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ISSUE 119 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/7/2005

Germany in limbo

By Phil Romine
Contributing Writer


Friday, October 7, 2005

Germany has no chancellor. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Christian Democratic/Socialist Union (CDU/CSU) met Wednesday to discuss leadership of a possible “grand coalition” between the two parties: Red-green and black-yellow have each expressed interest in a red-black coalition. The results of the election in Dresden, capping the national electoral process, gave the Christian Democrats a slight lead in parliamentary seats, yet neither leading party has the overall majority.

Angela Merkel is the chosen candidate for chancellor in the right-leaning CDU/CSU, while the left-of-center incumbent Gerhard Schröder remains the SPD’'s choice for the job.

Coalitions are the result of two or more parties with similar political views deciding to unite for parliamentary power; red-green refers to the coalition between the Greens and the Social Democrats, black-yellow the coalition between CDU/CSU and the Free Democrats (FDP).

SPD Chairman Franz Müntefering, showing signs of compromise, stated that the coalition talks Wednesday would concern the larger constellation of the German government, backing off rhetoric that the only government in which the SPD will participate is one with Schröder at the helm. Merkel and Schröder, however, seem unmoved in their conviction that parliament should name the one - -– and not the other - -– the next German chancellor.

Unlike in American elections, Germans don’'t vote directly for a candidate. They vote for a party; the party then chooses whom they wish to put in charge of making decisions on their behalf in parliament. The individual who heads the majority coalition becomes chancellor.

Though campaigns and rallies more closely resemble those in America each year (2002 was the first year when a debate between the two leading parties took place on national television), the parliamentary mindset forces voters to consider foremost the number of seats in parliament. Imagine voting for congressmen in the House and Senate and the majority party in turn selecting the president.

The September elections resulted in no clear majority for either coalition. Since the CDU/CSU and SPD enjoy the largest percentage of votes for their respective coalitions, a clear parliamentary majority would require both opposition parties to form what’s been termed a “grand coalition.” This coalition would mean uniting opposing political parties under a single figurehead, and such a feat would be simply unprecedented in German political history.

But what does this brouhaha mean for the United States? In the words of my German host dad, “"Not much."”

The relationship between Germany and the United States will in no way be affected by the outcome of the election and the ensuing parliamentary voting on leadership. This “friendship” enjoys an almost untouchable place in German politics atop the pedestal of 60 years of political and economic success.

Why then this article? Making parliamentary history seems, I don'’t know, …important. Since updates on the status of coalition talks are more or less impossible to find in the grand triumvirate of newspapers offered at St. Olaf, it seemed appropriate to inform my fellow students of this important moment in history.

I suppose it’'s a also question of priority. When the war in Iraq began, I remember watching the live feed of Chancellor Schröder the day after America began bombing Baghdad, telling over 80 million Germans that although their government refused to send its troops or weapons to aid the U.S. and British forces, the long-standing friendship between Germany and the United States remained a bulwark of German politics. Since this announcement interrupted almost all network television during prime time, the importance of that friendship to the politically powerful in Germany was obvious. Given that probably 99 percent of you reading this article had no idea that Schröder made that announcement in the first place, it should give you a sense of how much value the American media places on a relationship that has sustained one of the European Union'’s most influential members.

I’'m of the opinion that statements (both good and ill) made by foreign governments, broadcast over national television, during prime time, in response to U.S. actions at home and abroad should matter to the American public. The coalition talks on Wednesday, the German parliament’'s decision on the next chancellor, and the method of selection give the world a chance to witness a unique process of democracy unfold in one of Europe’'s most powerful countries.

Contributing writer Phil Romine is junior from Columbia, S.C. He majors in German and in sociology/anthropology.





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