Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Underwhelmed but hopeful

The Financial Times is not sanguine about the prospects of the new German government, predicting it will struggle to last more than two years (echoeing Bill Emmot's estimates):
Germans heaved a collective sigh of relief on Monday when they heard that the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats had finally cut a deal to form a grand coalition government, to be headed by Angela Merkel. Germans do not much like uncertainty, and they certainly do not like it in their politics. After three weeks of wrangling following the inconclusive September 18 poll, it seemed any news would be good news. But just how good is it, and for whom?
The advent of Germany’s first female chancellor is good news for women, who make up half the electorate. Look where you will, in terms of promotion equality in the workplace and work-life-balance, German women lag 10 years behind the rest of Europe and at least 15 years behind the US. Having women in top jobs matters – and this particular promotion is the biggest any German woman has ever achieved.
But what are they likely to be able to agree upon? Reform of Germany’s creaking federalist structures? Yes, because both parties have worked on this together in the parliament’s upper house (the Bundesrat) for years. Greater centralisation and liberalisation might make it easier to shake up Germany’s underperforming universities and schools, and allow police and domestic security services to co-operate in combating terrorism. Healthcare or tax reform? Perhaps.
But on the really crucial issue – reform of Germany’s rigid and restrictive labour market – majorities in both parties oppose the radical changes necessary to crank up the ailing economy. Only a tiny fraction of the newly elected members of the Bundestag, which must convene on October 18 to elect the new government, are entrepreneurs. For most of the others, "liberal" is a four-letter word.
The (London) Times also has an excellent column illustrating the difficult task Angela Merkel has before her. The piece does seem to contain a (minor) mistake, which jumped out at me because it is in the opening sentence:
After the most protracted wrangling in its postwar history, Germany finally has a new government. Angela Merkel has prevailed in her insistence, fully justified electorally and morally, on leading the new grand coalition and becoming the first female Chancellor of the Federal Republic.
If this recent article in the German daily Die Welt is to be believed, the longest coalition wrangling in Germany's postwar history went on for 73 days and happened in 1976, after Helmut Schmidt's re-election.

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