Angela Merkel faces multiple challenges in her fourth term

 Angela Merkel faces multiple challenges in her fourth term

Angela Merkel is congratulated after being re-elected as German chancellor during a session of the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin.

Angela Merkel has returned to the German parliaments governing benches to get to work on an in-tray overflowing with domestic and geopolitical problems after six months of fraught coalition building following Septembers federal elections.

Having brought to an end the longest power hiatus in Germanys postwar history, Merkel has to work with a diminished majority in her fourth term as chancellor to find solutions to immediate challenges, such as the threats from import tariffs from an unpredictable US president and calls for structural reforms to the eurozones financial system from Frances president, Emanuel Macron.

In addition, Merkel has to find long-term answers to the rise of the nationalist right, and a debate about growing social inequality in Germanys booming economy.

Merkel was sworn into office on Wednesday afternoon after receiving 364 out of 709 votes in the first round of voting in parliament – nine more than required to gain an absolute majority, but also 35 fewer than if all the members of her next governing coalition had cast their ballot in her favour.

As the chancellor received standing ovations, handshakes and bouquets of flowers from delegates across the political spectrum, she was watched by her 89-year-old mother, Herlind Kasner, seated on the Bundestags gallery next to Merkels husband, Joachim Sauer, and long-term adviser Beate Baumann.

“A clear vote and a smooth start. Now full steam ahead,” tweeted Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new general secretary of Merkels Christian Democratic Union, which has formed another grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).

Others were less impressed. Wolfgang Kubicki, the deputy leader of the FDP, said of the result of Wednesdays vote: “That was closer than we expected. It shows that this grand coalition is actually going to be a small coalition.”

Merkel received supporting votes from 91% of delegates in her three-party coalition, compared with 92% in 2013 and 89% at the start of her first term in 2005.

Over the coming years, Merkel will have to find a way to win over unenthusiastic delegates not just among the Social Democrats, many of whom believe the party should have sought to reinvent itself in opposition, but also among the CDU, where there is disappointment over the loss of the finance ministry to the centre-left junior coalition partner.

One CDU politician described the result as a “bad omen” for the coming term. “This coalition has had a bad start, not just because of the unfortunate coalition deal, and wont last for three and a half years”, said MP Alexander Mitsch.

After the vote, the chancellor travelled to Schloss Bellevue to receive a letter of appointment from the president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, before heading back to the Bundestag in order to take the oath of office. The new cabinet meets for the first time this afternoon.

The pressure will be on the new government to immediately get down to business, after months of horse-trading and delayed decision-making. Merkel said on Monday her governments focus would be on integrating refugees as well as increasing state powers to extradite people who had no right of residence. She has also stressed the necessity of securing Germanys borders and developing policies to mitigate the causes of migration.

German elections 2017: full results

The grand coalition was initially seen as an unlikely constellation after the election on 24 September, when Merkels conservative alliance, the pro-business Free Democrats and the environmentalist Greens tried to create a so-called “Jamaica” coalition. But after those talks collapsed, both the conservatives and the Social Democrats came under pressure to revive the grand coalition, which has governed Germany for the majority of Merkels time in office.

The reformation of the grand coalition means the far-right Alternative für Deutschland becomes the large opposition party in the Bundestag – a non-official role that nonetheless equips the rightwing populists with a number of formal privileges, such as chairing influential parliamentary committees.

On Wednesday, the party already gave a taster of the tactics it may employ to disrupt Merkel and her government over the coming years. One lawmaker, Petr Bystron, was fined €1,000 for tweeting a picture of his secret ballot with the caption “Not my chancellor”, while another was expelled from the visitors gallery for holding up a “Merkel has to go” banner.

Even without a noisy nationalist right, the new Bundestag is likely to hear a more robust tone from its members. The coalition deal between the CDU and SPD commits the government to a number of new debating formats, including a triannual Westminster-style “chancellors question time”, in which the head of the government has to field questions from the opposition.

When Steinmeier swore in Merkel as chancellor, he appeared to nod to the fact that her fourth term in power could yet prove to be her most challenging: “Let me give you my best wishes on your difficult path,” the former foreign minister said.

By: The Guardian

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