Germany's Coalition Government Suffers Setbacks
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Efforts in Germany to put together a coalition government suffered some setbacks this week. A key party official resigned and a conservative leader decided not to accept a Cabinet post. NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Berlin that there are questions on whether a stable coalition can be put together.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
The scene at the Social Democratic headquarters last night was like that of a scandal-ridden Hollywood movie premiere. Dozens of German television crews and photographers camped out on both sides of a red-carpeted walkway waiting for the party faithful to arrive for an emergency meeting. When they did, they were peppered with questions about how the party is handling the latest twist in the drama that has become German politics.
(Soundbite of reporters)
MARTIN: Earlier this week, the head of the Social Democratic Party, Franz Muntefering, resigned from his post after his political ally was passed over to be the party's second in command. The party scrambled to replace Muntefering by nominating the Social Democrats' first East German leader, 51-year-old Matias Platisk(ph) of Brandenburg. Hiko Maas(ph) is a member of the Social Democrats' board of directors.
Mr. HIKO MAAS (Board of Directors, Social Democratic Party): (German spoken)
MARTIN: `Within the last 24 hours, we have restructured our party leadership,' he said. `It was very important to clear up these open personnel questions quickly and now we want to finish building the grand coalition.'
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats led by Angela Merkel agreed to form a grand coalition led by Merkel after neither party won a governing majority in September's federal elections. Schroeder decided not to play a role in the new government, but his party's leader, Muntefering, has been the chief negotiator in coalition talks. Muntefering's decision to step down as party chair not only sent the SPD into a tailspin but it raised questions about the stability of a grand coalition government. After Muntefering's announcement, Edmund Stoiber, the controversial head of the Christian Democrat sister party in Bavaria, turned down a job offer as economy minister in the new government.
Mr. EDMUND STOIBER (Bavaria): (German spoken)
MARTIN: `The recent developments within the SPD have changed the foundation of any potential grand coalition government, and I've decided I can best represent the party's interests in Bavaria.'
Stoiber is a veteran politician who ran for chancellor in 2002. Although he's been critical of Angela Merkel in the past, he is a key conservative leader and his decision has been perceived widely as a sign of no confidence in Merkel's efforts to form a grand coalition. Bulger Joaquin Glesner(ph), a professor of politics at Berlin's Humboldt University, says the recent political posturing does not mean the coalition is falling apart.
Professor BULGER JOAQUIN GLESNER (Humboldt University): It's a normal form of negotiating the future policies between different parties. I wouldn't cry chaos or--it's a normal process of politics, and in general, it's not a serious crisis.
MARTIN: Merging two parties with different philosophies on social welfare and economic reform into a grand coalition was bound to be messy and many analysts say the resulting government might not be able to fulfill the four-year term, but Kristof Schult(ph) of Der Spiegel magazine says the real crisis lies in how this instability undermines German's faith in their political leaders.
Mr. KRISTOF SCHULT (Der Spiegel): People are simply disappointed. They see politicians running away from their positions because it's getting too hot in the kitchen.
MARTIN: Negotiations between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats over policy positions and Cabinet posts will continue over the next several days. The self-imposed deadline to form a new government is November 12th.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin.
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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