Germans Show Americans How It's Done, May Enter Left-Right "Grand Coalition" Government

The conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel is entering coalition talks with the leftist Social Democrats to form a government. Why can't we do that?

Angela Merkel with government leaders Seehofer and Ramsauer

German leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, are all smiles as they enter grand coalition talks with the leading opposition Social Democratic Party.  They are showing how it's done in politics.  (Image Source:  Reuters)

In the midst of all the hooplah surrounding the government shutdown, it is important to understand that responsible government that does not include fighting and bringing down the government for the sake of advancing some ridiculous agenda or another.  Consider Germany, the bastion of the European Union and an example of a country needing to bridge divides.  Today, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, announced that she had entered talks with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) to form a grand coalition government.  One can find a parallel in American government hard, if not impossible, to imagine, but it certainly works!

In Germany, coalition talks are the norm when it comes to forming the government, who controls the majority of the Bundestag, or parliament.  Ever since West and East Germany reunited in the early 1990s, no single party has ever claimed a majority of seats in the parliament, thus requiring a junior party to become its partner, and back the government.  This has led to interesting scenarios, including so-called "grand coalitions," where the leading party reaches out to its leading opposition to form a government.

In September 2013, Germany had its last election, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, running a joint ticket with the Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria, winning 41.5% of the vote and 311 seats in parliament.  Merkel's showing is the closest any party has gotten to getting a majority of seats, just 5 short of the majority.  However, a problem arose out of the election: Merkel's primary coalition partner, the neoliberal Free Democrats, got kicked to the curb, not earning enough votes after poor handling of the Euro crisis.

This situation left Chancellor Merkel in a pickle, since all three of the other parties in parliament at least lean to the left, both socially and economically, and nobody wants to enter coalition with radical leftist party The Left.  Merkel first chose the Greens, an environmentalist party, but talks went nowhere fast, for the CSU refused to consider the Greens being a coalition partner.  Following this, the Chancellor has begun talking with the only other option at this point: The SPD, who enter parliament with a second-place 192 seats.  Combined, the two parties in this huge grand coalition would take up 5/6ths of the entire parliament.

Surprisingly, this is not the first time Chancellor Merkel has formed a "grand coalition" government.  When Merkel first became Chancellor in 2005, she did so with the backing of the SPD, who were edged out of being the leading party by just four seats.  The grand coalition back then took up 2/3rds of the parliament.

Of course, such ideas as working with the other side only really work in democracies with more than two active political parties.  This is something that is not happening in America, though the possibility remains open, due to what has happened in the shutdown.  Still, that Germans are doing a better job at governing than we are says a lot of things, right then and there.

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