition-building in Germany’s postwar history.
An aborted attempt to forge an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s CDU, the pro-business FDP and the Green party last November resulted in a revival of the “grand coalition” between center-right and center-left that has governed the country for the last four years, eventually approved by a vote of the SPD’s membership at the start of this month.
On Monday, Merkel nonetheless insisted that plans to present joint European initiatives with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in March remained on schedule, despite her ponderous path to power.
“I never said anything about a delay,” said Merkel, announcing that she would visit Paris shortly after her inauguration. “We certainly won’t have settled every question, but we’ll be able to say more than in December. It surely would be too much to expect us to spell out every facet of the eurozone for the next 20 years.”
Merkel said the Franco-German tandem had been galvanized into action by the US president Donald Trump’s plans to.
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Referring to the threat of a pending trade war, Scholz said: “In an ever more complex world, it is absolutely necessary that Europeans stick together and develop solutions and methods to take control of shaping their future.”
Scholz, the SPD caretaker leader and a former mayor of Hamburg, signaled that his party would foster more combative relations with its coalition partner, remarking that “the fourth grand coalition in German history did not start out as a love match”. Merkel said she was looking forward to a “good debating culture” within her cabinet.
Both parties go into government on the back of historically poor election results last September, and the SPD’s polling figures have nosedived after its leadership made a U-turn on an announcement to seek renewal in opposition.
Yet Scholz can embark on his new ministerial portfolio with his party on a high after successive polls over the weekend appeared to reward the SPD for going into government. A survey on Sunday by the polling institute Insa saw the far-right Alternative für Deutschland drop into fourth place behind Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the SPD and the Green party.
The new government will start with the same constellation of political parties but a reshuffled lineup of personnel. The CDU has ceded control of the finance ministry to the SPD and of the interior ministry to the CSU. Merkel and the defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, will be the only politicians to retain the roles they held over the last four years.