Half time for the Grand Coalition: a brief assessment of two years of governemnt

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The Grand Coalition mid-term results are due after about a year and a half of ‘GroKo’ government, and according to some, the results are actually pretty good. However, many of the successes don’t seem to receive much notice in the population.

“In the middle of the legislative term, an inventory of the coalition agreement will be made as to the extent to which its provisions have been implemented or new projects will have to be agreed on the basis of current developments.”

At the very end of the 175-page coalition agreement between CDU, CSU and SPD, we can find this short but crucial sentence, which the SPD insisted on including in the text. In January 2018, the then SPD chairman Martin Schulz used it to win his party’s approval for the Grand Coalition. A good one and a half years later, the cabinet’s report of its own performance shows that the government has gotten a fair amount of things done so far.

Robert Vehrkamp of the Bertelsmann Foundation already gave a positive review of the legislature so far, although with a caveat: While on the one hand, he gave good marks to the Grand Coalition’s work to date, on the other hand he criticised that relatively little of this work has yielded any palpable results in the population.

Different quality of the results

So what can the ‘GroKo’ credit itself for thus far? Three changes to the constitution, making it easier for the federal states to invest, improving day care, and facilitating money for digital equipment in schools. Moreover, the coalition decided to phase out coal production and Germany and introduced a package of climate laws in order to tackle the emission targets stipulated in the Paris Agreement.

However, the quality of the results varies greatly, says political scientist Albrecht von Lucke: “The Grand Coalition has achieved a lot, especially in social issues, minimum wages and many other areas,” he says. Here, the SPD, has managed to make a mark. “However, the government has completely failed in the climate issue.”

According to an analysis by the Bertelsmann Foundation, in the first 15 months of office, the grand coalition has already implemented or at least tackled more than 60 percent of its 296 coalition promises, even if the public has perceived it differently. This is a record-breaking achievement, and there is at least some praise for it from FDP leader Christian Lindner. According to him, the GroKo has worked hard to get things done, however,

“There are no initiatives to improve the education system. There are no initiatives to make digitalisation an opportunity for the state. There is a lack of efforts to keep our country economically competitive so that we also have the means to be strong on climate protection and social issues. Almost nothing is happening on this front, even Friedrich Merz of the CDU says this.”

CDU: internal criticism of GroKo’s work

Not only the permanent critic Friedrich Merz, but also other active politicians in the CDU, are now criticizing the third grand coalition under Angela Merkel. Deputy Bundestag group leader Carsten Linnemann wants a fresh start urgently:

“I am in favour of sitting down at a table and revising this coalition agreement when the personnel quarrels are over. Somebody has to press the reset button so that we can once again get a new signal of departure for this country. It can’t go on like this.”

In terms of overall satisfaction, the approval ratings of the grand coalition were worst in October 2018: 49 percent of those surveyed were less satisfied, 27 percent not at all satisfied with the work of the federal government. Better results in May of this year: 38 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the Groko.

But what should this new beginning look like? Political observer Albrecht von Lucke still sees many unresolved foreign policy tasks in the coalition agreement. Especially when it comes to Europe:

“We can see a large void in foreign policy matters, when unity and strength in foreign policy is exactly what would be needed, particularly in view of the United States’ withdrawal from the world scene. So if the Grand Coalition continues, then there must be a new start in foreign policy, and there must be internal cohesion in domestic policy”.

Internal cohesion blatantly seems to be lacking in this unholy alliance of Social Democrats and Conservatives. The controversy over the basic pension shows this all too clearly. It is hardly surprising that a strong communal vision for the future is equally difficult to discern. It is not least this lack of vision and leadership which inevitably contributes to the poor image of the Grand Coalition.

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